Ethics, risk communication and the culture of engineering

Joseph R. Herkert

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


As modern technology becomes more complex the assessment of environmental and safety risks likewise becomes more complex, lending itself to an increasing array of moral issues and dilemmas. By virtue of their significant role in the process of technological development, engineers are inevitably involved, directly or indirectly, in risk assessment and risk management and, hence, must be prepared to wrestle with the accompanying moral issues.The evolution of engineering codes of ethics reflects a growing acknowledgement on the part of professional engineering societies that engineers have both a professional and a moral responsibility for the public safety, health and welfare. In addition, the engineer's responsibility for the public safety and welfare extends to informing the public about technology, its applications and its consequences in a more general sense. Moreover, their responsibility to the public requires that engineers themselves be informed with respect to non-technical perspectives on technology, including a sensitivity to and respect for the differences between expert and non-expert perception of risk. Risk communication efforts will not go very far if engineers persist in dismissing public perceptions of risk, responding to over-simplified notions of what the public wants, and utilizing quantitative methods to camouflage their own value judgments. There is thus both a practical necessity and an ethical imperative for engineers to become actively engaged in risk communication efforts that incorporate an understanding of and respect for public perception of risk. This calls for nothing less than a transformation of the `culture of engineering,' including an integration of technical concepts with concepts drawn from the humanities and social sciences. A meaningful transformation in the engineering culture will require substantive institutional changes, especially in schools of engineering, and the development of `moral imagination' by individual engineers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProc 1993 Int Symp Technol Soc
Editors Anon
PublisherPubl by IEEE
Number of pages5
ISBN (Print)0780309561
StatePublished - Dec 1 1993
EventProceedings of the 1993 International Symposium on Technology and Society - Washington, DC, USA
Duration: Oct 22 1993Oct 23 1993

Publication series

NameProc 1993 Int Symp Technol Soc


OtherProceedings of the 1993 International Symposium on Technology and Society
CityWashington, DC, USA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Ethics, risk communication and the culture of engineering'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this