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Businesses Transportation Technology

VW Fiasco Puts Ethics In Engineering Under the Spotlight, CEO Steps Down 569

szczys writes: By now you've heard that VW has been accused of doctoring the software in their small diesel models to sidestep emissions standards. The thing that hasn't been talked about is engineering ethics. An algorithm in the code detects when the vehicle is under test conditions and causes it to perform differently. This couldn't have been accomplished by just one person. Brian Benchoff looks at the conditions leading up to the scandal and discusses the engineering ethics involved. Automotive engineers are held to a higher standard because mistakes and cut corners can kill people. This kind of suspected deceit goes well beyond concerns of environmental damage. Willing ethics violations challenge our trust of the engineering as a whole. Volkswagen‘s chief executive Martin Winterkorn has announced he is stepping down.
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VW Fiasco Puts Ethics In Engineering Under the Spotlight, CEO Steps Down

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  • by uCallHimDrJ0NES ( 2546640 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @12:26PM (#50583497)

    Now we can have the same distrust society affords to doctors and lawyers! We're finally real professionals. Let's start a guild.

    • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @01:50PM (#50584423)

      Normally it is a case of pointing the finger down the food chain until someone cannot point any further.
      Engineers are normally the Middle Class people, They don't have the money for a prolonged out of work. So there is only so much risk they would take at their job. It would be nice that everyone would be brave enough to stand up and say "This is wrong, I won't do it!" however with the risk of getting fired, plenty of the power is still in the higher ups.
      Also it is quite possible that the engineers could design something without full realization on what they are doing.
      I need you to code a function when variables are between this range, that returns a value in this range.
      The function is created.
      Then it will go to an other engineer, We have the function to optimize fuel efficiency in place, could you add this function to your code.
      The function is added.
      The higher ups can organize their orders so the engineers doesn't have the full picture of the scope. However when things goes down they will see in the comment that engineer who had made the function and the other who added it. They get canned, for doing their work, and never had an inkling on what they were doing on the grand scheme of things.

      • Totally agree. But even if we feel what we're being paid for is unethical, only in the most extreme cases is it our decision. The ethics of a particular technology are often tricky issues that are rightly dealt with in the courts and the court of public opinion rather than by each individual involved it a technology's creation. Think of nukes? Their negatives are obvious, but the thread of mutually assured destruction has generally reduced war between the developed countries that have nukes. Is the world re

      • by Cederic ( 9623 )

        "Break the law."
        "I think that might be against the law. Lets discuss with Compliance and Legal, and get their professional guidance."

        "Break the law."
        "Legal say that's illegal"
        "Do it anyway"
        "Hi, is that the whistleblower hotline? My manager.."

        I've never yet needed to go that extra step of refusing, getting sacked, suing for unfair dismissal and getting my professional body to step in to help with legal costs.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @12:28PM (#50583517)

    This was a financial decision, pure and simple. Someone in a suit decided it would be more profitable to hide non-compliance, rather than spend the resourcing fixing the problem *with* proper engineering.

    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @12:35PM (#50583579) Homepage

      To be fair, the "proper engineering" fixes available all are some combination of reducing performance and increasing cost. Which is what their competitors had to do to meet the standards. Volkswagen's cheating gave them a leg up, allowing them to offer more powerful, cheaper vehicles at a given emissions level.

      So yes, the cheating was a financial decision, but it wasn't out of laziness - it was out of a well known tangible benefit for doing so.

      And as a result, they've killed people. I know it's not as visible or dramatic as a car going out of control or the like, but the connection between NOx and premature death is well established, both in high-NOx and low-NOx areas. NOx is what makes Beijing air that lovely brownish color. Volkswagen willingly killed people to steal sales from its competitors.

      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @12:41PM (#50583633) Homepage

        To be more specific: N2 + O2 is thermodynamically favorable at lower temperatures and pressures, while NOx is more favorable at higher temperatures and pressures. Combustion of fuel is also more efficient at higher temperatures and pressures. So pretty much whatever you do to get more power and efficiency out of your fuel, also tends to give you more NOx. Now, there's a wide range of things you can do to try to reduce the NOx; the ones with few drawbacks are pretty much universally done, while the others (such as urea injection) come at a cost. But the easiest way to reduce NOx for emissions tests is simply to burn cooler, at lower pressures, for shorter periods of time - aka, hurt your power and fuel economy.

        • by Anne Thwacks ( 531696 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @10:13PM (#50586987)
          Basically, this is a tradeoff between global warming (fuel efficiency, but high NOx) and peoples lives, but with black smoke.

          Of course, here in Europe, we have Urea injection (AdBlu) which solves the problem on a test bench, but adds urea to the pollutants in any real life situation. Since Urea injection was introduced, everyone in London is complaining of "hay fever". I don't see a lot of hay in London, but there are plenty of Euro4 and Euro5 trucks (AdBlu), since they have taxed the older ones off the road.

