Technology demands uniformity from human beings who encounter it. People encountering technology, however, differ from one another. Thinkers in the early twentieth century, observing the awful consequences of interactions between humans and machines—death by automobiles or dismemberment by factory machinery, for example—developed the idea of accident proneness: the tendency of a particular person to have more accidents than most people. In tracing this concept from its birth to its disappearance at the end of the twentieth century, Accident Prone offers a unique history of technology focused not on innovations but on their unintended consequences.
Here, John C. Burnham shows that as the machine era progressed, the physical and economic impact of accidents coevolved with the rise of the insurance industry and trends in twentieth-century psychology. After World War I, psychologists determined that some people are more accident prone than others. This designation signaled a shift in social strategy toward minimizing accidents by diverting particular people away from dangerous environments. By the 1960s and 1970s, however, the idea of accident proneness gradually declined, and engineers developed new technologies to protect all people, thereby introducing a hidden, but radical, egalitarianism.
Lying at the intersection of the history of technology, the history of medicine and psychology, and environmental history, Accident Prone is an ambitious intellectual analysis of the birth, growth, and decline of an idea that will interest anyone who wishes to understand how Western societies have grappled with the human costs of modern life.
Disasters like earthquakes are known as focusing events—sudden calamities that cause both citizens and policymakers to pay more attention to a public problem and often to press for solutions. This book, the first comprehensive analysis of these dramatic events, explains how and why some public disasters change political agendas and, ultimately, public policies.
Thomas A. Birkland explores important successes and failures in the policy process by analyzing the political outcomes of four types of events: earthquakes, hurricanes, oil spills, and nuclear accidents. Using this empirical data to go beyond an intuitive understanding of focusing events, he presents a theory of where and when these events will gain attention and how they trigger political reactions. Birkland concludes that different types of disasters result in different kinds of agenda politics. Public outrage over the highly visible damage caused by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, for example, ended a fourteen-year logjam holding back Congressional legislation to regulate oil spill cleanups. On the other hand, the intangible effects of Three Mile Island had less concrete results in a political arena that was already highly polarized.
Integrating a variety of theories on the policy process, including agenda setting, policy communities, advocacy coalitions, the political aspects of the news media, and the use of symbols in political debate, Birkland illuminates the dynamics of event-driven policy activity. As the first extensive study of its kind, this book offers new insights into the policy process.
When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on January 28, 1986, millions of Americans became bound together in a single, historic moment. Many still vividly remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the tragedy. In The Challenger Launch Decision, Diane Vaughan recreates the steps leading up to that fateful decision, contradicting conventional interpretations to prove that what occurred at NASA was not skulduggery or misconduct but a disastrous mistake.
Journalists and investigators have historically cited production problems and managerial wrong-doing as the reasons behind the disaster. The Presidential Commission uncovered a flawed decision-making process at the space agency as well, citing a well-documented history of problems with the O-ring and a dramatic last-minute protest by engineers over the Solid Rocket Boosters as evidence of managerial neglect.
Why did NASA managers, who not only had all the information prior to the launch but also were warned against it, decide to proceed? In retelling how the decision unfolded through the eyes of the managers and the engineers, Vaughan uncovers an incremental descent into poor judgment, supported by a culture of high-risk technology. She reveals how and why NASA insiders, when repeatedly faced with evidence that something was wrong, normalized the deviance so that it became acceptable to them.
No safety rules were broken. No single individual was at fault. Instead, the cause of the disaster is a story not of evil but of the banality of organizational life. This powerful work explains why the Challenger tragedy must be reexamined and offers an unexpected warning about the hidden hazards of living in this technological age.
When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on January 28, 1986, millions of Americans became bound together in a single, historic moment. Many still vividly remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the tragedy. Diane Vaughan recreates the steps leading up to that fateful decision, contradicting conventional interpretations to prove that what occurred at NASA was not skullduggery or misconduct but a disastrous mistake.
Why did NASA managers, who not only had all the information prior to the launch but also were warned against it, decide to proceed? In retelling how the decision unfolded through the eyes of the managers and the engineers, Vaughan uncovers an incremental descent into poor judgment, supported by a culture of high-risk technology. She reveals how and why NASA insiders, when repeatedly faced with evidence that something was wrong, normalized the deviance so that it became acceptable to them. In a new preface, Vaughan reveals the ramifications for this book and for her when a similar decision-making process brought down NASA's Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003.
