The “Cog in the Machine” Manifesto: The Banality and the Inevitability of Evil

Business Ethics Quarterly 8 (4):743-756 (1998)
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Abstract

As a response to Diane Vaughan’s controversial work on the NASA Challenger Disaster, this article opposes the conclusion that NASA’s decision to launch the space shuttle was an inevitable outcome of techno-bureaucratic culture and risky technology. Instead, the argument developed in this article is that NASA did not prioritize safety, both in their selection of shuttle-parts and their decision to launch under sub-optimal weather conditions. This article further suggests that the “mistake” language employed by Vaughan and others is inappropriate insofar as it obscures the responsibility of individuals within the organization and trivializes the loss of life and severity of the disaster. Contra to the conclusions of Vaughan’s casework, this article reveals various ethical transgressions on the side of NASA and its affiliates; from its decision to use poorly designed O-rings, to withholding crucial engineering assessments from the shuttle-crew, this article points out that NASA did not succumb to a pre-destined fate, but, rather, created its own.

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Robert E. Allinson
Soka University

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