Catalyst A or Catalyst B

TitleCatalyst A or Catalyst B
Publication TypeCase Study
Year of Publication2010
Date Published09/2010
PublisherCenter for the Study of Ethics in the Professions, Illinois Institute of Technology
Place PublishedChicago, IL
Publication Languageeng
AbstractMartha, a recent graduate, has just started working in the R & D Chemical Engineering Division of Larom. Her department is under pressure from the company to make a recommendation on the type of catalyst the company should be using in the production of a new fuel cell, catalyst A or catalyst B. Martha has done research on Catalyst B, and thinks it might be the better option, but she needs more time to complete her work and her supervisor says that the department needs to make a recommendation in two days. Should she do as her supervisor asks and not make mention of her research on Catalyst A in her final report?
NotesAdapted from a case originally developed by Michael Pritchard "Dissent About Quality" Case Study Used in the IPRO Ethics Bowl, Fall 2010 at the Illinois Institute of Technology
Full Text
Martha, a recent graduate of IIT, has been employed in the R & D Chemical Engineering Division of Larom for the past several months. The company is currently working on a method of improving the efficiency of catalysts that could eventually be used in the fuel cells of electric cars. Martha was hired because of the promising research she did with catalysts as a student at IIT as part of an IPRO project. Her Faculty Advisor, who was especially impressed with her work, was the one who recommended Martha for this position after graduation. Alex Smith, the head of Martha’s unit, showed immediate interest in her research on catalyst B when she arrived at Larom, asking to see the results of the research she did at IIT. Although he said he found Martha’s work promising, her work assignments during the first several months at Larom have mainly been in other areas. She has had little time to pursue your research on catalyst B since her arrival at Larom. Alex calls a meeting of engineers in Martha’s unit and announces that it must make a recommendation within the next two days on what catalyst Larom should use in the construction of a new fuel cell prototype. The overwhelming consensus in the unit, based on many years of experience, is that catalyst A is best for the job. However, the research Martha has been conducting provides preliminary evidence that catalyst B may actually be better. So, she suggests that the recommendation be delayed another month to see if firmer evidence can be found. If B is the better catalyst, Larom will save a great deal of money if it opts for B over A. Alex replies, “We don’t have a month. We have two days.” He then asks Martha to write up the report, leaving out the preliminary data she has gathered about catalyst B. He says, "It would be nice to do some more research on B, but we just don’t have the time. Besides, I doubt if anything would show up in the next month to change our minds. This is one of those times we have to be decisive- and we have to look decisive. They’re really getting impatient with us on this one. Anyway, we’ve had a lot of experience in this area." After the meeting, upon returning to her office, Martha begins to think about the report Alex has asked her to write, and experiences a sense of unease. She finds his reasons for not mentioning Catalyst B in the report troubling. Alex’s expressed concern that “we,” by which he means clearly, the unit, has to look decisive doesn’t seem to her to take into account adequately the company’s overall interests. Furthermore, she reasons that although, as Alex said, the unit may “have had a lot of experience in this area,”, this experience doesn’t include her recent research. Martha likes working for Larom and feels lucky to have landed such a good job right out of school. Although she would like to have more time to carry out her own research, she has enjoyed working on other projects in the division, and learned a lot from her colleagues in the few months she has worked with them. Martha realizes she’s due for a significant pay raise soon if she plays her cards right. It looks like she has a bright future with Larom, Inc. You’re a good friend of Martha’s. That evening she calls, relates the above concerns on her part to you, and asks for your advice and counsel on how she ought to proceed. Based on the case “Catalyst B,” developed by Michael Pritchard, Western Michigan University.