You are on page 1of 6

Chapter 7: Honesty

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself- and you are the easiest person to fool.…

By honest I don’t mean that you only tell what’s true. But you make clear the entire situation. You make clear
all the information that is required for somebody else who is intelligent to make up their mind.
- Richard P. Feynman

7.1 Truthfulness and Trustworthiness

7.1.1 Truthfulness
It imposes what many consider an absolute prohibition on deception, and in addition it establishes high ideal of
seeking and speaking the truth.
Nuances of deception in everyday life.
Most conclude that deception is sometimes necessary evil, and, in moderation and prudence, it is a healthy part
of living as a social being.

Sissela Bok, however insists that our society has gone too far in creating climate of dishonesty. She
acknowledges the need for occasional lies.
Yet she urges us to embrace what she calls the “principle of veracity”: there is a strong presumption against
lying and deception, although the presumption can occasionally be overridden by other pressing moral reasons
in particular contexts.

Two of the Six Fundamental Canon in the NSPE Code of Ethics concern honesty:
Canon 3 requires engineers to “Issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner,”
Canon 5 requires them to “Avoid deceptive acts,”
Together, as the “truthful responsibility: engineers must be objective and truthful and must not engage in

7.1.2 Trustworthiness
To deceive other persons is to undermine their autonomy, their ability to guide their own conduct. Deceit is a
form of manipulation that undermines their ability to carry out their legitimate pursuits, based on available
truths relevant to those pursuits.
Deceiver use other people as “mere means” to their own purposes, rather than respecting them as rational beings
with desires and needs.
Bok makes the point in this way: “deceit and violence –these are two forms of deliberate assault on human
beings. Bothe can coerce people into acting against their will. Most harm that can befall victims through
violence can come to them also through deceit. But deceit controls more subtly, for it works on belief as well as

Duty ethics, for example, provides a straightforward foundation for truthfulness as a form of respect for a
person’s autonomy.
Rights ethics, that idea into respect for a person’s right to exercise autonomy (or liberty).
Rule-utilitarianism emphasizes the good consequences that flow from a rule requiring truthfulness.
Virtue ethics affirms truthfulness as a fundamental virtue, and it underscores hoe honesty contributes to
desirable forms of character for engineers, the internal good of the social practice of engineering, and the wider
community in which the practice is embedded.

Honesty has two primary meanings:

(1) Truthfulness, which centers on meeting responsibilities about truth, and
(2) Trustworthiness, which centers on meeting responsibilities about trust.
The meanings are interwoven because untruthfulness violates trust, and because violations of trust typically
involve deception.

7.1.3 Academic Integrity

Several forms of academic dishonesty:
cheating: intentionally violating the rules of fair play in any academic exercise,
fabrication: intentionally falsifying or inventing information,
plagiarism: intentionally or negligently submitting others’ work as one’s own,
facilitating academic dishonesty: intentionally helping other students to engage in academic
misrepresentation: intentionally giving false information to an instructor,
failure to contribute to a collaborative project: failing to do one’s fair share on a joint project,
sabotage: intentionally preventing others from doing their work,
theft: stealing

Studies reveal a variety of motivation, including:

 Performance worries;
 Responses to external pressure;
 The belief that professors are unfair;
 The desire to help a friend;
 the belief that since other students are cheating it is all right for me to do the same;
 The belief that plagiarism is not a big deal;
 “victimless crime” in which no one really gets hurt.
 Why they meet standards of academic integrity:
 The conviction that dishonesty is wrong and unfair;
 The conviction that cheating undermines the meaning of achievement;
 Self-respect;
 Respect for the teacher;
 And fear of getting caught.

7.2 Research Integrity

Research ethics has many facets,
Defining research integrity and misconduct, conducting and reporting experiments, protecting research subjects,
giving and claiming credit and reporting misconduct.

7.2.1 Excellence versus Misconduct

Truthfulness in research aims at discovering and promulgating truth. Research consists in trying to discover,
express and promulgate truth.
Integrity in research is about promoting excellence (high quality) in these activities, and this positive emphasis
On excellence should be kept paramount in thinking about honesty in research.
The activity of reporting research is an important part of conducting research. Research results are useful when
they are reported clearly, completely, in a timely manner, and honestly.
A principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty-a kind of leaning over backwards.
For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid-
not only what you think is right about it.

