Haley Scholar Reading Groups
By Cindy Lyles
In “Blowup,” Malcolm Gladwell discusses the historic catastrophe of the Challenger space shuttle explosion in 1986. He also To demonstrate that the Challenger disaster was no one’s fault in particular, the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident serves as a basis of comparison. The TMI tragedy occurred due to five specific mechanical malfunctions, rather than a person’s deliberate negligence; such is the case with the Challenger.
Sociologist Diane Vaughan argues, “‘No fundamental decision was made at NASA to do evil…Rather, a series of seemingly harmless decisions were made that incrementally moved the space agency toward catastrophic outcome’” (282). NASA’s outwardly harmless decisions in this instance stemmed from a culture of “normalized deviance” according to Vaughan (287). Apparently, the space administration had grown so accustomed to making risky decisions about faulty shuttle parts that their perceived chances for danger were low. In other words, risks and hazards became customary and expected.
Is “normalized deviance” (which in our academic context could include the regular practice of waiting until the last minute to complete class assignments or texting during class lectures) merely an unacceptable excuse for negative outcomes or an acceptable justification? How so?