Why an unbiased approach matters

In the trucking industry, like most other industries, bias and conflicts of interest sometimes contribute to a disparity between performance claims and real world experiences.

A recent SAE Forum posting by Timothy Kaw, president of the National Society of Professional Engineers, brought to my attention The New Yorker article by Paul Kedrosky, An Engineering Theory of the Volkswagen Scandal, 10/16/2016, which offered an explanation on how a company’s engineering organization and decisions making teams contribute to this disparity.

The article highlights “the normalization of deviance” discussed by sociologist Diane Vaugan in her book The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture and Deviance at NASA (1996). That “is the tendency to slowly and progressively create rationales that justify even riskier behaviors.” Using the Challenger shuttle as an example, it was noted that the shuttle had nine successful launches at progressively lower ambient temperature. Vaughan contends that engineers noted each deviation, reported it to the decision-making team where it was determined that the difference was not significant enough from the previous launch.

Vaughan argues they said the mildly abnormal was normal, thereby making deviant behavior acceptable. While each change seemed slight taken as a whole they resulted in a big shift from the standard until the fatal day in 1986 when the O-rings failed and the Challenger crashed.

We are not suggesting that the teams of people working at truck manufacturers and component suppliers fudge the data. Quite the contrary, they probably are like the people who worked on the Challenger that end up normalizing deviance. And we acknowledge that in the process of marketing products information can get streamlined and simplified for easier digestion by the end user.

That is why it is critically important to the work we do to have fleets share with us real-world input about the fuel efficiency technologies they are using. It helps us take the theoretical and make it practical. After all what happens in a lab, in a wind tunnel, on a test track or in a controlled environment may not translate 100% to the real world.

If you are a fleet and have results from your own testing or from your actual operational use of any one of the 68 fuel efficiency technologies we have identified on truckingefficiency.org, we ask that you please share them with us. We will aggregate your data with the data we have from other fleets to provide realistic information what fuel improvements and total cost of ownership of these technologies are, so other fleets can make informed decisions.

Our goal is to raise the mpgs of all trucks on the road at a cost acceptable to operators. And we can’t do that without you. That means fleets must be more demanding to understand the contexts of the information provided to them. Suppliers must be more detailed in explaining applicability of their performance claims. And both sides need to share information with us so we can digest it, process it, and analyze it in order to ensure it is as reliable and realistic as possible.

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