          Since a 40 ton truck can go from burning 5 litres of diesel per minute, to none, and back again in about 20 seconds (gear change while pulling from the lights) there is no way that the amount of urea will be correct. And you may have 16 or 24 gears to go through between 0 and 56MPH (speed limit for trucks). Burning slower and cooler gives longer engine life too.

          It presumably also adds massively to bribes for European commissioners from the AdBlu monopoly.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by lgw ( 121541 )

        I see this as a good act on the part of the VW engineers myself, giving their customers a better vehicle, in the ways you've noted, while cheating to meet meaningless standards. I see it as civil disobedience, and I think your notion of it killing people in US vehicles is laughable, as we're so far past the point of diminishing returns on tailpipe exhaust regs.

        But that's the thing about "ethical concerns": we all have different values, different tradeoffs we see as optimal, and both democracy and "might ma

        • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @12:50PM (#50583741) Homepage

          Right. Peer reviewed research is "laughable" and giant car manufacturers cheating on emissions tests and lying about is is "ethics". Gotcha.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by alvinrod ( 889928 )
            There's a difference between a substance being bad (which has been empirically demonstrated) and it being dangerous at the concentrations being suggested. There's research that shows drinking too much water is bad for you, but we're not going to start making laws about water consumption for obvious reasons.

            What if we made the current emission standards two orders of magnitude more strict? Obviously that would be even better for the environment and human health, but if the current regulations are already
            • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @01:29PM (#50584173) Homepage

              There's a difference between a substance being bad (which has been empirically demonstrated) and it being dangerous at the concentrations being suggested.

              Just like there's a difference between knowing the fact that the health impacts of the NOx emitted at various emissions standards has been quite studied in the peer-reviewed literature, including cost benefits analyses, versus posting about the topic while simply assuming that there hasn't been any study on the topic.

              • by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @01:51PM (#50584439)
                Then at least link to some of that literature if you're going to make a counter argument. Sure, I could look myself, but there are thousands of other people who would have to do the same. Since you seem to be aware of such literature existing and that it includes a cost-benefit analysis, then you're also far more likely to know where you can easily find it, as well as pointing out the parts of it that are relevant to the argument you're presenting.

                I don't want to sound like a prick that just wants to argue or someone who's just making excuses not to believe you, but there's been far too much shit passed off as common knowledge that I've only come to learn later was not quite as true as originally purported. I could probably make assumptions of correctness based on reputation, but even people who are right about something the vast majority of the time are still occasionally wrong.
              • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @01:53PM (#50584459) Homepage Journal

                Given VW's relatively small market share in the US they could run on coal and their pollution would be a rounding error compared to what trucks (both the kind that actually deliver things and the kind with 27 lamps on the roof) spew out.

                And you know it.

                • The same car is used in France and the UK, both relatively small countries where diesel cars are popular, and both have significant vehicle pollution issues; this is going to go down like a lead balloon there.

                • by Ravaldy ( 2621787 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @05:21PM (#50585785)

                  Then what's the point of putting regulations for corporations for them to be overruled by corporations themselves?

                  It's irrelevant if there's an industry that pollutes more than another because we always grab the low hanging fruit first. When these regulations are put in place it's usually for many reasons.
                  1. It can be reached with a reasonable amount of cost while promoting the economy
                  2. Minimal adverse effect or in many cases benefits
                  3. It solves a problem

                  In the case of the auto industry, regulations in late 70s forced auto makers to be innovative. The result is cars that are twice as efficient and more powerful.

                  Want to talk about regulations in HVAC. I can tell you about how the continued implementation of striker regulations has allowed the industry to strive, improve it's product offering and provide better efficiencies for the heating and cooling of buildings all around North America.

                  Government regulations are the only mean the little guys have to avoid corporations from shitting all over us.

            • by Ly4 ( 2353328 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @02:00PM (#50584523)

              ... at one point in time it would have been unethical to not return an escaped slave.
              Today's hint: if you have to make ridiculous statements like this to support your point, then you probably don't have a point.

              The ethics argument is not about the level of pollution that the cars were emitting: the bigger issue is that they were *lying* about those levels, thus depriving everyone (consumers, regulators, people who breath) of the information needed to make informed choices.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          The EPA standards are far and beyond what Europe requires to the point of being Draconian. They were forced on the automakers with little to no warning, forcing companies to either design from scratch, or go to other companies and buy something. Had this not been the case, the infamous Ford "6.blow" engine would never have been even considered.