7.2.2 Bias and Self-Deception

Self-deception is motivated irrationality-that is, unreasonable belief that is motivated by biases and for which is
one is responsible. More fully, self-deception is allowing one’s judgement to be biases by what one wants to
believe and by one’s emotions. The word allowing implies negligence, that is, the failure to take sufficient care
to prevent biases from distorting one’s thinking and observations.
Another view, self-deception is sometimes motivated irrationality but other times it constitutes a more
purposeful evasion the purpose and intention involved is typically unconscious or less than fully conscious.
The important point is that the truthfulness responsibility requires trying to overcome both forms of self-
deception. That is what Feynman meant in speaking of “a kind of utter honesty-a kind of leaning backwards” to
adjust for possible bias and distortion.
7.2.3 Protecting Research Subjects
The most helpful document specifying them is the book On Being a Scientist, which the National Academy of
Engineering (NAE) co developed with other branches of National Research Council (NRC). In what follows we
limit discussion to human subjects.

• Experiments on Humans
• Special safeguards are taken when experimental subjects other than competent adults are the research
• The Nuremberg Code is the most important historical document requiring informed consent in research.

7.2.4 Giving and Claiming Credit

Plagiarism; intentional or negligently submitting others’ work as one’s own.
Misrepresenting Credentials; forge credentials, creating widely publicized scandals.
Misleading Listing of Authorship; whether of articles or other documents, is another area where subtle
deception occurs.

7.2.5 Reporting Misconduct

There is a growing consensus that researchers have a responsibility to report misconduct by other researchers
when the misconduct is serious and when they are in a position to document it.

7.3 Consulting Engineers

Advertising, Competitive Bidding, and Contingency Fees.

7.3.1 Advertising
Prior to 1976 Supreme Court decision, competitive advertising in engineering, beyond the simple notification of
the availability of one’s services, was considered a moral issue and was banned by professional codes of ethics.

Deceptive advertising normally occurs when products or services are made to look better than they actually are.
This can be done in many ways;
(1) By outright lies
(2) By half-truths
(3) Through exaggerations
(4) By making false innuendos, suggestions, or implications
(5) Through obfuscation created by ambiguity, vagueness, or incoherence
(6) Through subliminal manipulation of the unconscious.
Another way is to impress with performance data that is meaningless because it has no reference standards.

7.3.2 Competitive Bidding

For many years, codes prohibited consulting engineers from engaging in competitive bidding, that is, from
competing for jobs on the basis of submitting priced proposals (as contrasted with a fee structure to be applied
to the contract).
If the use of competitive bidding is widely rejected by engineering firms, clients will have to rely almost
exclusively on reputation and proven qualifications in choosing between them.

7.3.3 Contingency Fees

Naturally this calls for exercising a sense of honesty and fairness.
A contingency fee or commission is dependent on some special condition beyond the normal performance of
satisfactory work.

7.3.4 Safety and Client Needs

The greater amount of job freedom enjoyed by consulting engineers as opposed to salaried engineers leads to a
wider area of responsible decision-making concerning safety. It also generates special difficulties concerning

7.4 Expert Witnesses and Advisers

Usually engineers are hired by one adversary in the dispute, and that raises special ethical concerns about their
proper roles.

7.4.1 Expert Witnesses in the Court

It does not follow that they will function as mouthpieces paid to slant the truth according to who pays them.
Their primary responsibility is to be objective in discovering the truth and communicating it honestly, as
honesty understood within the court system. The appropriate role of expert witnesses is not determined in the
abstract, but instead depends on the shared understanding created within the society. In particular, the role must
be understood in terms of the aims of a (morally justified) legal system, consistent with professional standards
(as promulgated in codes of ethics).

7.4.2 Abuses
Hired guns. Most flagrant abuse is the unscrupulous engineer who makes a living by not even trying to be
objective, but instead in helping attorney to portray the facts in a way favorable to their clients
Financial biases. Merely being paid by one side can exert some bias, however slight. This bias might influence
one’s investigations, testimony, and even the presentation of one’s qualifications.
Ego biases. Most of us know from experience that adversarial situations evoke competitive attitudes that can
influence judgement.
Sympathy biases. One may feel great sympathy; such biases are purposely self-deception; the courts must also
rely on the balance provided by having expert witnesses on both sides of the case. Combined with the
responsibility of opposing attorneys to examine expert witnesses for any possible biases.

7.4.3 Advisers in Planning and Policy-Making

• Technical Complexity and the Need for Assumptions.
• Diffused Responsibility.
• Hired Guns.
• Value-Neutralanalysts.
• Value-Guided advocates.