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Ramifications Of Underhand Scientific Methods: The Challenger (Essay Sample)


Scientific ethics and integrity / Pseudoscience
The scientific approach has resulted in an explosion of technology and knowledge about our world. However, because of its success, the misapplication of the scientific method without high standards of ethics and integrity, or the use of the trappings of scientific study to lend credence to a spurious idea (“pseudoscience”), can be a dangerous thing.
In this paper, you will explore what happens when the process of scientific thought is either negligently or maliciously derailed.
Choose a contemporary (since 1875) phenomenon in which this happened. (It doesn't have to be specifically astronomical.) Discuss what happened (telling the story if it is not a familiar one), and describe in what way the principles of scientific integrity, ethics, and/or rigor were compromised.
Also describe what “warning signs” someone else might observe that would hint that something is wrong. What questions should a skeptical audience (whether fellow scientists or the general public) have asked that could point out the flaws in the argument being made?
Finally, if the issue resulted from negligence, rather than malice, describe what the researchers should have done instead to ensure that they didn't reach incorrect conclusions.

Student’s Name Course Professor’s Name Date Ramifications of Underhand Scientific Methods: Analysis of the Challenger Science has always pushed the limits of the possible, leading to great success and occasionally attracting the most expensive catastrophes. Astronomy is arguably one of those scientific fields that have challenged the sky as the limit cliché in underscoring the value of integrity in scientific research. Missions to space undeniably require money, but they are just as dependent on flawless scientific thought process as well. In the Space Shuttle Challenger, scientific thought process was negligently derailed, attracting far-reaching ramifications including loss of lives and money, in addition to tainted reputation. On January 28, 1986, the world watched in horror as seven lives – the astronauts onboard – perished in midair. The Challenger’s seal, O-ring, located in the right Solid Rocket Booster (SRB), failed at liftoff, leading to the leakage of hot, pressurized gas and an inevitable explosion. Pieces of the ship’s hardware broke down above the Atlantic Ocean about 73 seconds into the flight. NASA was grounded for 2.5 years. In less than two minutes, years of research, billions of dollars, and seven lives were brought to a horrific end because someone ignored the need for ethics and integrity. Examples abound of violation of the principles of scientific ethics and rigor in the Challenger case. First, while the engineers at Morton Thiokol recommended delaying the mission citing extremely low temperatures as a risk factor, researchers have hinted that the engineers’ case was potentially flawed (Robinson 81), with others claiming that it was poorly designed, lacked dependable statistical backing, and pegged on misrepresentation of data (Bajorski and Tufte 22). Secondly, after Morton Thiokol management accepted and sent to NASA the engineers’ recommendation that the Challenger was not flight ready, NASA shifted the burden of proof to them. Instead of involving the engineers to prove their claim, the managers at Morton Thiokol simply voted to approve the flight (Robinson 62). Scientific questions require integrity in formulating hypotheses and conducting elaborate research for sound decision-making; an emotional-ridden democratic process is not a viable alternative. Decision makers in this case ignored several red flags. Professional advice was to postpone launching the ship until the temperatures were much higher, a decision that was based on experience and the data available to the experts at the time (Robinson 59). Additionally, launch attempts failed severally for over a year up to nearly the last day; a micro switch detected a defect in an exterior hatch-locking mechanism just a day before launching (Boyd par. 4). Besides the engineers’ advice, Bob Ebeling wrote an official memo to NASA titled “Help” to reiterate that the shuttle and SRB are likely to fail below 40°F in which they have never been certified to operate (Boyd par. 5). A skeptical audience would ask how safe the flight was after the successive malfunctions, the fact that a space ship had never been launched under extremely low temperatures, and the numerous expert warnings no matter how subtle. Two actors – the management at Mort Thiokol and NASA – could have done something differently to avert this tragedy. Critical analyses have exonerated the engineers (Robinson 59),...
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