Professional Ethics in Science Societies: AOS Is Working Hard to Be a Leader

Imagine a situation at a scientific conference where you see, hear, or experience something that seems demeaning or unethical and that negatively impacts professional interactions. Or perhaps imagine another scenario, in which your unpublished data were presented by another person without citation or consent. What or who could help you navigate those situations? Examples like these can raise many questions: Whom can I tell? Will I experience retribution or backlash if I speak up? Is it worth it to come forward?

One of the roles of a scientific society like the American Ornithological Society (AOS) is to establish and maintain standards of excellence in science and technology. This can include setting the standards of professional and ethical behavior as well as standards for high quality research and teaching. In this role, the AOS strives to model the standards of ethical and professional conduct and culture we seek to advance. To provide the foundation for these standards, codes of conduct and ethics can outline principles that govern behavior and decisions in a Society. Conduct codes provide general guidelines for member behavior, while ethics codes provide specific guidance for handling issues like harassment, safety, and conflicts of interest.

The AOS is pleased to release our newly revised Code of Conduct and Ethics (CCE), which was approved by the AOS Council in January 2022. Our new CCE defines a process for reporting and responding to unethical behavior and outlines an investigative procedure for the Professional Ethics Committee to follow in case of a suspected ethics violation. Working with other scientific societies and in particular, the Societies Consortium on Sexual Harassment in STEMM, the most recent CCE better defines specific ethical concerns and describes the process for submitting a complaint and the investigation flow. 

The AOS is changing to better reflect and support our diverse community of ornithologists and to create a more welcoming space and sense of belonging for our full constituency of members and partners. Creating and implementing a strong Code of Conduct and Ethics and related policies reflects the AOS’s commitment to ensuring that our organization, our meetings, our publications, and the spaces in which we interact support a community that feels like an ornithological home for all. Our new policies were developed by the AOS’s Professional Ethics Committee, guided through consultations with individuals representing our Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Committee, and informed by the work we are doing with Diversity Crew to develop and implement a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice strategic plan. Members from the AOS’s D&I Committee provided feedback on the draft Code to ensure the new policies would reflect the needs and concerns of AOS members from different backgrounds and with different perspectives. As part of Diversity Crew’s diversity audit of the AOS’s governance, policies, engagement strategies, and online presence, our consultants guided us towards increased clarity and more inclusive language in our new policies. These efforts serve to build a strong foundation for establishing and enforcing policies and social norms that create a welcoming and inclusive culture that is free from harassment and accessible to all.

The mission of the AOS is to advance the scientific understanding of birds, to enrich ornithology as a profession, and to promote a rigorous scientific basis for the conservation of birds. To succeed in this mission, the AOS must serve as a leader in professional ethics and conduct and ensure that ornithologists from all backgrounds, geographies, genders, career stages, and abilities are safe and welcome in our community and can conduct their research free of harassment or discrimination. We strive for a professional environment that engenders trust of current and future ornithologists, current and future leaders of the AOS, and the research our Society publishes, supports, and highlights. Our revised Code of Conduct and Ethics, along with the related Meeting Code of Conduct, Social Media and Commenting Policy, and Editorial Grievance Policy, establish high standards of conduct that foster full participation for all Society members and stakeholders.

We encourage you to familiarize yourself with our new Code of Conduct and Ethics, and we thank you for helping our community uphold these high standards of ethics and behavior. Each one of us plays a critical role in ensuring that our community is safe, welcoming, and a home for all.

“The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.”

-Albert Schweitzer

Jeanne Fair
Chair, AOS Professional Ethics Committee

Kristen Covino
AOS Professional Ethics Committee
AOS Diversity & Inclusion Committee

Judith Scarl
AOS Executive Director & CEO

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