Project leader Bruce Barton was being sorely pressed to complete the
development of several engineering prototypes for a field test of a new appliance model
for the XYZ company. One particular plastic component of the new model had given
difficulty in laboratory tests as it failed repeatedly before reaching the stress level
necessary for successful operation. Bruce had directed a redesign of the component using a
tough new engineering plastic recommended by the Research Laboratory's Material Science
Department. Stress tests needed to be run on the redesigned component, but Bruce was
running short of time and needed to get on with building the prototype.
Bruce sought out the manager of the Material Science Department for
help in running stress tests on samples of the new component. With this assistance he
could go ahead with prototype building and conduct the tests concurrently. The prototypes,
of course, would not be released to field test until the stress tests on the redesigned
component proved its design to be satisfactory.
Tom Mason, manager of the Material Science Department, was willing to
assist because he knew how critical completion of the development was to XYZ's future
appliance plans. However, this was also a busy time for Tom's department. So, Tom
suggested to Bruce that he could assign the test work to one of the engineering co-op
students. Tom was also coordinator of engineering co-op students, and he liked to use the
co-op students in demanding situations to give them practical experience.
Tom assigned the test work to Jack Jacobs, an engineering co-op student
from the State University who was completing his second work session at XYZ. Jack was
familiar with the test equipment and previously had done similar test work. Jack was a
good student and his co-op work had been usually well done. Tom commented to Jack that he
would need to work diligently to complete the tests before he had to return to State
Jack completed the tests on schedule and turned in a report to Tom
indicating the component had successfully passed the stress tests. Upon completion of the
test report Jack returned to the university for his next school session. Tom gave Bruce
the good news. The prototypes were completed and the field test of these prototypes got
underway on schedule.
A few weeks later, Bruce rushed into Tom's office to tell him that most
of the prototypes were out of operation because of a catastrophic failure of the component
that had been tested in Tom's lab. Bruce wanted to discuss the test immediately with Jack;
but since Jack had already returned to the university, he and Tom settled for studying
Jack's lab notebook in detail.
After review, Tom said, "Bruce, I hate to say it but these data
look too good. I know the equipment and there should be more scatter in the
measurements Jack took. I think some, if not all, these measurements are in error or they
have been faked! At best, Jack probably took a few points and 'extrapolated' the
What ethical issues, if any, does this scenario raise?
Bruce and Tom made plans to run all the tests again. Meanwhile, Tom
phoned Dr. Frank Thompson, Co-op Coordinator at State University, to discuss his fear that
Jack had falsified data. In the course of the conversation he asked Dr. Thompson if any
effort was made to discuss professional ethics with co-op students before their first work
session and if the importance and value of engineering test results were stressed to these
students. Dr. Thompson explained that no specific instruction on professional ethics was
given to co-op students, but all lab courses emphasized the need for accuracy in data
taking. Dr. Thompson added that he found it hard to believe that a co-op student would
Was it appropriate for Tom to discuss his concerns about Jack with the
university's Co-op Coordinator prior to discussing the matter with Jack?
Should Tom have a conversation with Jack about his concerns? If so,
what type of conversation should Tom have with Jack when he talks with him? Should he
refuse to have Jack return to XYZ as a co-op student?