ASA's "neutrality policy" and engineering ethics

From: Joe Carson <>
Date: Sun Dec 04 2005 - 20:46:58 EST

In my opinion ASA's "neutrality policy" - which
is not part of its Constitution or bylaws and can
therefore be amended/ended at any time by a
majority vote of its Executive Council -
indirectly contributes to the lack of a
collective and intentional Christian influence in
the engineering (and science) professions. A
lack of a Christian "salt and light" intentional
and collective influence contributes to the
existence and persistence of significant
deficiencies in engineering ethics, in theory and
implementation, which contributes to engineering
related mishaps such as the failure of the levees in New Orleans.

It may also contribute to civilization ending, at
mankind's hand, via scientific and engineered
means, during our watch. I suggest God will not
view our faithfulness, as Christian engineers and
scientists, kindly in such a circumstance, for
there not being a collective and intentional
Christian influence in the engineering and
science professions and for our not being advocates and agents of it.

ASA's "neutrality policy" as currently
implemented, is in my opinion, contrary to its
doctrinal statement, which explicitly recognizes
it and its members stewardship
responsibilities. I agree that ASA should be
neutral about things as young earth creationism
and ID - there are no significant stewardship
implications to those issues. I disagree it
should be neutral about issues of scientific
integrity, including engineering ethics. But it
is, because of its "neutrality policy" and
because its current Constitutional objectives are
so limited in scope. One cannot both be
"neutral" and also be an advocate of a collective
and intentional Christian influence in the
engineering and science professions. ASA
"neutrality" hinders my efforts, indirectly at
least, to create an organizational vehicle for a
collective and intentional Christian influence in the engineering profession.

I recently wrote a letter to the members (voting
and non-voting, as well as the two candidates) of
the ASA Executive Council, describing my reasons
for letting my ASA membership lapse, after about
15 years of association with ASA. Simply put, I
do not think ASA is "God's organization" or is
"seeking God's will," contrary to statements made
by Randy Isaac, ASA Executive Director at the
recent ASA annual meeting (his speech is
available as an MP3 file linked to the ASA homepage.)

If anyone wishes a copy of the letter, send me an
email at <>.

The following submitted article details *some*
(far from all!) of my concerns about engineering
ethics (the editor limited me to about 1500 words!)

Joe Carson


The following article has been submitted for the
Fall 2005 issue of the electronically
distributed “Professional Ethics Report” of the
Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law
Program of American Association for the
Advancement of the Sciences
<>. It was solicited
by the editor of the publication and what follows
is likely close to what is published in next few weeks.

Joe Carson, P.E.

The author is a mechanical engineer with 30 years
experience in nuclear technology – weapons,
power, and other. He has been licensed for over
20 years. He is a long-time active member of
ASME, NSPE, and ANS and has held leadership
positions in each. He belongs to AAAS and has
twice been nominated for its “Scientific Freedom
and Responsibility Award.” He has likely
“prevailed” in more whistleblower-related
litigation than any other federal employee and
engineer in American history (some details are
at http://

At end of it, his reasons to sacrifice and risk
to defend his profession and its code of ethics
are based in a Christian worldview that informs
him one’s work matters to God and that “suffering
for righteousness’ sake” is not necessarily to be
shunned. He is a co-founder and President
of the Affiliation of Christian Engineers (see The views
expressed are his own, including that absent
something that does not now and, at least for
past 150 years in America, never has existed – a
collective and intentional Christian influence in
the engineering profession - nothing should be expected to change.

Is Engineering Ethics “Ethical”? Is “Engineering Ethics” at All?

A government loses legitimacy when it is unable
or unwilling to protect law-abiding citizens from
criminals – the “social contract” between the
governing and the governed becomes “null and
void” in such a circumstance. A similar
legitimacy issue confronts the engineering
profession because it is unable or unwilling to
protect its code of ethics when employers of
engineers punish them for adhering to
it. Leaders of the engineering profession are
“in denial” about this basic legitimacy
issue. The stakes are enormous, given that the
engineering profession is arguably humankind’s
largest and most global profession (about 20
million degreed members worldwide), with
essential responsibilities for the design,
construction, operation, and maintenance of the
“built” environment we are all so dependent upon
for our individual and collective functioning.

The following points are based on the author’s
direct experiences and/or objectively verifiable facts :

1. Codes of Engineering Ethics of major
engineering societies, just as legally binding
rules of professional conduct for licensed
professional engineers (P.E.’s) contain a
positive requirement for engineers to “blow
whistles” when necessary to protect others.
Additionally, they are implemented on a “strict
honor code basis.” They explicitly require an
engineer to report reasonable knowledge of their
violation by others to the appropriate
professional body, even at risk of job loss and
lasting career damage. The “one for all” aspects
of “social contract” the engineer has with his
profession and society are clearly delineated.

2.There are no corresponding “all for one”
obligations on the profession to collectively
protect its code of ethics, including protecting
the engineer from employment retribution for
adhering to his ethical obligations, making the
social contract – i.e. engineering ethics –
unethical and illegitimate, in the opinion of the author.

3. State Engineering Boards exist to
protect the public health, safety, and welfare,
but in the author’s experience with two State
Boards and what he has learned from others, they
clearly state they have no obligations to protect
the law-abiding engineer from employment
retribution. In author’s case, they have
repeatedly declined to join neutral friend of the
court briefs or requests “go on record” in
criticism of the legally established record of wrongdoing.

