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The Incomplete Technical Presentation
Secondary Title The Incomplete Technical Presentation



Authoring Institution Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE)
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Contributor(s) Brian Schrag
Notes Brian Schrag, ed., Research Ethics: Cases and Commentaries, Volume 2, Bloomington, Indiana: Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, 1998
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Rights The Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE) grants permission to use these case and commentary material with the citation indicated above.
Year 1998
Publisher provided Keywords Cases Consumer consumption Corporate Firm for Government Hypothetical information issues product professional quality research RESPONSIBILITY Setting: Small Type: University
Publisher Association for Practical and Professional Ethics
Language English
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  • P. Aarne  Vesilind

    Posted 13 years and 6 months ago

    P. Aarne Vesilind 

    Duke University

    The two questions raised by this scenario are:

    Having attended many technical conferences where salespeople make up the majority of the audience, I sympathize with the author's concerns. The problem is not with the salespeople, however, but with the conference organizers. If they are not careful in screening out patently commercial papers, they have no right to complain. A paper that describes the function and performance of a commercial product certainly would not be considered a theoretical paper. The papers probably were well-received by the marketing people like Peter, but the very inclusion of William and Katherine's paper on the program precluded the conference from being a theoretical conference.

    The second problem relates to the answer that William ought to give to the professor's question. There is no doubt that he should not lie or withhold information. But there are ways of presenting the facts that will not damage the future of the product or the company. William could say, for example, that the particle counter is not designed to operate in the overlapping size ranges because the response curves are not linear and the ends of the curves can be expected to deviate, thus giving false readings. He could repeat that the particle counter has been shown to have excellent precision and accuracy if used as recommended by the manufacturer. That is, the device should be used within the three ranges; its applicability should not be pushed into the overlapping ranges. This response would have been honest and forthright (and would have saved his skin).

    From: Graduate Research Ethics: Cases and Commentaries - Volume 2, 1998 

    edited by Brian Schrag

  • Anonymous  Participant

    Posted 13 years and 6 months ago

    From: Graduate Research Ethics: Cases and Commentaries - Volume 2, 1998 

    edited by Brian Schrag

    Question 1

    Peter was added to the case to simulate a frequent occurrence at technical conferences -- salespersons attending conferences to promote products. Many conferences are complemented by trade shows that invite industrial researchers to promote their products. This practice is not problematic as long as the attendees are notified of and aware of the presenters' agendas. However, sales pitches by research associates/salespersons can be biased and should be accepted with caution, especially if proceedings are published.

    In this case, the conference was designed for the presentation of theoretical papers. This distinction raises the issue of attendees not knowing the presenter's agenda. This question was added to create an awareness of the possibility that biased results may be presented at a conference. It may also be noted that attendees can usually tell the sales pitches from the true research, which causes the attendees to become uneasy and angry toward the sales staff. Therefore, companies should not use technical conferences for sales promotion.

    Question 2

    Katherine decided to ignore the findings of William and his team and present an "incomplete" technical paper. William had the same problem but decided to tell Katherine. Or was he just passing the responsibility onto someone else? Either way, Katherine and William were responsible for evaluating the new analyzer, and they found something wrong. Should Katherine have retracted William's abstract? That would have raised concerns with management since Peter was scheduled to attend the conference with William and Katherine. If Katherine had told her supervisor, would she have been fired? Can Katherine and William continue to ignore the problem that they found?

    Question 3

    Katherine and William's option of continuing to ignore the problem has been eliminated by the professor's question. William must decide what to do. He can pass the responsibility to Katherine, as he did before, by directing the question to her. However, this option would probably get him fired by Katherine.

    Will he lie? Should he tell the professor that he looked into the accuracy between the overlapping size ranges and found comparable results? Should he tell the professor that they haven't looked into that aspect of the evaluation? The first lie would be blatant and would create misplaced trust in the analyzer. If William pretends that he did not look into the evaluation, he could delay the inevitable discovery that the analyzer is inaccurate between the size ranges. At least he and Katherine could leave the conference without publicly disclosing the problem before they had a chance to inform management.

Cite this page: "The Incomplete Technical Presentation" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 2/16/2006 OEC Accessed: Sunday, August 18, 2019 <>