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ERIC Number: EJ847574
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2006
Pages: 5
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 13
ISSN: ISSN-1071-6084
The Epistemic Value of Cautionary Tales
Shields, William M.
Journal of Technology Studies, v32 n2 p90-94 Spr 2006
A cautionary tale has become something of a cottage industry in the past decade. To be sure, there has been plenty of material for these publications: Bhopal, Chernobyl, "Exxon Valdez," Three Mile Island, and "Challenger" have entered the lexicon as virtual synonyms for "disaster." Cautionary tale scenarios involve a different kind of causality. In analyzing technology-related disasters after the fact, one may find himself/herself examining causal sequences that had no apparent connection to one another. In this article, the author discusses the epistemic value of cautionary tales and provides an illustration of a cautionary tale from his own field of fire protection engineering. In cautionary tales, what people see is a causal sequence in which many unrelated factors seem to converge to bring about an unexpected and undesirable result. Here, the author stresses that people need to learn new ways to approach the causality reflected in the cautionary tales and argues for a new approach to the managing of technological risk, one that can identify a dangerous condition caused by factors that may appear on the surface to be unrelated.
Epsilon Pi Tau. International Office, Technology Building, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH 43403-0296. Tel: 419-372-2425; Fax: 419-372-9502; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A