During the period 2007-2017 I was employed part-time at the National Academy' of Engineering (NAE) to help develop new ethics programs in the NAE Center for Engineering Ethics and Society (CEES).1 The NAE is part of NASEM. As previously noted, NASEM is a federally chartered non-profit honorary membership organization of scientists and engineers who provide advice to federal agencies, organizations, and the public about technical dimensions within policy-related issues.
This opportunity reinforces my' emphasis on serendipity—perhaps it might be called prepared serendipity'. The president of the NAE at the time I joined the agency was computer scientist and engineer William A. Wulf, a strong voice for the relevance of ethics in engineering—particularly macro-ethics. While this term has not received a precise definition, it is juxtaposed to micro-ethics. Micro-ethics is the emphasis on ethical issues and choices for individuals, while macro-ethics are those issues that need to be addressed at a societal level. For instance, in engineering, offering or taking a bribe is unethical. Reducing the incentives for bribes is an issue that needs to be addressed at a different level (Herkert 2004).
Wulf emphasized the large-scale ethical issues that he saw as intrinsic to twenty-first-century' engineering practice, which involves both complexity' and uncertainty', and he set in motion efforts to develop and fund programs at NAE that could address such issues. One of his earliest efforts involved a 2003 conference in Washington, DC, focusing on complex emerging technologies and associated ethical issues (NAE 2004). This conference drew in philosophers,
STS scholars, and scientists and engineers. The organizers included the philosophers Caroline Whitbeck and Deborah Johnson, two founding figures in the field of science and engineering ethics whose work often involved collaborations with scientists and engineers. Building on her connection with Wulf, Whitbeck transferred the resource that she founded—the Online Ethics Center (OEC)—to the NAE. The NAE GEES manages it still at www.onlineethics.org and has expanded its content and reach with support from the NSF.
At NSF, my work required consultation and collaboration with a wide range of scientists and engineers, in the service of deciding which proposals for science and engineering ethics research and education to support. Advice almost always involved an interdisciplinary panel, and deciding which proposals to recommend for support based on that advice. Similarly, all programs and activities at the National Academies require the participation of members, who usually chair the groups tasked with oversight or implementation of the efforts. Focused as they are on scientific and technical issues of policy relevance, the bodies are always interdisciplinary and representative of a wide variety of interests. Based on recommendations from program officers, the Presidents of each of the three Academies approve the selection of the chairs and committee members, who oversee project directions and activities. Support for the activities comes from numerous federal agencies and other sources. Thus my NASEM work was orthogonal to that in my previous job—garnering support for activities rather than providing it.
Both jobs involved fieldwork to which traditional philosophy makes a modest contribution. My most distinctive contribution may have been my work to connect philosophical ethics with STS. This work emphasized the contribution of both constitutive and contextual values to science and engineering research and practice and the ethical components they include. The ways in which these connections arise—and matter—needs close textual analysis or fieldwork in the arenas in which the scientific and engineering activity is taking place. At NSF, my job enabled me to encourage proposals and support projects in which this work could occur. At NAE, with support from advisors, we were able to continue this work.
CEES has an interdisciplinary and inclusive advisory group that helps to set its directions and oversee and evaluate its activities as well as those of the OEC (CEES 2018). As a condition of a NSF award, the OEC has a similar group focusing specifically on that effort. The merits of these kinds of approaches have received relatively little study, although both NSF and NASEM recognize that program managers would benefit if there were better efforts at both training and studying what makes for effective research or committee management.
While acknowledging this need, the merit of NSF panel review and of the NASEM advisory committees have long been recognized, and at NAE these groups played an essential role in developing and participating in CEES and OEC programs. Numerous CEES activities focused on questions of social justice involving engineers and engineering. Projects often required collaborations with partners at colleges and universities and the engagement of natural and physical scientists, engineers, social scientists, and philosophers. Leaders in public and private organizations and local government were also involved.
I note here two CEES projects that typified these approaches. The first, an energy ethics project, took a problem-oriented, real-world approach to ethics education and defined energy ethics as requiring consideration of technical and social feasibility as well as the ethical desirability of energy choices. It addressed issues of individual and collective responsibility and the ethical merits of these choices, asking whether they are ethically permissible, recommended, and required, or should be forbidden. My philosophical training was brought to bear in delineating these project themes. The project included new research and educational activities on energy ethics that involved graduate students in interdisciplinary research programs. Activities included seminars, workshops, a weeklong institute, a video contest, and outreach and engagement efforts.2
Besides traditional publications in the form of articles and reports, several projects, including one on Climate, Engineered Systems, and Society, developed video products that might reach a broad audience. For this project, two videos are now available on the home page of the OEC. The videos—“Climate and Infrastructure I: Why Does It Matter?” and “Climate and Infrastructure II: Who Should Address It?”—involve participants from the project’s capstone conference in 2013? Experts from a wide range of disciplines as well as local citizen leaders address the need for and ways to develop systems that can address climate change challenges.
I believe these efforts would have benefited from my paying more attention to engaging the NAE leadership and governing bodies in their promotion and support. Once Wulfs tenure as NAE president was over, the next presidents did not have the same connection with the NAE ethics program. Although supportive, their attention was on other NAE efforts and priorities. The 2020 incoming NAE president, John L. Anderson, from the Illinois Institute ofTech-nology, has a strong history of involvement with engineering ethics education so increased attention is likely.