          The sad thing is that after all the EGR/DEF/DPF additions, diesels have lost their reliability factor. Particle filters get plugged, piss tanks get crystals in the

          • Re:EPA standards (Score:5, Informative)

            by presidenteloco ( 659168 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @01:22PM (#50584067)

            Not condoning the cheating, but there is another issue. Many Americans drive, as their family vehicle as well as work vehicle, "light" trucks (e.g. Dodge RAM 3500) and SUVs which have much larger Diesel engines in them than the ones being discussed in these VW cars.

            What I've been told about the structure of the EPA regulations is that driving a much more polluting large Diesel pickup truck as your personal vehicle is allowed, but driving a relatively much more efficient and less polluting small European Diesel vehicle is not allowed.

            Something is seriously messed up there.

            • Re:EPA standards (Score:5, Insightful)

              by careysub ( 976506 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @02:11PM (#50584623)

              ...

              Something is seriously messed up there.

              There is indeed. It is the fruit of corporate lobbying.

              Domestic vehicle makers have maintained a relative advantage in the SUV and sport truck marketplaces, practically alone among all vehicle categories. They also (not surprisingly) have their highest profit margins on these vehicles. Accordingly they have worked hard to make sure that special favors to promote those vehicle categories are written into law. The regulatory-industry turnstile ensures that favorable interpretations by (soon to be industry consultant) regulators.

              Some years back there was actually a tax credit for heavy SUVs and trucks, which were classified automatically as "commercial vehicles" which in turn got an automatic "commercial vehicle purchase" tax credit without needing any showing of commercial use so that the tax payer was subsidizing the sale of gas guzzling toys to the well off (but they were American! toys.)

            • Re:EPA standards (Score:5, Informative)

              by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @03:11PM (#50585067) Journal

              Many Americans drive, as their family vehicle as well as work vehicle, "light" trucks (e.g. Dodge RAM 3500) and SUVs which have much larger Diesel engines in them

              Bull. There are only a handful of diesel SUV models sold in the US, and their sales are extremely low. Diesel engines are more popular in extremely heavy-duty trucks, but still not very popular, and those aren't viable "family vehicle(s)", and very rarely used as commuter vehicles, at all.

              EPA regulations is that driving a much more polluting large Diesel pickup truck as your personal vehicle is allowed, but driving a relatively much more efficient and less polluting small European Diesel vehicle is not allowed.

              It only makes sense for heavy vehicles to have more powerful engines. You need that power to tow trailers and other large cargo... things a little car is NEVER going to do, however polluting the engine might be. Why don't you go complain that those 16-wheel semi-trucks are allowed to pollute more than small cars, too? It doesn't make sense.

              And NOBODY is going to buy a huge pickup, because they couldn't get a tiny diesel car... It's not a competition at all. Gasoline cars pollute far less. So much so that Europe is developing huge smog problems, with those famous landmarks covered in soot. Paris even banned pre-2011 diesel vehicles to deal with the problem.

              http://www.bloomberg.com/news/... [bloomberg.com]

              Frankly, this is the death-knell for diesel power small-cars in the US. It puts the lie to the claims of their advantages, that most people were doubting without evidence, even while their other unremarked problems have been made undeniably obvious. No question in hindsight that Europe made the wrong decision promoting diesel over gasoline, and now it looks like they're bound to continue declining in popularity there, too.

            • by b0bby ( 201198 )

              Many Americans drive, as their family vehicle as well as work vehicle, "light" trucks (e.g. Dodge RAM 3500) and SUVs which have much larger Diesel engines in them than the ones being discussed in these VW cars.

              I'd say you're only half right. The vast majority of Americans who drive a truck or SUV as their family vehicle are driving the gasoline engine variant. The people with the larger diesels generally need the hauling capacity. The gas engines are still not very efficient, but they are not diesels.

            • Re:EPA standards (Score:5, Informative)

              by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @03:25PM (#50585165)

              What I've been told about the structure of the EPA regulations is that driving a much more polluting large Diesel pickup truck as your personal vehicle is allowed, but driving a relatively much more efficient and less polluting small European Diesel vehicle is not allowed.

              WVU which ran the tests which detected the cheating VW cars also tested a diesel BMW X5. The X5 passed.

              The larger diesel trucks use a urea injection system to reduce NOx emissions. The larger size of the truck makes it easier to add the system, and the truck's higher price means the system makes a smaller (relative) increase to the vehicle's purchase price. The brouhaha over VW's EA189 engine was that it (purportedly) complied with NOx emission regulations without the added cost and complexity of a urea injection system. That would've been wonderful if true, but alas it wasn't.

      • by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @01:13PM (#50583957)
        There is some speculation to be done on how this cheat actually came about. These things sometimes evolve out of something more benign rather than a dictum from above that the car cheat on tests. It could have started as a feature that does some internal checks and performance verifications before a test, then someone added a function that actually ensured certain parameters were in place, and so on. Incremental changes that on their own 'didn't seem so bad'.

