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Nae Launches Online Ethics Center


WASHINGTON -- The National Academy of Engineering is launching the Online Ethics Center (OEC), a Web site whose purpose is twofold: to provide engineers and engineering students with resources for understanding and addressing ethically significant problems; and to assist educators in promoting ethics in both engineering research and practice. The OEC site is part of NAE’s new Engineering Ethics Center.

The OEC has been a major online resource for the field of engineering ethics since its inception at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 1990s; it later flourished at Case Western Reserve University. The site owes its existence to the founding leadership and continuing direction of Professor Caroline Whitbeck. She and NAE President Wm. A. Wulf were the motivating forces for its transfer to the Academy. The Web site address remains

In his keynote address to the 2003 NAE workshop on Emerging Technologies and Ethical Issues in Engineering, Dr. Wulf stated, “The quickening pace of technological innovation, the spread of nano-, bio-, and information technology, coupled with the vastly increased complexity of systems engineers are building, I now believe raise a new class of ethical questions that the engineering profession hasn’t thought about. But we need to think about them, and, in fact, the need is urgent.”

“The Online Ethics Center will provide engineers with a central location to explore ethical questions and share ideas,” said Rachelle Hollander, who was recently appointed OEC director. Hollander previously served at the National Science Foundation for 31 years, where she directed the Societal Dimensions of Engineering, Science, and Technology program. She was instrumental in helping develop the fields of engineering ethics and ethics and risk management, and advancing the agency’s interests in integrating technical and societal issues in a large variety of professional and public forums. She is well-known for her many contributions to the education of engineering students, as a frequent contributor to the literature, and as an active participant in many professional organizations.

At NAE, the OEC has retained much of its previous content for the major users of the site -- faculty and students, who access OEC materials for course preparation and assignments, and practitioners and researchers.

The site’s current version is divided into six major sections. Two focus on topics that deal with science, technology, and society: “Computers and New Technology,” and “Safety and the Environment.” Another section contains a broad array of topics in education. And the three remaining sections -- “Employment and Legal Issues,” “Professional Practice,” and “Responsible Research” -- are about issues in the conduct of science and engineering.

Seed money from NAE member Raymond Stata, president of Analog Devices, funded the prototype for the OEC in the early 1990s. Two grants from the National Science Foundation (SBR-9511862 and SES-04285971) supported its development and operation until its transfer to the NAE. NAE member Harry E. Bovay Jr., president of MidSouth Telecommunications Co., contributed funds for the site’s transition to the NAE and continuing support for it and the new Engineering Ethics Center.

The Engineering Ethics Center is in the process of appointing an advisory group and planning a conference series as well as other research and educational activities.


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