On April 20, 2010, the crew of the floating drill rig Deepwater Horizon lost control of the Macondo oil well forty miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Escaping gas and oil ignited, destroying the rig, killing eleven crew members, and injuring dozens more. The emergency spiraled into the worst human-made economic and ecological disaster in Gulf Coast history.
Senior systems engineers Earl Boebert and James Blossom offer the most comprehensive account to date of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Sifting through a mountain of evidence generated by the largest civil trial in U.S. history, the authors challenge the commonly accepted explanation that the crew, operating under pressure to cut costs, made mistakes that were compounded by the failure of a key safety device. This explanation arose from legal, political, and public relations maneuvering over the billions of dollars in damages that were ultimately paid to compensate individuals and local businesses and repair the environment. But as this book makes clear, the blowout emerged from corporate and engineering decisions which, while individually innocuous, combined to create the disaster.
Rather than focusing on blame, Boebert and Blossom use the complex interactions of technology, people, and procedures involved in the high-consequence enterprise of offshore drilling to illustrate a systems approach which contributes to a better understanding of how similar disasters emerge and how they can be prevented.
Gold Metal Waters presents a uniquely inter- and transdisciplinary examination into the August 2015 Gold King Mine spill in Silverton, Colorado, when more than three million gallons of subterranean mine water, carrying 880,000 pounds of heavy metals, spilled into a tributary of the Animas River. The book illuminates the ongoing ecological, economic, political, social, and cultural significance of a regional event with far-reaching implications, showing how this natural and technical disaster has affected and continues to affect local and national communities, including Native American reservations, as well as agriculture and wildlife in the region.
This singular event is surveyed and interpreted from multiple diverse perspectives—college professors, students, and scientists and activists from a range of academic and epistemological backgrounds—with each chapter reflecting unique professional and personal experiences. Contributors examine both the context for this event and responses to it, embedding this discussion within the broader context of the tens of thousands of mines leaking pollutants into waterways and soils throughout Colorado and the failure to adequately mitigate the larger ongoing crisis.
The Gold King Mine spill was the catalyst that finally brought Superfund listing to the Silverton area; it was a truly sensational event in many respects. Gold Metal Waters will be of interest to students and scholars in all disciplines, but especially in environmental history, western history, mining history, politics, and communication, as well as general readers concerned with human relationships with the environment.
Contributors: Alane Brown, Brian L. Burke, Karletta Chief, Steven Chischilly, Becky Clausen, Michael A. Dichio, Betty Carter Dorr, Cynthia Dott, Gary Gianniny, David Gonzales, Andrew Gulliford, Lisa Marie Jacobs, Ashley Merchant, Teresa Montoya, Scott W. Roberts, Lorraine L. Taylor, Jack Turner, Keith D. Winchester, Megan C. Wrona, Janene Yazzie
Farming has always been a dangerous occupation. In the middle of the twentieth century, as farmers adopted a wide array of new technologies, from tractors to pesticides and fertilizers, the dangers became more acute. The economic pressures that agriculture faced in this period compounded the perils of these powerful new tools, as farmers struggled to stay profitable in the face of widespread consolidation.
In this study of the farm safety movement in the Corn Belt, historian Derek Oden examines why agriculture was so dangerous and why improvements were so difficult to achieve. Because farmers were self-employed business owners whose employees were mainly family members; because they lived far from aid such as hospitals and fire stations; and because they had to manage such a diverse array of new technologies, they could not easily adopt the workplace safety and public health reforms designed for factories and urban settings. In response, beginning in the 1940s, farmers and a new breed of farm safety specialists relied upon an increasingly elaborate educational campaign to lessen injuries and illnesses on the farm.
Several government, business, and nonprofit organizations—from the US Department of Agriculture to the National Safety Council and 4-H and the Future Farmers of America—worked together to publicize both the dangers of farming and the information farmers needed to stay safe while driving tractors, applying anhydrous ammonia, or repairing machinery. By the 1960s, however, the partnership began to break down, and by the 1970s the safety movement became increasingly contested as professional and policy divisions emerged. This groundbreaking study incorporates agriculture into the histories of occupational safety and public health.
