[ASC-list] (long) A Code of Practice Generator (was: Re: The changing role of ASC)

Charles Willock charlesw at cse.unsw.EDU.AU
Wed Oct 31 16:09:43 UTC 2012

Hi All,

I agree, a Code of Practice is appropriate at this stage of
development of the field of science communication ... and of 
the ASC.

There appear to be a variety of ways of developing such a code.

I offer the following "scientific" approach ... linguistically akin 
to a code of practice generator - perhaps kinda appropriate under the
circumstances. :) Actually, it is more an approach to defining
the genre of "code of practice in a technical field".

It is based on Chapter 9 of an ethics textbook by Michael Quinn
(details below) and I deal only with the issue of generating
the code items.

In a simple form, a code of practice is a set of acceptable/good
behaviours with specific exceptions.  This code generator steps
through the process of how to generate items based on recognised
ethical frameworks.

I am aware that, to be useful, brevity and clarity are important in
such codes.  Perhaps providing a framework/genre, will allow people to
see the overall structure more clearly, and thus provide a way to
integrate their suggestions.  I hope it will be a worthy extension 
of Julian's version as well as providing a means of maximising 
value while minimising effort.

Wrt specific items, an issue of importance to me is that of
Whistleblowing / exposing malpractice.  For two decades with the
growth of commercialisation there seems to be strongly growing tension
between experts-who-know of malpractice / communicators
who-could-tell, and commercial or government interests who would
rather keep it all covered up.  Giving scientists and communicators
permission to act ethically through a code of practice might be one
small way of contributing to a more favourable balance in the future.

In devising a code, there also seems to be the issue of referent.
Given the international nature of science and rapidly expanding
capabilities of science communication, where should we anchor our
value-systems?  Should our obligation ultimately be to the Australian
public, or could(?)/should(?) it be to a different authority?


    An Approach to a Code of Practice for 
      Australian Science Communicators


Chapter 9 of Quinn [2005] seems to be particularly useful reference
for generating a code of practice for scientists/communicators/
information workers:

It also provides (Ch 2), a logical approach and basis for understanding
practical ethics.

Quinn M. J.[2005], 'Ethics for the Information Age'  424pp,
                    Pearson Addison Wesley.

A Code of Practice Framework Generator:

In chapter 9, Quinn identifies "Virtue Ethics" (in contrast to
Utilitarian / Kantian Ethics, and Social Contract Theory etc.) as a
useful theoretical frame for developing/analysing a code of practice.

Virtue ethics is a useful starting point because it is easy to convert
virtues (where I translate 'a virtue' loosely to mean 'a good
behaviour') into practical codes (just by changing them into directives
... "do + virtue").

The outline of a code of practice can be generated very quickly from a
list of virtues activated by suitable verbs thereby defining guidelines 
which members "should follow":

   code item = (verb + virtue)

For example, if the virtues honesty, fairness, and balance, are
considered important, then the draft framework might be

   Guiding Principles

   The member shall
      deal honestly
      treat fairly
      provide balance
      (verb + virtue)s

Virtue Sets:

Quinn attributes the following list of virtues to James Rachels
[2003, 'The elements of moral philosophy' McGraw-Hill] :

   benevolence, civility, compassion, conscientiousness,
   cooperativeness, courage, courteousness, dependability, 
   fairness, friendliness, generosity, honesty, 
   industriousness, justice, loyalty, moderation, patience, 
   prudence, reasonableness, self-discipline, self-reliance,
   tactfulness, thoughtfulness, tolerance.

Refining the Verb + Virtue Formula:

While it does have benefits for code item production, Quinn also notes
some limitations with virtue ethics.  One of those is that virtue
based codes cannot necessarily identify what to do in all situations.

For example, while fairness, balance and reasonableness are all
virtuous, they may not enable one to make a good decision about what
to do in all circumstances - providing equal time to flat earthers may
not meet everyone's definition of reasonableness, yet in some
circumstances, just because an idea has few scientific supporters,
doesn't mean that one should rule it out either.

