Codes of Conduct - Three Major Dimensions
The Hippocratic Oath is a recurrent example for other initiatives to develop and implement codes of conduct for scientists in general and scientists in specific areas in particular.
The International Council for Science (ICSU), in "Standards for Ethics and Responsibility in Science - an Empirical Study", demonstrates that the development of codes of conduct for the sciences requires attention to at least three aspects:
- Form It is quite interesting to note what format the different existing standards and codes have. To this end the material was classified into 15 categories (oath, pledge, code, guidelines, declaration, principles, appeal, recommendation, manifesto, statement, declaration, resolution, convention, charter, law, other). According to an intuitive family resemblance, they could also be further clustered in five groups. The oaths and pledges into a ‘pledge group’; the codes, guidelines and principles into a ‘guidelines group’; the appeals, recommendations, manifestos, statements, declarations and resolutions into a ‘statement group’; the conventions, charters and laws into a ‘law group’; and still the others in a diverse and miscellaneous category.
- Content The ICSU analysis also tried to identify some of the core traits or virtues that one expects to find in the standards and codes. Honesty, openness, fairness, truthfulness, accuracy, conscientiousness, respect, collaboration and loyalty are but among the most frequently listed individual qualities.
- Function A third characteristic of the examined codes of conduct is that they, like the Hippocratic Oath, try to exemplify the internal morality of science in order to ascertain and reinforce the social value of science. In the words of the authors of the ICSU study, “ethics can be seen as the arena of dialogue between science and society, where clarifications on these issues is sought”. In this context, “ethical standards serve an important function”; as a matter of fact “though their effect in preventing misconduct may be doubted, they still set a framework or orientation that appears clarifying, in particular for younger scientists”. In this regard, “the issue of a scientific oath or a scientific pledge (…) marks the individual adoption of [ethical] norms by a public act, and thus has a function both with respect to the individual taking such an oath, and with respect to the public that conceives such an act as a normative reference point. However, without the lively debate and continued renewal of codes of ethics or ethical guidelines in science, such an oath or pledge runs the danger of becoming a pure formality without content.”
It seems also worthwhile to note that the number of oath and pledges in the research material considered is rather small (six in total). This low number is certainly caused by the fact that an oath or pledge is perceived to be of a more binding nature than mere guidelines. Which also makes it more difficult to agree upon.
Beside the behaviour of individuals, the analysis isolated a number of features for which the scientific community should stand as a whole. Social responsibility, environmental responsibility, sustainable development, socio-economic development, social welfare, socio economic equity, gender equality, scientific freedom, peace, democratic development, human rights are again some among the most frequently listed traits.