Bloody, fiery spectacles—the Challenger disaster, 9/11, JFK’s assassination—have given us moments of catastrophe that make it easy to answer the “where were you when” question and shape our ways of seeing what came before and after. Why are these spectacles so packed with meaning?
In The Iconoclastic Imagination, Ned O’Gorman approaches each of these moments as an image of icon-destruction that give us distinct ways to imagine social existence in American life. He argues that the Cold War gave rise to crises in political, aesthetic, and political-aesthetic representations. Locating all of these crises within a “neoliberal imaginary,” O’Gorman explains that since the Kennedy assassination, the most powerful way to see “America” has been in the destruction of representative American symbols or icons. This, in turn, has profound implications for a neoliberal economy, social philosophy, and public policy. Richly interwoven with philosophical, theological, and rhetorical traditions, the book offers a new foundation for a complex and innovative approach to studying Cold War America, political theory, and visual culture.
When Consumers Power’s plan to build a nuclear power plant in Midland, Michigan, was announced in 1967, it promised to free Michigan residents from expensive, dirty, coal-fired electricity and to keep Dow Chemical operating in the state. But before the plan could be completed, the facility was called an engineering nightmare, a financial disaster, a construction boondoggle, a political headache, and a regulatory muddle. Most locals had welcomed nuclear power eagerly. Why, after almost twenty years and billions of dollars, did this promise of a high-tech, coal-free, prosperous future fail? And what lessons does its failure offer today as Americans try to develop a clean energy economy based on renewable power? To answer these questions, energy consultant and author LeRoy Smith carefully traces the design and construction decisions made by Consumers Power, including its choice of reactor and its hiring of the Bechtel Corporation to manage the project. He also details the rapidly changing regulatory requirements and growing public concern about the environmental risks of nuclear power generation. An examination of both the challenges and importance of renewable energy, this book will be of value to anyone interested in grappling with the complexities of our ongoing efforts to eliminate fossil fuels in favor of clean renewable energy.
Oil and Water: A Novel
Mei Mei Evans University of Alaska Press, 2013 Library of Congress PS3605.V3693O45 2013 | Dewey Decimal 813.6
What happens when the American dream collides head-on with a nation’s dependence on fossil fuels? Oil and Water, a novel by Mei Mei Evans, focuses on precisely this question. Starting with a star-crossed supertanker, a wayward fishing boat, and a well-known hazard in the Gulf of Alaska, the story presents a region plunged into an oil-slicked crisis. As thousands of miles of shoreline and sea are obliterated, the spill threatens the lives and livelihoods of the coastal community of Selby.
At the center of the disaster are Gregg, a down-on-his-luck skipper, and Lee, his lone deckhand. As they cross paths with the tanker and later the residents of Selby, they are faced with decisions that will have a lasting impact on the entire community. And when the residents are presented with a controversial deal—accept handouts in the form of work from the very company responsible for the disaster—they must learn just how important it is to find strength in the connections that bind humans to each other and the natural world.
Evans’s compelling story, influenced by her own experiences during the Exxon Valdez oil spill, is a provocative look at the choice that must be made between environmental safety and economic survival. A PEN/Bellwether Prize finalist, it will have readers reconsidering where they draw their own lines.
Just after 9:00 a.m. on February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia broke apart and was lost over Texas. This tragic event led, as the Challenger accident had 17 years earlier, to an intensive government investigation of the technological and organizational causes of the accident. The investigation found chilling similarities between the two accidents, leading the Columbia Accident Investigation Board to conclude that NASA failed to learn from its earlier tragedy.
Despite the frequency with which organizations are encouraged to adopt learning practices, organizational learning—especially in public organizations—is not well understood and deserves to be studied in more detail. This book fills that gap with a thorough examination of NASA’s loss of the two shuttles. After offering an account of the processes that constitute organizational learning, Julianne G. Mahler focuses on what NASA did to address problems revealed by Challenger and its uneven efforts to institutionalize its own findings. She also suggests factors overlooked by both accident commissions and proposes broadly applicable hypotheses about learning in public organizations.