        No excuses for what was done. Just speculation on how VW got to this point.
        • It seems to me that at least some of this finger pointing should go towards the idiots who created the circumstance where the item under test was informed it was under test. That presumes an atmosphere of trust that the very idea of "testing for compliance" does not, and should not, incorporate.

          I'm not saying VW is blameless in this, or making any statement about the consequences to society or lack thereof. I'm just saying someone, or more than one someone, is culpable as having set up the circumstances whe

          • by rgmoore ( 133276 ) <glandauer@charter.net> on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @02:12PM (#50584633) Homepage

            It seems to me that at least some of this finger pointing should go towards the idiots who created the circumstance where the item under test was informed it was under test.

            It doesn't actually work that way, i.e. the EPA doesn't tell the car that it's being tested now. What happens, though, is that the tests are under carefully controlled conditions in the interests of reproducibility. The car is placed on a chassis dynamometer and run at a constant speed. VW programmed their engine computer to look for a combination of constant speed and zero steering input, which would never happen during normal driving, and switched into low emissions mode when it detected that combination.

          • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @03:16PM (#50585107)

            It seems to me that at least some of this finger pointing should go towards the idiots who created the circumstance where the item under test was informed it was under test. That presumes an atmosphere of trust that the very idea of "testing for compliance" does not, and should not, incorporate.

            The car needs to know it's under a test. Emissions tests are usually run on a dynamometer. If you don't tell the car it's being tested, its traction control / anti-skid system will go nuts trying to compensate for the drive wheels spinning at full speed while the other wheels are stationary.

            The conditions which allowed this to happen go far, far beyond VW. A test by definition simulates the actual driving conditions. The cheating was detected by measuring emissions under actual driving conditions. That raises the question - why not just measure emissions under actual conditions? See, pulling each car off the road and testing it only makes sense when a large number of cars are not in compliance or in borderline compliance (i.e. might drift out of compliance before the next test). If a test costs $45 and 90% of cars are in compliance with emissions standards, you're paying $400 to detect each car out of compliance. And the test is worth it.

            Now what happens when 99.9% of cars are in compliance? You're now paying $40,000 to detect each car out of compliance. At that point (actually long before it) the testing isn't cost-effective anymore. California reached this threshold where the testing was no longer worth it in the early 1990s. Most cars were in compliance, and most of the air pollution was caused by about 1 in 1000 cars (mostly older models) which were spewing out hundreds or thousands of times more emissions than a compliant car.

            The companies which make the emissions testing equipment suggested a much more elegant and cost-effective solution. Stop testing each car every year. Put the emissions measuring equipment at various chokepoints on the road like free off-ramps. The equipment would then sniff the air as each car drove by, and when it detected an excessive amount of emissions it would snap a picture of the violating car's license plate. If a certain set of plates was flagged by multiple measuring stations, the State could then send the owner of that car a letter requiring its emissions be tested.

            Sounds great! It would've caught the cheating VW cars immediately. So why didn't it happen? The emissions testing itself had become a billion dollar industry. The gas stations and auto mechanics lobbied heavily to keep the mandatory testing in place. For them, a billion dollars a year were on the line. The companies making the detection equipment only stood to make a few tens of millions of dollars selling it to the state. You can guess which side won. So we ended up with testing which wastes money and isn't as effective at detecting cheating as other solutions.

            • by tibit ( 1762298 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @04:15PM (#50585337)

              The especially egregious aspect of that is: this fundamentally flawed testing regimen isn't free in terms of resources either. Not only it costs us, the car owners, money, but that money, and everything it's spent on downstream, is pure waste. The energy used to perform the tests? You might as well run the same number of kWh through a heater into the sea. The personnel costs, and the amortized resources they need? You could just dump those into the sea with the same overall benefit to the society.

              The make-work tests are worse to the environment than none. All the resources and productivity they consume could be better spent elsewhere.

      • ...Volkswagen willingly killed people to steal sales from its competitors.

        Ever wonder what tobacco executives argue about when it comes to their competition?

        Ironically, the race to capture human addiction is the ultimate sales goal when it comes to selling tobacco. Death is merely a side-effect, which a lawyer will likely argue for VW too.

    • by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @12:42PM (#50583643) Journal
      Exactly. There are commonalities all over the world: Your boss tells you to do something, you refuse to do it, you get fired and they get someone else to do what they want anyway. In this case they weren't being told to do something that would (directly, or in the near term) endanger human lives, just to pollute the environment. If they were unwilling to write the code that did what the suits demanded, they'd fire them and get someone else to do it. These guys have families like most people that they have to provide for, and 'honey, I got fired because I told my boss I wouldn't do what he asked me to do' doesn't play well. Of course I'm not saying I know the engineers involved actually had objections, it's entirely possible they didn't even care one way or another, but like what the OP is saying, it was the decision of someone in a suit, not the author(s) of the code in question.

