The Whistle-blower's Dilemma

Speaking out may be the ethical thing to do, but too often it comes at a steep price

6 min read
Salvador Castro
No Regrets: Salvador Castro lost his job for blowing the whistle about a defective medical device but says he'd 'do it again in a heartbeat.'
Photo: Jordan Hollender

When Salvador Castro, a medical electronics engineer working at Air-Shields Inc. in Hatboro, Pa., spotted a serious design flaw in one of the company's infant incubators, he didn't hesitate to tell his supervisor. The problem was easy and inexpensive to fix, whereas the possible consequences of not fixing it could kill. Much to his surprise, though, nobody acted on his observation, and when Castro threatened to notify the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), he was fired. "I was shocked," Castro says.

Castro's case is far from unique. Indeed, it's the rare whistle-blower who manages to expose wrongdoing and remain on the job. The vast majority suffer a fate similar to Castro's--they end up being harassed, fired (often on trumped-up charges), and blackballed from their professions. The financial and emotional strain can snowball further, breaking up marriages, draining bank accounts, and taking a toll on physical and mental health.

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Special Report: Top Tech 2021

After months of blood, toil, tears, and sweat, we can all expect a much better year

1 min read
Photo-illustration: Edmon de Haro

Last January in this space we wrote that “technology doesn't really have bad years." But 2020 was like no other year in recent memory: Just about everything suffered, including technology. One shining exception was biotech, with the remarkably rapid development of vaccines capable of stemming the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year's roundup of anticipated tech advances includes an examination of the challenges in manufacturing these vaccines. And it describes how certain technologies used widely during the pandemic will likely have far-reaching effects on society, even after the threat subsides. You'll also find accounts of technical developments unrelated to the pandemic that the editors of IEEE Spectrum expect to generate news this year.

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