Computer science, software engineering, and their disregard for safety: it’s like giving a kid a loaded gun

Yonatan Zunger in the Boston Globe:

Computer science is a field of engineering. Its purpose is to build systems to be used by others. But even though it has had its share of events which could have prompted a deeper reckoning — from the Therac-25 accidents, in which misprogrammed radiation therapy machines killed three people, up to IBM’s role in the Holocaust — and even though the things it builds are becoming as central to our lives as roads and bridges, computer science has not yet come to terms with the responsibility that comes with building things which so profoundly affect people’s lives.

Software engineers continue to treat safety and ethics as specialities, rather than the foundations of all design; young engineers believe they just need to learn to code, change the world, disrupt something. Business leaders focus on getting a product out fast, confident that they will not be held to account if that product fails catastrophically. Simultaneously imagining their products as changing the world and not being important enough to require safety precautions, they behave like kids in a shop full of loaded AK-47’s.

Source: The Boston Globe

Reacting to decline, dissatisfaction and dilemmas

I discuss in class the five ways in which people will react when faced with an ethical dilemma:

  • Exit
  • Voice
  • “Loyalty”
  • Neglect/Sabotage
  • Whistle-blowing.

The first three I paraphrase from a book by Albert Hirschman. The other two I picked up from research sources, as well as, sadly, my own experience.

The challenge for managers is to identify the behaviors and events that are symptomatic of these reactions, and to establish that said reactions are their cause.

B-school students cheating: blame it on Enron… or not

clipped from
Duke University’s business school recently announced that 34 of its first-year M.B.A. students will be expelled, suspended or awarded failing grades for cheating on a take-home examination in a required class.
The incident was the largest ever reported in the history of the business school, currently tied for No. 12 in the nation, according to U.S. News.
Reaction to the scandal has tended to fall into two categories.
One might be called the Enron analysis: Business students, like business leaders in capitalist America, see themselves as living in a dog-eat-dog world where competition is cutthroat and any means of succeeding, no matter how unethical by conventional standards, is justified–if they don’t get caught.
The other reaction might be called “It’s Not Really Cheating.”
“If you found somebody to help you write an exam, in our view that’s a sign of an inventive person who gets stuff done.”

Honor codes, multiple versions of exams and are no “functional substitute” for the one missing ingredient: an internalized sense of honesty.

Global integrity Report

Many of the world’s national governments have been plagued by charges of corruption and pervasive malfeasance over the past few decades. As a result, a number of international organizations have been created to provide information on corruption and governance trends for the policy community and the general public.

With funding from the World Bank, the Global Integrity organization produces the Global Integrity Report, which features a number of “integrity indicators”, which analyze openness, governance, and anti-corruption mechanisms for a wide range of countries. Visitors to their site can read the Report in its entirety here, and also browse through a number of media resources designed for journalists. Additionally, visitors can also learn more about the organization’s staff members and their various methodologies for compiling reports. (Internet Scout report)

The phone is where the whistle is blown

What’s the best way for an employee to blow the whistle on fraud or related infractions? The most popular way seems to be via hotlines or similar reporting tools. According to a joint report from the CSO Executive Council, an organization of corporate and government security executives, and The Network (a hotline provider), almost two-thirds of the nearly 200,000 reports it studied were made via hotlines without first alerting anyone in management. (…)

The study, which tracked incidents at 500 organizations over the past four years, found that 65 percent of the reports were serious enough to warrant investigation, while 46 percent led to some type of action being taken. Corruption and fraud accounted for 10 percent of the incidents, well behind personnel-management situations (51 percent). Company and professional-code violations accounted for 16 percent and employment-law violations 11 percent. (

Cruise execs flying high while stock nosedives

[T]he company disclosed that Chairman and CEO Micky Arison rang up $343K on his use of the corporate jet last year and that COO Howard Frank spent $321K. Of course, anyone looking to see how those numbers compare to the previous year have to dig through another set of footnotes in another proxy which show that in fiscal 2005, Arison and Frank spent $215K and $101K respectively. Maybe all of that flying helped to relieve the stress of a depressed stock price for much of the year in question. (