4.Major engineering professional societies
require compliance with a code of ethics as
a condition of membership, but in the author’s
experience and what he has learned from others,
they demonstrate little, if any, collective
cohesiveness to their codes of ethics when an
ethical engineer alleges or experiences
employment retribution. They have, in author’s
case, repeatedly declined to join neutral friend
of the court briefs or requests “go on record” in
criticism of the legally established record of
wrongdoing. NSPE’s Board of Ethical Review (BER)
has existed for over 50 years and issued a number
of opinions related to the “one for all” aspect
of the social contract, making clear the engineer
is to risk job loss and lasting career damage to
do his duty. No once has it addressed what, if
any, “all for one” collective responsibilities
the profession has in such a circumstance.

5.Only about 20% of practicing engineers in
America are licensed and, hence, subject to the
jurisdiction of a State Engineering Board. This
is because industrial employers of engineers
generally oppose mandatory licensure of their
engineers which would make their engineers
subject to State Board regulations. Their
influence created the “industrial exemption”
present in most licensure laws. Engineering
ethics have no legal standing for non-licensed
engineers, these engineers cannot say something
as, “Boss, I respect you and want to please you,
but I cannot do what you ask because I could lose
my license, my job, and my career, please understand.”

6.Neither can such an engineer invoke the “public
policy exemption” to “at-will” employment
doctrine to defend himself against employer
retribution. By it, an employer cannot punish an
employee it requires to be licensed for complying
with their licensure requirements. (Industrial
employers of engineers have the prerogative of
waiving the industrial exemption and can legally
require their engineer employees be
licensed. Additionally, every engineer can waive
exemptions, become licensed, and submit to the
jurisdiction of the State Boards).

7. State Boards of Engineering have
reactive investigation and enforcement
postures--no complaint, no investigation--is
their operating procedure. As a result, in the
author’s experience, including conversations with
investigators from several State Engineering
Boards, even highly publicized
engineering-related mishaps/misconduct will not
be investigated without a signed complaint,
making fear of retribution a real deterrent to
their filing (State Boards justify this as
preventing frivolous complaints). Additionally,
the author is unaware of any engineer ever being
disciplined for failing to file a complaint when
one was warranted (State Engineering Board
regularly communicate to their licensees all
instances of disciplinary action taken). The
State Boards cite the “strict honor code”
requirements of their regulations to justify
their “no complaint, no investigation”
posture. In author’s experience, they do not
want to objectively consider if their “strict
honor code” enforcement system is viable in
protecting the public health and safety.

8. The Columbia Space Shuttle Accident
Investigation Board Report, in about 250 pages,
contained over 400 expressions of some form of
the word “engineer” and about 200 expressions of
some form of word the “design.” Yet, engineering
ethics and P.E. licensure were not mentioned as
relevant considerations. So apparently they are
not--engineering ethics just isn’t--as no major
engineering society took any issue with this, despite the author’s prodding.

9. The same is true of the joint
US-Canadian government report on the 2003
large-scale power black-out in the Northeast and
the Nuclear Regulatory Commission report on the
extraordinary amount of corrosion on the head of
the nuclear reactor, Davis-Besse in
Ohio. Engineering ethics and P.E. licensure got
a “free pass,” and engineering professional
societies took no issue in either case, despite the author’s efforts.

10. The National Academy of Engineering
(NAE) has issued a number of reports involving
significant public health and safety issues in
the Department of Energy (where author is
employed) during the past 20 years, but none
mention the existence or relevance of engineering
ethics and P.E. licensure. The author has
discussed this situation with staff of NAE and
contributors to some of these reports. To
author’s knowledge, NAE has yet to implement
policy regarding compliance with engineering
ethics and its strict honor code implementation
basis in NAE sponsored work (if engineering
ethics were viable, why would it even need such a policy?)

11. The Science and Policy Directorate of
AAAS includes the Program of Dialogue on Science,
Ethics, and Religion (DoSER). The author has, on
several occasions, suggested to DoSER staff and
volunteer leaders that it explore whether
religious faith, at least in part for some
engineers (and scientists), motivated their
selfless actions to defend and uphold their
profession’s code of ethics. DoSER has yet to express an interest.


1. Engineering professional societies should
acknowledge that faith-based motivations are
valid, at least in part for some of their
members, to their efforts to uplift and defend
the engineering profession, its code of ethics,
and its service to society. Personally, the
author feels demeaned that while his actions have
been praised within the profession, his
motivations for taking them are not acknowledged
as valid – somehow “church-state” separation has
morphed into a tacit position by the profession
that religion must be deeply privatized and is
irrelevant, in all cases, to one’s desire to
advance and defend the public trust the profession, and its members, hold.

2. P.E. licensure exists to protect the
public. If there is not a clear nexus between
P.E. licensure and public health and safety, then
it is an illegitimate restraint on trade for an
employer to require an engineer to be licensed
when not required by law. If the major
engineering professional societies will not make
this case, no one else will. Unless and until
engineering licensure becomes the norm for
employment by most industrial employers, the
engineering profession and its code of ethics
will remain significantly hobbled.

3. Engineering professional societies should
adopt policies to collectively defend their codes
of ethics when engineers allege or experience
retribution from their employers for adhering to
them. There should be three aspects: 1) file
neutral friend of the court briefs that focus on
importance to public health and safety of
engineers compliance with engineering ethics in
cases involving engineering ethics; 2) whenever
an engineer is legally vindicated in her claims
of workplace retribution, take strong action to
de-legitimize the employer; that is, make it
clear to the employer and its stakeholders that
not only was the individual engineer offended,
the engineering profession was offended, and the
public health and safety were offended: and 3)
make clear that any engineer who engages in
workplace retribution against another engineer
for complying with the profession’s code of
ethics betrays the profession and its public
trust will be subject to lifetime banishment from it.
Received on Sun Dec 4 20:50:26 2005

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