Second-Guessing Scientists and Engineers: Post Hoc Criticism and the Reform of Practice in Green Chemistry and Engineering

Science and Engineering Ethics 21 (5):1217-1240 (2015)
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Abstract

The article examines and extends work bringing together engineering ethics and Science and Technology Studies, which had built upon Diane Vaughan’s analysis of the Challenger shuttle accident as a test case. Reconsidering the use of her term “normalization of deviance,” the article argues for a middle path between moralizing against and excusing away engineering practices contributing to engineering disaster. To explore an illustrative pedagogical case and to suggest avenues for constructive research developing this middle path, it examines the emergence of green chemistry and green engineering. Green chemistry began when Paul Anastas and John Warner developed a set of new rules for chemical synthesis that sought to learn from missed opportunities to avoid environmental damage in the twentieth century, an approach that was soon extended to engineering as well. Examination of tacit assumptions about historical counterfactuals in recent, interdisciplinary discussions of green chemistry illuminate competing views about the field’s prospects. An integrated perspective is sought, addressing how both technical practice within chemistry and engineering and the influence of a wider “social movement” can play a role in remedying environmental problems

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