The Mask for Scientists and Engineers

This week’s reading material “The Mask” brings me some fresh ideas about the using the sophisticated mask to bypass ethics, conscience, and personal responsibility. Considering myself as both a scientist and an engineer, I can totally relate to the statement that “the mask of scientist has allowed progress to be elevated in science to a status that excludes ethical imperatives”. Being at the stage of a PhD student, the pressure to report weekly, monthly, and/or annual progress to principal investigator is both my biggest driven force and once-a-while nightmare. Just imaging the heavy burden falling upon the professor when the deadline of final NSF report is approaching or upon the full-time scientist in the R&D department of a commercial company when a breakthrough is required to save the company. A continuously lagged progress will not please your boss and eventually break down your work-life balance. As a result, some scientists yield to the pressure of progress and bend their personal ethics and professional conducts. Fabricating data or reporting false data is discovered especially in biological and life science field. In drug development process, deleting undesirable data points from animal tests could lead to a “breakthrough” in curing serious disease, putting public health and welfare at threat if the drug hit the market.

I also believe that in the field of engineering, cost-efficiency is a paramount guiding principle to engineers, similar to the case of profit to business person.  As in my PhD research, cost analysis is always an essential part for my manuscript, and most of the reviewers will question the competitiveness of my proposed engineering system over the existing system based on cost analysis data. In order to achieve high cost effectiveness, engineers may utilize cheap and low-quality materials for the project, potentially jeopardizing public health and safety. In construction field, I personally know that, in order to reduce overall cost, some civil engineers would use defective wooden materials for home decoration at only half of the market price in my hometown. However, their reputation as engineers was soon destroyed after two years as their decorations were cracked and deformed due to low resistance to thermal expansion and moisture.

Hence, we should always be well educated to identify these masks and accept the idea that progress and cost-efficiency are not “the guiding axiom and justification” for all scientists and engineers. Always remember our personal ethics and professional code of conducts at any stage of our career.

1 Comment on “The Mask for Scientists and Engineers

  1. Well, that is a new way for me to look at the ‘mask’ reading. Interesting! I think there is more to the need of fabricating than to please someone, but I understand where you are coming from. It is a pressure for you now as a Ph.D. student, and these pressures would change with the course of time. I totally agree with you when progress and cost-efficiency should not be the guiding axiom. These are comparable with different space and time frames. I think it is important for a scientist to pursue an ideal to bring about a difference in any sphere of life he seeks to influence. Like Ra’s al Ghul points out in Batman Begins: If you truly devote yourself to an ideal, then you become a legend.

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