Code generation might be augmented by highlighting particular issues
for special treatment.  For example, the code might, at an appropriate
point, specifically prescribe particular virtuous behaviour for well
known issues.  It might also proscribe inappropriate behaviour at 

Clarifying and Testing the Code:

After the code framework is created, it can be refined in a couple
of ways:

   o.  by making the issue / virtue more specific to the needs
       of the organisation / or by focusing it more clearly on 
       particular aspects of behaviour or on particular people

   o.  grouping the virtue items under related topics - eg
       collecting together those items which reflect a common 
       theme - such as a need to keep a member's skills up with
       current practice

One approach (after Quinn) for focussing on the particular needs of
the code is through a series of questions.  Those questions can be
used to tailor the focus of attention or to identify the particular
perspectives of the code item.

These questions are based around the ideas of Kant (universality of
principles of rules, and avoiding 'using' others), Rawl (fairness and
justice for the unempowered), Utilitarianism (what makes practical
sense) and Social Contract Theory (rights and responsibilities people
are willing to sign up to).

Some useful questions for refining codes are: 

   o.  who is affected?
   o.  does the code reflect respect to those?
   o.  would a decision based on this code element hold 
       up to public scrutiny?
   o.  how will those who are least empowered be affected?
   o.  are my acts worthy of the ideal professional?

Quinn ties all this together with a quote attributed to Justin Oakley
and Dean Cocking [2001, 'Virtue Ethics and Professional Roles' CUP]

   "An Action is right if and only if it is what an agent with 
    a virtuous character would do in the circumstances.

A Possible Model of a Code of Practice:

Quinn (p371) produces a code of practice consisting of eight
principles suitable for software engineers.  I have cropped and
adapted Quinn's model code here to sketch a framework which might be
useful to the ASC.  Quinn uses the concept of PRINCIPLE to group his
codes into various themes.

PRINCIPLE 1 ::  Public

  ... shall act consistently with the public interest

    - includes such things as accepting responsibility for 
      accuracy, meet rules, privacy, not harm the environment,
      for the public good etc.

PRINCIPLE 2 ::  Client and Employer

  ... shall act in the best interests of their client and
      employer, consistent with the public interest

    - includes areas of competence, honesty, limitations,
      proper authorisation, consent, ethical behaviour
      confidentiality, conflicts of interest, 

PRINCIPLE 3 ::  Product

  ... shall meet the highest standards

    - including quality, acceptable costs, reasonable schedule,
      trade-offs, identify conflicting issues, use of appropriate
      methods, suitable skills, understanding of the objectives
      and standards, testing, privacy, data confidentiality

PRINCIPLE 4 ::  Judgment

  ... judgment and integrity of their professional judgment

    - including maintaining professional objectivity, disclosing
      conflicts of interest, financial considerations, 

PRINCIPLE 5 ::  Management

  ... ethical approach to management

    - including effective procedures for promotion of quality 
      and reduction of risk, standards, data integrity processes, 
      realistic estimates, proposals, costs, time, handling 
      concerns about ethical practices, fair and just remuneration,
      ownership of intellectual property

PRINCIPLE 6 ::  Profession

  ... advance the integrity and reputation of the profession
      consistent with the public interest

    - including, developing an organisational environment favourable
      to ethical behaviour, need for involvement in professional
      organisations, meetings and publications, obey laws governing
      their work except where compliance inconsisten with public
      interest, avoiding speculative / deceptive / false ... claims,
      knowledge of this code, obligation to report violations

PRINCIPLE 7 ::  Colleagues

 ... fair to and supportive of their colleagues

   - including, encourage adherence to this code, assist colleagues 
     in professional development, credit work of others, refrain from
     undue credit, review others work in objective / candid / properly
     documented way, fair hearing to opinions / concerns / complaints,
     not unfairly intervene, but where in good faith in public interest
     question competence of a colleague, willingness to call on 
     colleagues with expertise

PRINCIPLE 8 ::  Self

 ... lifelong learning regarding the practice of the profession

   - including further developments in analysis, design, development,
     improvements to produce safe / reliable / useful / reasonable
     cost / reasonable time, accurate, informative, awareness of 
     relevant standards, application of this code to their work, not
     influence others to undertake action which breaches this code.