      Additionally, to be fair about it: There might not be a 'proper engineering' solution to the emissions problem. Face it: We're nearing end-of-life for internal combustion engines, due to their exhaust emissions and their impact on the environment. That plus the eventual exhaustion of fossil fuel means we should be moving away from internal combustion engines anyway. But of course your average business animal doesn't give a rats' ass about any of that, all they care about is their near-term bottom line, and how much of it they can put in their own pockets.
      • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @01:37PM (#50584287)

        Your boss tells you to do something, you refuse to do it, you get fired and they get someone else to do what they want anyway.

        If your boss is ordering you to do something that you damn well know is illegal then you should refuse. If they want to fire you for that then so be it. This is not a complicated scenario. Having a family to feed is not adequate justification for fraud and frankly weren't not talking about the sort of workers who cannot ever get another job. These are well paid engineers with options.

        it was the decision of someone in a suit, not the author(s) of the code in question.

        Bullshit. That's the "I was just following orders" defense. The order may have come from up high but the decision to execute that illegal order makes the engineers every bit as culpable. The guy executing the crime is just as guilty as the guy who plans the crime.

        There might not be a 'proper engineering' solution to the emissions problem.

        That's not an excuse to commit fraud even if true.

        • by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @02:39PM (#50584879)

          Having a family to feed is not adequate justification for fraud and frankly weren't not talking about the sort of workers who cannot ever get another job. These are well paid engineers with options.

          bullshit. spoken as someone who has never been on the 'blacklist' and been denied jobs and been near the brink of homelessness.

          I have direct experience in this. been out of work for 9 months now, still no job offers and I'm nearly broke. the insensitive among you will blame me and say its all my fault for not being 'good enough' but I'm not going to feed the trolls. suffice to say, many people, not due to their own faults, are denied jobs and if you have rent to pay, its an incredible amount of stress to face being out of work long enough to lose your home and all your savings.

          unless you have done this at least once, you have NO RIGHT to blame others for keeping an income going. jobs are NOT 'just around the corner' for every skilled person who wants one; that's a stupid republican talking point that has long since been untrue (since the fall of our economy, post-clinton days).

          I have tons of sympathy for those who try to find work and can't get it. its being in that position that has increased my humanity and empathy. I suspect your life-experience is void of this; but don't worry, as you approach 45 and older, you WILL find out what I've been rambling about. but by then, you will be one of the 'struggles to stay employed' guys. will you feel any sympathy for your future self, now? or do you need to actually live thru that to get what I'm saying??

          we all need to be more understanding of the realities of being a working class guy who simply wants to keep working and have the bills be covered. the attitude of blaming the worker has to stop. the bosses are trying to change the dialog and, for many of you, you have bought into his lies and deceipt.

    • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @12:58PM (#50583793)

      This was a financial decision, pure and simple.

      The engineers did the dirty deed. It wasn't ONLY an engineering decision but the engineers do not escape culpability here. Management cannot make this happen without the cooperation of engineering. I don't doubt for a moment that this was ordered by an executive somewhere but "just following orders" isn't a valid defense. The Germans of all people ought to know that by now.

      Someone in a suit decided it would be more profitable to hide non-compliance, rather than spend the resourcing fixing the problem *with* proper engineering.

      And someone with a pocket protector decided it was ok if they committed fraud. There will be plenty of people with their hand in this cookie jar. The real question will be how high up the food chain this reaches.

      • They should have asked the engineers to come up with a solution that they could not be held accountable for. Such as open sourcing the system and leaking a performance upgrade.
      • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

        The trouble is all the vagaries. Consider this situation which I suspect is quite common. $CEO tells head of $[Region Operations], make are numbers this quarter or else?

        $[Region Operations] asks $[Marketing Director] what will take to beat the competition and sell $X cars?
        $[Marketing Director], we would need to be able to advertise economy $Y on models $A, $B, and $C.

        $[Region Operations] tells $[Engineering Team lead], we need the following cars to $Y make it happen or else!

        Eventually $Engineer looking to

        • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @01:31PM (#50584203)

          Nobody ever said, "go forth and flaunt the law" maybe $Engineer did not even realize what he was doing violated the testing rules.

          I have spent a good portion of my career as an engineer in the automotive industry. There is NO WAY the engineers doing this were not fully aware that what they were doing was in violation of the law. To program this they would have to be aware of what the rules were and so they cannot argue that they didn't realize what they were doing. They weren't stupid, they weren't naive. They knew exactly what they were doing at the time they did it.

