Texas Tech University

Ethics Case 1: The Backwards Math

"Jay's boss is an acknowledged expert in the field of catalysis. Jay is the leader of a group that has been charged with developing a new catalyst system, and the search has narrowed to two possibilities, Catalyst 'A' and Catalyst 'B'.

"The boss is certain that the best choice is 'A', but he directs that tests be run on both, 'just for the record.' Owing to inexperienced help, the tests take longer than expected and the results show that 'B' is the preferred material. The engineers question the validity of the tests, but because of the project's timetable, there is no time to repeat the series. The boss, therefore, directs Jay to work the math backwards and come up with phony data to substantiate the choice of Catalyst 'A', a choice that all of the engineers in the group, including Jay, agree with. Jay writes the report."

Consider the following with regard to the case of The Backwards Math:

  1. What would you have done had you been Jay? Would you have written the report?
  2. If you had refused to write the report, how could you have justified this refusal since you, along with all of the others on the team, felt that the test data was invalid and there was not time to duplicate the test? Is it not likely that experience is a better guide than one set of questionable test data? If yes, does this impact on the ethical nature of the dilemma?
  3. Would it have been a good idea to write the report and also write a memo saying that you were being directed to do something which was unethical? If you did this, would it be done just to cover you if you are found out? Would that make what you did any more ethical than it would have been without the memo?
  4. How about the alternative of writing the report, but not signing it? Would this be a satisfactory solution to your ethical dilemma?
  5. Is this a case in which you would become an "internal" whistleblower by going over your boss' head and reporting that you had been asked to write a false report?

If none of the above options seem to be a satisfactory action, go back to Question 1 and think again. What would you have done?

Back to the Ethics Modules page


Murdough Center for Engineering Professionalism