An Alternative Set of Themes:

Quinn (p383) also provides an alternative / generalised list of 
principles (or themes) on which a code might be based:

   1.  Be impartial

   2.  Disclose information that others ought to know

   3.  Respect the rights of others

   4.  Treat others justly

   5.  Take responsibility for your actions and inactions

   6.  Take responsibility for the actions of those who you supervise

   7.  Maintain your integrity

   8.  Continually improve your abilities

   9.  Share your knowledge, expertise and values

========  END  ===========

On Sun, Oct 28, 2012 at 05:54:52PM +1000, Jenni Metcalfe wrote:
> Great idea Julian and I know Rob Morrison was also working on some
> ethics as well!
> I think this should be something that is addressed formally at the AGM
> so that we can include something like this in our constitution or
> however it is meant to be done!
> Jenni Metcalfe
> Director, Econnect Communication
> www.econnect.com.au
> phone: 07 3846 7111; 0408 551 866
> jenni at econnect.com.au
> skype: jenni.metcalfe
> PO Box 734 South Brisbane Q 4101
> subscribe to Econnect's free monthly e-newsletter: 
> http://www.econnect.com.au/news_newsletter.htm
>   <https://twitter.com/#!/econnectteam>    
> <http://www.facebook.com/pages/Econnect-Team/157913364253434>  
> From: asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au
> [mailto:asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au] On Behalf Of JCribb
> Sent: Sunday, 28 October 2012 9:58 AM
> To: 'David Ellyard'; asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au
> Subject: Re: [ASC-list] The changing role of ASC
> David and colleagues -
> As your foundation president, I believe It is also time ASC seriously
> considered adopting a professional code of ethics or charter of
> practice, like other professions.  We need this not only for our own
> professional standards, but also to protect science communicators from
> exploitation or misuse by science organisations seeking to employ them
> for institutional propaganda purposes.
> I invite all members to consider whether we should adopt a code similar
> to the following, (which I proposed several years ago, but which the
> then ASC executive took no action on). I'm happy to explain the thinking
> behind each element, as members may require:
> Principles
> 1.       Scientific knowledge is the common heritage of all people.
> 2.       The sharing, or communication, of scientific knowledge is as
> important as its discovery.
> 3.       The future of Australia depends on the equitable sharing and
> rapid adoption of sound scientific knowledge.
> 4.       Scientific knowledge should be communicated as truthfully,
> ethically, fairly and widely as practical for the benefit of Australia.
> 5.       The future of Australian science depends on its ability to
> shape itself to the needs, values and standards of Australians.
> 6.       The interests of the Australian people are higher than those of
> any individual, scientific institution, funding agency, commercial
> entity or government body.
> Code of practice
> Science communicators hold the future in our hands. We help to move the
> new knowledge generated by scientists to the people who need and will
> use it.  We spread awareness of new insights into Australia, humanity
> and the world we live in. We educate, inform, stimulate, challenge,
> inspire and warn. We are agents of change, transmitters of new
> technologies, heralds of ideas for a sustainable and prosperous society.
> We also help scientists to understand the needs and wishes of our
> society, so their science may serve it better.
> We are professional communicators, journalists, writers and authors,
> teachers, lecturers, scientists and technologists, engineers, social
> scientists . We value scientific knowledge for itself and for the
> benefits it can bring society, and we recognise the potential harm it
> can cause if misapplied. 
> As science communicators we commit ourselves to:
> 1.	Communicate science truthfully, factually and professionally in
> the interests of all Australians
> 2.	Communicate science as widely as possible, in order to promote
> the useful, safe and rapid adoption of new knowledge and technologies
> for the benefit of Australia.
> 3.	Recognise that the Australian public through their taxes pay for
> most science and that their lives may be affected by it.  They are
> therefore owed a factual report or explanation.
> 4.	Encourage and assist scientists and scientific organisations to
> share the new knowledge they have gained through research with
> Australian governments, industry and the community as widely as
> possible.
> 5.	Encourage and assist scientists and other researchers to
> communicate their work to the public and other audiences in a skilful,
