Monday, December 14, 2015
Collecting Thoughts, Ethical and Otherwise
The world of publishing is changing rapidly as electronic media such as ebooks open up new distribution channels that allow authors to bypass the traditional gatekeepers of hard-copy publishing houses. One effect of this is to allow writers with small audiences to consider publishing their own books without having to sink thousands of dollars into a vanity press run of a thousand copies, for example. Instead, these days you can spend some time learning how various ebook-publishing software and distributors work, and do the whole thing yourself (or at most, with the help of an artist for covers). That is just what I've done with a collection of many of the most popular articles in this blog, and the result is Ethical and Otherwise: Engineering In the Headlines, the cover of which you can see in the sidebar to the right.
I apologize for taking over the blog this week for self-promotion, but I promise not to do it more than once per book. So here goes.
Ethical and Otherwise has a total of 46 articles culled from the nearly ten years that I've been writing this blog. They were selected largely on the basis of page views, and so to that extent you, the reader, have played an essential role in its production.
It's organized into three broad sections: "Tragedies Large and Small", "Cautionary Tales", and "The Engineering Profession."
The "Tragedies" section is the largest and describes disasters of various types: "Earth, Air, Wind, and Fire" (natural or nature-assisted disasters); "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" (transportation accidents); "Mines, Wells, Oil, and Gas"; and "Construction and Destruction." In this section you'll find out what really caused the Titanic to sink, what set off the natural-gas explosion that killed three hundred students and others in New London, Texas in 1937, and what caused the submarine theater in the Aquarena Springs amusement park in San Marcos, Texas to flip over, besides many other disasters, both well-known and obscure. In an interview with an engineering podcast a few years ago, I expressed some regret that so many of my blogs deal with death and mayhem, but that's what grabs the headlines, and it's apparently what people like to read about too.
The "Cautionary Tales" section deals with engineering and technical-enterprise wrongdoings of various kinds: cyber attacks, counterfeit electronic components, bribery, corruption, copyright battles, and similar matters. Following that, the section on the engineering profession takes up questions about licensing, engineering education and employment, and other thoughts about the human enterprise of engineering. Finally, I had to put in a section called "Engineering Ethics In Movies" because (for reasons that are still not clear), the most popular blog article of all time by far is a review of the Tesla film "The Prestige" I wrote back in 2006, and it didn't fit any of the other categories.
So far, the book is available in two formats: as an iBook in the iTunes bookstore, and as a Kindle book at Amazon.com. If demand warrants, I will consider issuing a hard-copy paper version through an on-demand publisher, though I have not explored that option much up to this point.
The selections are distributed fairly evenly throughout the history of the blog, so if you have started reading this blog only recently, you will encounter pieces in the book that you probably haven't read before. While it's true that all the articles are out there for the reading without your having to buy the book, there's something to be said for the selection process, as the book represents less than 10% of the total number of articles—the most interesting 10%, I hope.
Those of you who have instructional responsibilities regarding engineering ethics may have found engineering-ethics case studies on the web in various places. For example, Texas A&M maintains a website with case studies, as does the Illinois Institute of Technology, the National Academy of Engineering's OnlineEthics Center, and the National Society of Professional Engineers. What the NSPE has is actually summaries of cases brought before their board of review, stripped of identifying information. While these collections are useful, their scope is sometimes limited to certain types of engineering (e. g. civil), and they can sometimes be on the dry side.
While I didn't put together Ethical and Otherwise exclusively with the classroom in mind, I hope ethics instructors will find it useful. All the articles are about the same length (I aim for a thousand words, more or less), and they are all drawn from real-life situations of one kind or another. While I haven't tried to do a full-dress scholarly bibliography, all the URLs referenced in the book were still working at the time of publication. So I think it will be a useful and possibly even entertaining resource for those who teach ethics-related technical subjects.
Because most of the articles are independent of the others, it's the kind of book you can pick up and put down almost at random. To be frank, I don't use a Kindle much myself, but my impression is that the kind of lighter tell-me-a-story reading that Ethical and Otherwise has lots of, is fairly well suited to the ebook format.
At any rate, that's what the book is about, and so if you're looking for more of a dose of this sort of thing than my weekly posts provide, consider buying Ethical and Otherwise. As far as sales go, I'll be happy if it earns back the $125 it cost to buy the ISBN number. If after reading it, you like it, you will earn my undying gratitude by writing a favorable review on Amazon. But don't let my urging bias your review. That would be unethical, wouldn't it?
Sources: Ethical and Otherwise: Engineering In the Headlines is available in the Kindle format at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B018KQ1K7C. To find the iBook version in the iTunes store, go all the way to the bottom of the iTunes main page where it says "Explore" and click Books, then in the search box at the upper-right corner type "Ethical and Otherwise." Texas A&M's collection of civil-engineering ethics cases can be found at http://ethics.tamu.edu/CaseStudies.aspx. The case collection at the Illinois Institute of Technology is at http://ethics.iit.edu/eelibrary/case-study-collection. The National Academy of Engineering's Online Ethics Center has case studies and other ethics-related material on its main website at http://www.onlineethics.org. And the National Society of Professional Engineers keeps their review board cases at http://www.nspe.org/resources/ethics/ethics-resources/board-of-ethical-review-cases. The phenomenon of a medium (such as a blog) advertising itself is known (at least to me) as Stephan's Law, as described in my blog of Dec. 15, 2014.