          No, this was a deliberate fraud. Probably ordered by management but executed and carried out by engineers who damn well knew or should have known what they were doing was illegal as hell.

  • Finally, engineers get some attention -- for something bad.

    And, in a couple of weeks the attention will die away, and the public will laud somebody who can sing more than somebody who can create devices that make peoples lives better.

  • Whistleblowing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @12:32PM (#50583543) Homepage Journal

    One thing is for certain. No whistles were blown. Which is pretty impressive considering how long this has been going on and the extent of who all must have been in the know. I don't think this falls into the category of one software developer tweaking some parameters. I mean the engine was designed without a urea injection system in the first place, which is pretty much necessary to make a diesel engine conform to emissions standards that strict. So it sure leans towards the falsification pathway going way, way back.

    • It's clearly not an absolute necessity, since the cars did fine during official examinations.

      I'm surprised they managed to write firmware that correctly identifies the official testing procedure without giving too many false positives.

    • Re:Whistleblowing (Score:5, Insightful)

      by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @01:03PM (#50583843) Journal
      Sometimes people don't see things as unethical. It wouldn't surprise me if all the engineers thought, "stupid Americans and their regulations......we know how to make an engine that is clean enough."

      For comparison, it might be unethical to work in the advertising industry. You're mainly just showing ads that annoy people, and you're also giving them malware. It might also be unethical to build weapons of war. A lot of what bankers do is unethical.

      Yet people in all those industries have their own justification to explain why it's ok to work on those products. When I worked in ad-tech, I would ask a lot of my coworkers how they felt about it, and they had different justifications, but everyone had one. I'm not trying to condemn them here, just pointing out that what one person considers unethical, another feels perfectly fine with.
      • Re:Whistleblowing (Score:5, Informative)

        by tnk1 ( 899206 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @01:20PM (#50584053)

        I sincerely don't think Germans think that way. These are the people who turned off all their nuclear plants for solar. I disagree with that action, but I have a lot of trouble believing that they think that the regulations of the US, of all places, are ridiculous. Germans are not known for their dislike of regulations.

        More likely, some engineers either were directed to do that, and preferred to not undermine their company, or they saw it as a challenge which they are proud of because they figured out how to beat emissions tests reliably.

        • by Tailhook ( 98486 )

          These are the people who turned off all their nuclear plants for solar.

          Except they didn't actually do that. They're still running eight of their largest and newest reactors and these supply over 10,000 MWe to their grid today. They "plan" to shut these down. We'll see. If they back-peddle because the alternative is more coal they won't be the first European nation to do so.

          It is amazing how well hype and propaganda work. Your "reality" is a fiction created by solar advocates.

        • Germans are not known for their dislike of regulations.

          You can't imagine they thought, "We are environmentally friendly. Our own regulations are better than the American's?"

        • Re:Whistleblowing (Score:5, Informative)

          by jwdb ( 526327 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @04:26PM (#50585401)

          I sincerely don't think Germans think that way. These are the people who turned off all their nuclear plants for solar. I disagree with that action, but I have a lot of trouble believing that they think that the regulations of the US, of all places, are ridiculous. Germans are not known for their dislike of regulations.

          Except that the regulations for small diesels are far stricter in the US than in Europe, so the Germans probably have good cause for thinking the US regulations are ridiculous.

          • Re:Whistleblowing (Score:4, Interesting)

            by jrumney ( 197329 ) on Thursday September 24, 2015 @12:13AM (#50587415) Homepage
            Stricter isn't really the right word. US regulations are based on a fixed amount of fuel, so the key to passing them is to burn the fuel inefficiently in a way that doesn't produce the pollutants they are looking for. European regulations are based on a fixed distance, so the key there is to burn the fuel as efficiently as possible as less fuel input translates to less pollutants output.
    • by sshir ( 623215 )
      Lost opportunity for sure, given that in the US wistleblowers get percentage of the settlement.

      We're talking some serious millions here...
    • One thing is for certain. No whistles were blown.

      "We were only following orders!"

      To unGodwin myself a bit, I get the impression Automotive Engineering is not unlike most other engineering sectors: a lot of job movement between manufacturers, suppliers, consultancy, and back again, with plenty of drama and rollercoaster-like job security, depending on the sales figures and general economy. My point is: people talk - even German engineers. No way they were the only ones cheating, regardless of which conti

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @12:32PM (#50583549)

    But since VW is a foreign company, this is going to be blown completely out of proportion. When American companies are caught cheating, it's just fierce competition, and it gets them a slap on the wrist. That is an ethics issue.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The issue is probably not foreign vs non-foreign. I think ZeroHedge probably gets it right: http://www.zerohedge.com/news/... [zerohedge.com]
  • rationalizations (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I imagine the European engineers rationalized this "it's good enough for environmentally conscious Europe, why shouldn't it be good enough for the US? The US environment is shitty anyway, with all those SUVs and no trains! The EPA is just trying to make life difficult for European importers!"