> informative and respectful fashion.
> 6.	Encourage scientific institutions to listen closely to community
> and national opinion about science in order to respond to the needs,
> wishes and concerns of Australia and promote the useful, rapid and safe
> adoption of new knowledge
> 7.	Observe and uphold high professional standards of honesty,
> integrity and fairness in the communication of science.
> 8.	Acknowledge that almost all technologies have potential
> downsides or capacity for misapplication, and communicate these
> accurately and in a balanced fashion, as well as the potential benefits.
> 9.	Not permit personal interest, belief, payment, suasion or
> coercion to undermine our commitment to truthfulness, fairness, balance
> or professional integrity in communicating science.
> 10.	Not allow commercial, bureaucratic or other organisational
> considerations to undermine the principle of providing a fair, truthful
> and balanced report to the Australian people. 
> Julian
> Julian Cribb FTSE
> Julian Cribb & Associates
> ph +61 (0)2 6242 8770 or 0418 639 245
> www.sciencealert.com.au/jca.html
> Skype: julian.cribb
> If you EAT, you should follow: http://twitter.com/#!/ComingFamine
> From: asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au [
> mailto:asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au] On Behalf Of David Ellyard
> Sent: Sunday, 28 October 2012 8:43 AM
> To: asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au
> Subject: [ASC-list] The changing role of the ASC President
> Up till now the ASC has been a typical volunteer organisation, reliant
> on  the unpaid and spare-time efforts of our  members and officers,
> though modest honoraria have been paid to some of the latter. This
> approach has allowed us to make a significant impact, but with  the
> rising profile of science communication, as represented  inter alia by
> the Inspiring Australia initiative, your National Council believes it is
> time to move on and adopt a more professional style  of management and
> operation.
> We have already appointed Kali Madden as our paid, though still part
> time, Executive Officer. In that capacity she is responsible for the
> efficient running of our internal operations, such as membership
> management.  The next proposed step is the appointment in the next few
> months of a General Manager to undertake similar efficient management
> with regards to our external relations, including our significant
> involvement with Inspiring Australia, linkages with like-minded
> organisations, the staging of National Conferences and so on. We believe
> that such an appointment will further raise our profile, enhance our
> impact on science communication in Australia and increase our
> membership.
> The changing role of the ASC President 
> The new appointment will have a significant impact of the role of the
> ASC  President, much as the work of the Executive Officer eases the
> burden on the Treasurer. It is intended that the General Manager will
> take over many of the roles currently filled by the President. The
> latter would become more like the Chairman of the Board, providing
> leadership and oversighting the development of policy, with  the
> implementation of policy and the development of new programs resting
> with the General Manager. As a result the position of President will be
> much less time-consuming than it has been, and should be more attractive
> to a wider range of members, including some in senior positions in the
> sci-com community.
> Under  our constitution, the President is supported by one or two
> Vice-Presidents, who can be assigned specific roles. These officers are
> appointed by the National  Council from among its number, or (as now)
> co-opted from the wider membership. This provides a further opportunity
> to ease the workload on the President.
> The President is elected at our Annual General Meeting, which this year
> will be Brisbane on 27 November. If you have an interest in taking up
> the Presidency (or any other role) and would like to discuss the matter
> further, contact our current (and soon to retire) President Jesse Shore
> (jesse at prismaticsciences.com) or our Treasurer David Ellyard 
> (david at davidellyard.com)  

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      "Creativity and innovation are measured not by what is done, 
           but by what could have been done ... but wasn't"

Disclaimer: http://www.eng.unsw.edu.au/emaildis.htm
Charles Willock                                 charlesw at cse.unsw.edu.au
c/- School of Computer Science and Engineering       
University of New South Wales,                  
New South Wales  Australia  2052    http://www.cse.unsw.edu.au/~charlesw

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