From the Northeastern Section of the ACS, focusing on career management and development

July 2017
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Professional Behavior. Ethics, Whistleblowers and Cassandras
Filed under: Recent Posts, Mature professionals, Observ. Trends, Alternate Career Paths
Posted by: site admin @ 4:37 pm
What do we do when we face a major risk or possible
catastrophe?  It is not something that normally comes up
in any but exceptional situations and is the “elephant in the
room.”  That is, is not spoken about.
Here are some thoughts to ponder.  A following comment
lists some situations and Casandras from Clarke and Eddy’s
book that is good reading, especially if you are interested in
cyber-security, global warming, CRISPR technology and
nuclear weapons and disarmament.
Casandra:  Sentinel intelligence experts who sense something
catastrophic before anyone else does, before disaster happens
Whistleblower: popularized by Ralph Nader for informing about 
illegal or unethical actions picking up on a much earlier term used to 
alert the public about a commission of a crime or a breaking of rules.
Whistleblowers are motivated to do their reporting or announcing by
wanting to do the right thing, or to make right a decision that went
against them.
Large federal agencies record whistleblower complaints and are
able to substantiate only a small fraction.  Because of the limited
confirmation rate and going against the culture or leadership or actions
of an organization, whistleblowers have a generally poor reputation.  
So despite positive ethical motivations we may have going into a
situation, it does not always work out for the best.
.Recently Clarke and Eddy have published a book exploring this
concept of warning where an individual strongly feels certain
decisions should be made or certain situations should be avoided.  
In Warnings:  Finding Cassandras to stop catastrophes they assert
the Greek concept of Cassandra.  Cassandra was graced by the
gods to be able to predict the future however cursed with the
response that no one believed or listened to her predictions.

A dozen past and current case studies were discussed in some detail
in a format that provided a view of classifying four features of each
case.  They were:  (1)nature of the threat or risk,
(2)is the person who needs to act known, knowledgeable, able to sort out
conflicting data and biases,
(3)is the predictor, or Cassandra, well-trained, highly creditable, respected
and confident in their findings and conclusions,
(4)what do the critics rely on and assert about the threat’s imminence.

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