Geology & Geophysics AGU News

AGU Revises Its Integrity and Ethics Policy

The updated ethics policy takes a strong stance against harassment in the sciences.

By Michael J. McPhaden, , and

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) Board of Directors has approved changes to the AGU Scientific Integrity and Professional Ethics Policy. The revisions adopted on 14 September were made in response to a June 2016 decision by AGU leadership, under then AGU President Margaret Leinen, to form a task force to review the organization’s ethics policy and practices in the wake of high-profile cases alleging sexual harassment in science.

The updated policy is intended to address ongoing issues within the Earth and space science community that have profound impact in the workplace and on scientists’ individual lives and careers. It is the result of the 18-member task force’s efforts over the past year.

New Standards and Expectations

Most notably, changes to the policy include identifying as scientific misconduct harassment, discrimination, and bullying in scientific endeavors. The previous ethics policy was silent on code of conduct expectations for AGU members related to the issue of harassment.

Further, the new policy extends to all AGU members, as well as staff, volunteers, contractors, and nonmembers who participate in AGU programs. The policy is aspirational in setting standards for scientific integrity and professional ethics in the Earth and space science community, but it also establishes mechanisms that allow for the imposition of sanctions to deal with breaches of the AGU ethics policy. As the updated policy states, “when an allegation of misconduct involves activity that is against the U.S. code of law, or code of law in other respective regions, AGU will work with all appropriate authorities as needed and required to resolve the allegation.”

Key provisions of this updated policy include

  • AGU leadership’s affirmation of the international principle that the free, open, and responsible practice of science is fundamental to scientific advancement and human and environmental well-being
  • a definition of scientific misconduct that includes conduct toward others
  • definitions of discrimination, harassment (including sexual harassment), and bullying
  • a higher standard for AGU volunteer leader conduct
  • the extension of the AGU ethics policy to cover participants in all AGU program activities, including honors and awards and AGU governance
  • self-reporting requirements for recipients of AGU awards and honors and for candidates to AGU elected positions
  • ethical guidelines for publication of scientific research
  • ethical guidelines for student-adviser relationships
  • a clear and detailed process for reporting and investigating scientific misconduct
  • a description of support mechanisms for issues that may not rise to the level of a formal ethics complaint

The initial draft of the ethics policy was open for AGU member review and comment in March 2017. During the comment period, many constructive responses were received and incorporated into the final version.

A Stepping-Stone Toward Further Efforts

AGU is not alone in its efforts to expand research misconduct to include harassment; in September 2016, Celeste Rohlfing, chief operating officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), proposed that federal agencies do the same. That same month, AGU was joined by cosponsoring organizations, including AAAS, the American Chemical Society, the American Geosciences Institute, the Association for Women Geoscientists, and the Earth Science Women’s Network, in hosting a workshop entitled “Sexual Harassment in the Sciences: A Call to Respond.” The National Science Foundation funded the event.

In rolling out the new policy, AGU will provide additional educational resources to help foster the change in culture needed to eliminate harassment in the Earth and space science community.

For further information about the new ethics policy, please read the latest From the Prow blog post by AGU’s president, Eric Davidson; president-elect, Robin Bell; and immediate past president, Margaret Leinen. You can review the updated policy and associated AGU antiharassment educational resources at this website.

—Michael J. McPhaden (email: [email protected]), Chair, Task Force on Scientific Ethics, AGU; Linda Gundersen, Member, Task Force on Scientific Ethics, AGU; and Billy M. Williams, Vice President, Ethics, Diversity, and Inclusion, AGU

Citation: McPhaden, M. J., L. Gundersen, and B. M. Williams (2017), AGU revises its integrity and ethics policy, Eos, 98, https://doi.org/10.1029/2017EO082469. Published on 18 September 2017.
© 2017. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
  • Axon Udo

    There is this bad thing called “Scientific Misconduct” and this other bad thing called “Harassment”. They both include an array of behaviors which can be inferred by the name. Scientific misconduct would be like faking data. Harassment would be like persistent and unwanted sexual advances towards a coworker. Now they are the same.

    • khms

      Actually, I’d interpret it instead as harassment now being a subcategory of scientific misconduct.

      Also, I think it makes sense to define scientific misconduct as conduct that harms science as a whole, and that would then obviously (or so I think) include not only faking your data, but also contributing to a working environment that is hostile to whole classes of people (because it ultimately reduces the pool of people available to do science).

      • Axon Udo

        Why not label every crime as scientific misconduct then? Why isn’t “misconduct” a good enough label? When someone tells us so-and-so got their paper retracted due to scientific misconduct, should we speculate this person was soliciting sex from an undergrad in their lab? There is no need for the ambiguity; appropriate disciplinary procedures exist regardless of what you call it.