Instructions

The passage below is accompanied by a set of questions. Choose the best answer to each question.

When we teach engineering problems now, we ask students to come to a single “best” solution defined by technical ideals like low cost, speed to build, and ability to scale. This way of teaching primes students to believe that their decision-making is purely objective, as it is grounded in math and science. This is known as technical-social dualism, the idea that the technical and social dimensions of engineering problems are readily separable and remain distinct throughout the problem-definition and solution process.

Nontechnical parameters such as access to a technology, cultural relevancy or potential harms are deemed political and invalid in this way of learning. But those technical ideals are at their core social and political choices determined by a dominant culture focused on economic growth for the most privileged segments of society. By choosing to downplay public welfare as a critical parameter for engineering design, we risk creating a culture of disengagement from societal concerns amongst engineers that is antithetical to the ethical code of engineering.

In my field of medical devices, ignoring social dimensions has real consequences. . . . Most FDA-approved drugs are incorrectly dosed for people assigned female at birth, leading to unexpected adverse reactions. This is because they have been inadequately represented in clinical trials.

Beyond physical failings, subjective beliefs treated as facts by those in decision-making roles can encode social inequities. For example, spirometers, routinely used devices that measure lung capacity, still have correction factors that automatically assume smaller lung capacity in Black and Asian individuals. These racially based adjustments are derived from research done by eugenicists who thought these racial differences were biologically determined and who considered nonwhite people as inferior. These machines ignore the influence of social and environmental factors on lung capacity.

Many technologies for systemically marginalized people have not been built because they were not deemed important such as better early diagnostics and treatment for diseases like endometriosis, a disease that afflicts 10 percent of people with uteruses. And we hardly question whether devices are built sustainably, which has led to a crisis of medical waste and health care accounting for 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Social justice must be made core to the way engineers are trained. Some universities are working on this. . . . Engineers taught this way will be prepared to think critically about what problems we choose to solve, how we do so responsibly and how we build teams that challenge our ways of thinking.

Individual engineering professors are also working to embed societal needs in their pedagogy. Darshan Karwat at the University of Arizona developed activist engineering to challenge engineers to acknowledge their full moral and social responsibility through practical self-reflection. Khalid Kadir at the University of California, Berkeley, created the popular course Engineering, Environment, and Society that teaches engineers how to engage in place-based knowledge, an understanding of the people, context and history, to design better technical approaches in collaboration with communities. When we design and build with equity and justice in mind, we craft better solutions that respond to the complexities of entrenched systemic problems.

Question 8

The author gives all of the following reasons for why marginalised people are systematically discriminated against in technology-related interventions EXCEPT:

Solution

Option A: [Correct] The passage states that technical ideals, such as cost and efficiency, are often determined by a dominant culture that prioritizes economic growth for the most privileged segments of society. This can result in technologies and interventions that are not designed with the needs and concerns of marginalized groups in mind, leading to systemic discrimination against these groups.

Option B:  [Incorrect] The passage does not mention anything about sustainability or medical waste contributing to greenhouse gas emissions as a reason for the systematic discrimination of marginalized people in technology-related interventions.

Option C: [Correct] The passage mentions that certain technologies, such as spirometers, have correction factors that assume smaller lung capacity in Black and Asian individuals based on research by eugenicists who believed in racial hierarchies and considered nonwhite people as inferior. This is an example of how subjective beliefs can be treated as facts and encoded into technologies, leading to social inequities.

Option D:  [Correct] The passage discusses how subjective beliefs treated as facts by those in decision-making roles can result in physical failures, such as incorrect dosing of drugs for people assigned female at birth, and also encode social inequities, such as the correction factors on spirometers that assume smaller lung capacity in Black and Asian individuals.

Hence, Option B is the correct choice. 

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