    Of course, the two problems with that way of thinking are that European environmental regulations are not as strict as American ones, and that VW is so important to the German economy that it gets a pass on pretty much

  • by BoRegardless ( 721219 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @12:41PM (#50583637)

    And the manager said, "You're fired."

    • by Todd Knarr ( 15451 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @12:49PM (#50583727) Homepage

      Exactly. The basic problem is a lack of management ethics. Management considers it perfectly acceptable to cheat like this, knowing they're cheating and breaking the law while doing so, and they expect everyone in the organization to follow along. Management also considers it perfectly acceptable to lie about why they let someone go, rather than simply fire them for disobeying orders (which would leave the employee free to say exactly what orders they disobeyed) they find some other innocuous excuse and leave the employee no real way to respond when asked by a future employer why they were terminated. Until management ethics is fixed, it won't be possible to do anything about engineering ethics.

      • The basic problem is a lack of management ethics.

        The engineers who did this were equally lacking in ethics as any management involved. This was a deliberate fraud and there is no way they did not know this was wrong and illegal and harmful. Any engineer who went along with this is every bit as guilty. The engineers assisted in the commission of a what they had to know was a crime. "Just following orders" is not an acceptable defense and the Germans better than anyone ought to know that.

  • by Marc_Hawke ( 130338 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @12:43PM (#50583667)

    GPU's (and their drivers) have often been written to specifically perform well on the benchmark tests.
    ISP's and mobile carriers have structured their bandwidth to perform better in 'speed test' situations then they do under normal usage.

    The way it's always been explained to me is that a corporation has no responsibility other than to the share-holders. "Maximize Profits" is the defining ethos. Perhaps this question is aimed at a lower level. When you're the specific programmer/engineer that is told, 'make the system lie' do you do it, or do you resign?

    I'm often in that situation when writing analytics software. "These numbers aren't what we want to see can you work around this set of data that doesn't conform?" I'll explain my position about how I need to represent all the data, and if you think it's incorrect, fix the data rather than having the program lie. However, they are never that interested. Polite refusals aren't enough.

    • GPU's (and their drivers) have often been written to specifically perform well on the benchmark tests.
      ISP's and mobile carriers have structured their bandwidth to perform better in 'speed test' situations then they do under normal usage.

      All of which are examples of fraud and which should result in lawsuits if not criminal charges.

      The way it's always been explained to me is that a corporation has no responsibility other than to the share-holders.

      They also have a responsibility to follow the law. Their fiduciary duty does not extend to the point where breaking the law is acceptable.

      When you're the specific programmer/engineer that is told, 'make the system lie' do you do it, or do you resign?

      If you have an sort of ethical backbone then yes you resign. Personally I would consider gathering evidence to become a whistleblower.

      • You really need to tone it down a bit. Your black and white, absolutist, perfect world assertions are starting to undermine some of the points you're making. We don't know, yet, whether there was an official directive, threats of termination, a group of engineers slipping one past management or what. It's very easy to sit back and say "resign" without understanding the situation that the engineers were in. In the more nuanced world of reality, people have to make decisions that impact careers and families
  • by denis-The-menace ( 471988 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @12:56PM (#50583781)

    We must be naive to think only one car company does this.

    The mileage I get from my car are not as good as what my dashboard say and I don't have a VW.

  • by mark-t ( 151149 ) <markt@nerdflat. c o m> on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @12:58PM (#50583795) Journal
    In Canada, at least, Engineers are required to take an oath, not unlike the requirement for Doctors.

    I am an Engineer.

    In my profession I take deep pride. To it I owe solemn obligations.

    Since the Stone Age, Human Progress has been spurred by the Engineering Genius. Engineers have made usable Nature's vast resources of Materials and Energy for Humanity's Benefit.

    Engineers have vitalized and turned to practical use the Principles of Science and the Means of Technology. Were it not for this heritage of accumulated experiences, my efforts would be feeble.

    As an engineer, I, (full name), pledge to practice Integrity and Fair Dealing, Tolerance, and Respect, and to uphold devotion to the standards and dignity of my profession, conscious always that my skill carries with it the obligation to serve humanity by making best use of the Earth's precious wealth.

    As an engineer, I shall participate in none but honest enterprises. When needed, my skill and knowledge shall be given without reservation for the public good. In the performance of duty, and in fidelity to my profession, I shall give the utmost.

  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @01:00PM (#50583813) Journal

    This is what happens when you exempt corporate engineers from licensing standards. There are no repercussions, no sense of proper conduct, and no accountability?

