June 2017

Science Experts and Ethics

When discussing science experts, a great example comes from Ibo van de Poel and Lamber Royakkers description of the Ford Pinto. As a political form of science and technology, the automobile industry is powerful! As in the Ford Pinto case, the science experts from Ford neglected the safety of the public by design for the location of the car’s fuel tank.   The design made the Ford Pinto susceptible to combustion during a rear-end impact. The Ford Pinto case demonstrates ethical issues when a self-governing science community releases products in the public domain.

By self-governing, science experts have the power within their own ethical boundaries. The ethics of science experts become visible as the scientific artifact intersects with the public. The intersection of scientific expertise in the public domain exposes ethical decision for public safety. As a protection of public safety, independent or third party organizing began to intervene.

Beyond our reading assignment, the outcome of the Ford Pinto case generated the need of governance outside the science experts. As an example, both government and private entities help oversee that experts and politics of car manufacturers do not supersede the ethics for public safety.

At a closer look of the governing bodies for crash testing, the contributors for overseeing the process of “crash testing” cars come from three primary organizations; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Department of Transportation and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) which is an independent contributor by auto insurers. In comparison to the DC and Flint water crisis, there are three distinct differences:

  1. Part of the testing of car safety comes from an independent contributor, IIHS. The role of the IIHS removes the power car manufacturers overseeing the safety of their technology.
  2. The link between car manufacturers and the auto insurers. A great influence for car safety comes from auto insurers. The dynamics of auto insurers establish a 3rd actor which economic influence connects to the ethical safety of car owners.
  3. Today, the governance of car safety has the authority that enforces car manufacturers to comply. As an example, some state requires annual vehicle safety inspections that work independently from car manufacturers. The inspection inspects a vehicle from hazards such as CO2, brakes for stopping, the vehicle frame and suspension. Since the late 1990’s, several states require an emissions test which machine generated.

In relating this to the water crisis of DC and Flint, both federal and state governments have generated policies for public safety pertaining to automobiles. However, the detail for governance for residents drinking water lacks the same level of granularity. Why? In the case of DC and Flint water crisis, the governance of public water lacks authority and influence of the independent contributor such as the IIHS. The EPA can only report issues without enforcing mitigation.

In a comparison, the science of the IIHS works in governs the products of the automobile industry. The relationship between the IIHS and the auto industry helps balance the ethics in the design and production of car safety. Yet, the EPA remains without influential power. Theoretically, the EPA science generates policy and procedures without the power of enforcement. Without any “power for enforcement,” the EPA lacks the ability to ensure the ethics by the scientific experts.

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