Posted in Discussion Questions

Ethical Technical Communication: Discussion of J. Blake Scott’s Piece

In J. Blake Scott’s article “How Can Technical Communicators Work in an Ethical and Legal Manner?,” Scott writes of the necessity for technical communicators must be aware of laws and ethical norms as their roles and work shapes meaning quite often, articulating that ethical deliberation is a continual process. For the sake of clarification and demonstration, Scott then sets up a hypothetical example involving the fictional company BioInfo. This company is a relatively new, start-up, that creates online courses concerning biomedicine for particular clients. BioInfo encounters several ethical issues with their clients Vaccitech and MegaPharm. Vaccitech has a flue vaccine product called FluEase, and in the marketing of said project, Vaccitech asks BioInfo to not include reference to the product’s only working for those 5-49 years in age as well as to exaggerate the development stage that would not require refrigeration. In regards to MegaPharm, BioInfo runs into further ethical concerns–MegaPharm provides information that is not supported by scientific findings, includes images of those outside the 5-49 year old age in the marketing of FluEase, and emphasizes ease over storage requirements. For the time being, Scott leaves the hypothetical situation there, returning to it later after discussion of ethical inquiry and deliberation.

From here, Scott provides an intriguing definition of a technical communicator, saying he or she is an “active contributor to the meaning making process as texts circulate across their contexts of production and use” (216). This postulates that technical communicators are not simply a transmitter of information; rather, these individuals are a means through which various actors negotiate and renegotiate meaning. Because of this power in the establishment of meaning, technical communicators must acknowledge the importance and responsibility of ethics. Ethical principles are recognized to come from several spheres of influence, including personal convictions, corporate goals and values, professional and disciplinary standards, and greater sociocultural systems. Scott continues by describing the ethical scenes as communicative scenes in which ethical issues are raised through technical communication. This prompts discussion of user-centered design studying specifics of situations, mapping your position relative to others, engaging is sustained dialogue, collaborating commitment to a certain action.

From here, Scott outlines a multitude of guiding questions in assessing the ethics of particular communications and processes. These questions, in addition to previous discussion and argumentation, provided a framework in which Scott could assess the ethics of the BioInfo case described above, simply reinforcing the assertion of technical communicators being the co-creator of knowledge and meaning.

Discussion Questions

  1. J. Blake Scott claims that ethical deliberation is a process. How have you seen this deliberation process play out in your own personal experience before?
  2. Within this piece, ethics is defined as “deliberation about how to determine and act on what is good, right, just, beneficial, desirable, or commendable.” Does this definition of ethics hold, in your opinion? Would you edit it in any way?
  3. The intersection of ethics and legality can be rather profound, depending on the context or particular circumstance. For example, the Society for Technical Communication (STC)’s principles of providing truth and respecting confidentiality. How else do you see, or have you personally experienced, the intersection of ethics and legality?
  4. “Despite or perhaps because of the field’s pragmatic emphasis on efficiency and effectiveness, ethics has become a significant concern” (216). Simply out of curiosity, which do you think it is, “despite” or “because?”
  5. Scott describes technical communication and communicators as trans-situational, in which ethical issues are raised through are raised through this communication. How are these assertions reflective of previous readings we have done in this course (consider EdBauer’s rhetorical ecologies, Cushman’s problem setting, etc.)?
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