    Would you allow your doctors to skip board certification but still practice medicine if they worked for a healthcare company?
    Would you allow lawyers to skip the bar but still bring court cases if they worked for a corporation?

    Why do we allow engineers to practice engineering without a license if they work for a corporation? As with all the professions above, engineers must be registered and licensed to perform engineering work for the public - why does this change if there is an intermediary corporation who takes than work and then sells it to the public?

    • This is what happens when you exempt corporate engineers from licensing standards. There are no repercussions, no sense of proper conduct, and no accountability?

      You think a license makes people honest? There are plenty of doctors and lawyers and other licenses and bonded professionals that behave unethically and even criminally. A license doesn't solve this problem. All a license does is attempt to ensure a base level of functional competence. It doesn't ensure honesty one bit.

      Why do we allow engineers to practice engineering without a license if they work for a corporation?

      Well, speaking as an engineer, it's probably because for most types of engineering a license would serve no meaningful public interest and would not improve the quality of engineering. I

      • A license is something to lose. If you risk losing your ability to make a living you might be less willing to do something wrong. It is also easier to stand up to an employer if you are standing behind a license.
  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @01:05PM (#50583869) Homepage Journal

    All they have to do is buy a Senator or Presidential Candidate to rail against "job crushing regulations within the industry", and immediately propose removal of all regulations for cars.

    Hell, cars can come out of the factory without even seatbelts. Or wheels. Because it would stimulate the economy.

    Either that, or they would work hard to get the law changed so that what VW did was perfectly legal. After all, that's how the financial industry works. Credit Default Swaps? Still entirely legal.

  • by nairnr ( 314138 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @01:07PM (#50583879)
    Conformance to the required emissions regulations was the cost of doing business. Claiming that it was so much better than it was was truly unethical. Who knows if we will be able to figure out who knew what and how this fraud was structured. Diesel engines already had a black eye in NA until better solutions appeared to come forward. This really calls in to question the future of said engines.

    With the complexities of the of system design it may have been possible to shield some of the knowledge from those implementing it by breaking down components and expecting certain outcomes. However at some high level this was fully known and authorized. VW is going to take a real beating on this and rightly so.

  • OSS ECU Code needed (Score:3, Interesting)

    by trevc ( 1471197 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @01:09PM (#50583903)
    If their ECU code had been Open Source and so reviewed by millions this would not have happened.
  • Now begins the testing of all vehicles' claims; it makes you wonder what will be dug up in the next few months. Odds of this being isolated to VW, low.
  • Oh yes, by all means, lets discuss the ethics of lying, cheating, and stealing, not to mention willfully polluting the shit out of the atmosphere we all breathe.

    Anyone that could possibly defend what VW here did is an idiot or a VW executive. This was corporate wrong-doing on a massive scale, and the fact that this made it into production means that it wasn't the work of some rogue engineer or even a rogue group.

    This had to have been approved at the highest levels within the company- there is simply no othe

  • by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @01:17PM (#50584007) Homepage Journal

    SOME computer software should be "signed off on" by a licensed professional who is subject to the same kinds of professional sanctions as engineers are if they behave unethically.

    I'm mainly thinking pacemaker- and other medical-device-firmware but I would throw air-bag and other auto-safety-system software in there as well. You sign off on pacemaker software where corners were cut and someone dies or their health is endangered, YOU should get your license sanctioned or revoked, even if you did it at your employer's behest, just like if a civil engineer signed off on a sub-standard bridge design or inspection because his employer pressured him to do so.

    As for software engineers who write engine pollution control software, where nobody gets seriously injured or killed (at least not immediately *coughwheezegaspithoughtwewereinkansasnotbeijing*), they should certainly behave ethically but the purpose of professional licensing is to protect the public safety and the client (in this case, the car company) from financial abuse by the professional (in this case the employee). It is not to protect the car-buying public from being ripped off by the car company lying through their teeth. We've got other forms of government regulation and civil and criminal courts to address those issues.

  • by cellocgw ( 617879 ) <cellocgw@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @01:55PM (#50584475) Journal

    Take a quick look at the fate of whistle-blowers in the USA. Every single one, even those who finally (usually 10 to 15 years later) get their cash settlement, are blackballed within their industry, if not outright shunned by 'most everyone they knew in their former company. Typically a (USA) company engages in a propoganda war against the whistle-blower, starting with firing him for misconduct or violating IP or similar nonsense; then moving on to significant character assassination.

    Whistle-blowing ain't gonna happen, so quit trying to blame the technical staff.

  • by Provocateur ( 133110 ) <shedied.gmail@com> on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @09:02PM (#50586763) Homepage

    It was a German decision

    germane Stupid spellchecker...

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