Scientific whistleblowers include drug reviewers, medical researchers, quality control monitors, and engineers. The recent emergence of Boeing whistleblowers demonstrates that we need more of the latter, says Ralph Nader. The legendary consumer advocate and founder of the consumer protection group Public Citizen writes in Scientific American that engineers are “often the first to notice waste, fraud and safety issues.”
Compared to the technologically stagnant dark days in the auto industry of cruel suppression of technical dissent over safety and toxic emissions … today’s engineers are working in an improved environment for taking their conscience to work. Yet much more remains to be done to safeguard the ability of engineers to speak truth to the powers-that-be.
… The vast world of state and federal procurement/military contracts and infrastructure is known to be rife with “waste, fraud and abuse.” Engineers are most likely to see such violations first. Decades ago, foreshadowing the many challenges in engineering, the Society of Professional Engineers, in its code of ethics, instructed engineers on their obligation to report safety and fraud violations to the appropriate outside authorities, should they find no recourse inside their place of employment.
With $5 trillion of deferred maintenance for our public works, as measured by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the challenges to the assertion of engineering conscientiousness will be ever larger.
We need more public interest engineering advocacy groups and initiatives to open up new frontiers of excellence and service as well as to support engineers inside the corporate framework.
- On his radio show, Nader interviews Nicholas Sakellariou, a lecturer at California Polytechnic State University College of Engineering, where he teaches engineering ethics. He is also one of the editors on a 2019 anthology entitled “Ethics, Politics and Whistleblowing in Engineering.
- The Union of Concerned Scientists offers support and links and calls scientific whistleblowers “critical to protecting public health, safety, fiscal accountability, and the foundations of our democracy.”
Scientists whose work has unwelcome implications for powerful vested interests have increasingly found themselves under attack: hounded in online forums, threatened and harassed via email, subjected to intrusive open-records claims—even, in at least one notorious case, investigated under fraud statutes for their research.
- Finally, a deep dig into the “Infinite Archives” at MIT finds a video of a talk from the late Roger Boisjoly, who tried to blow the whistle to prevent for the 1986 Space Shuttle ‘Challenger’ disaster.