22 March 2018

AGU’s Revised Ethics Policy: Where We Are 6 Months Later

Posted by Eric Davidson

By Robin Bell, Eric Davidson, and Chris McEntee 

Roughly six months ago, AGU leadership adopted a revised ethics policy that took a noticeably stronger stance on workplace climate issues by including harassment, bullying, and discrimination in the definition of scientific misconduct. In doing so, we recognize appropriate personal conduct as part of the broader context of scientific responsibility and the expected research behavior—because harassment, bullying, and discrimination negatively impact the scientific enterprise. The policy, as we outlined in an earlier From the Prow post, was the culmination of months of work by the Ethics Task Force, initially convened by then President Margaret Leinen, to review AGU’s previous policy and make recommendations, and many discussions with AGU members and among Board and Council. However, the policy is just one step that AGU has undertaken in efforts to create a safe, inclusive community for Earth and space science.

To maintain focus and promote momentum on this important topic, we intend to provide regular updates on the progress of our ethics work and reflect on the strides we have made since announcing the policy update. So, what has happened since last September?

Others Are Taking Notice

As the scientific community experiences a spike in discussion around harassment in the sciences, AGU’s work has not gone unnoticed. Both media outlets and policymakers are taking note, talking about harassment and how to improve the culture. Since last September, AGU leadership has been invited to testify on Capitol Hill and interviewed with numerous media outlets discussing harassment in the sciences, allowing us to both build awareness about the severity of the issue and share the actions that AGU is taking more broadly.

AGU Executive Director and CEO Chris McEntee was one of four expert witnesses invited by the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology to testify on 27 February, at a hearing entitled, “A Review of Sexual Harassment and Misconduct in Science.”

AGU is sharing information about our policy at other scientific meetings. AGU Ethics Chair Michael McPhaden and Chris will discuss this topic in separate sessions at the 2018 EGU General Assembly in April.  AGU President Eric Davidson worked with his EGU counterpart, President Jonathan Bamber, to develop a “Statement of Principles for a Code of Ethics for the Geosciences” that was approved by the EGU Council. This statement will be presented and discussed at a special town hall session on ethics and the role of scientific societies at the 2018 Japanese Geoscience Union annual meeting in May. AGU’s Billy Williams, Vice President, Ethics, Diversity and Inclusion, spoke last month at the AAAS Meeting and is a part of the National Academy of Sciences ad hoc committee under the oversight of Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine (CWSEM) that is studying the influence of sexual harassment in academia for women in STEM. The committee’s recommendations are anticipated in Summer 2018.

Creating New Partnerships

Since September, AGU has continued building and strengthening partnerships with other scientific societies and institutions who have an interest in professional ethics and workplace climate issues. AGU continues to be seen as a leader in how professional societies should respond to harassment and toxic environments. In August, the NSF’s ADVANCE program funded a proposal that included Billy as co-PI to develop bystander intervention workshops for department heads, chairs, and faculty in an effort to better handle reporting and reduce incidents of sexual harassment in the Earth and space sciences.

Earlier this year, AGU signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Center for Professional & Research Ethics (NCPRE) to partner and share resources related to ethics. NCPRE is part of the Coordinated Science Laboratory in the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Their resources include the Survey of Organizational Research Climate (SOURCE) a validated tool to measure research integrity at academic organizations, online ethics and leadership courses for professionals, as well as an extensive resource library on research ethics and leadership development. AGU and NCPRE look forward to building out joint offerings in the future and leveraging these resources to AGU members under our soon-to-be launched Ethics Resource Center. Please stay tuned for more updates from this partnership.

Creating Safe Spaces & Policy Implementation

At both the 2017 Fall Meeting in December and the 2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting (OSM) in February, AGU promoted a safe, inclusive environment through SafeAGU (or at OSM, SafeOSM). Volunteer staff and leadership wearing the green SafeAGU/SafeOSM button were trained to assist meeting attendees who felt harmed or those who witnessed a safety incident. In addition, AGU hosted a number of events at Fall Meeting related to issues of harassment and work climate and a town hall at OSM on the topic.  During Fall Meeting, Chris McEntee, Robin Bell, and council member Lora Koenig participated in a Facebook Live on the topic of harassment hosted by AAAS. Additional member resources, such as confidential legal counseling and confidential trauma counseling, are also in progress for those who may have been targets of sexual harassment.

New in 2018, as part of AGU’s updated policy, we instituted a new disclosure process for honors and governance. Candidates for governance positions and nominees for AGU honors or other recognitions are now required to disclose formal complaints related to their professional conduct. This disclosure is similar to the conflict of interest self-disclosure we require for the same AGU activities.

Additionally, with the changes to AGU’s Scientific Integrity and Professional Ethics Policy, the Board gave the new directive to share with our membership an annual report of AGU’s ethics complaints, which will include information on the disposition of all formal complaints made to AGU in the previous calendar year, the number of ethics cases handled and their current status, while also ensuring confidentiality of all parties. The report will be a high-level look at new developments and partnerships around AGU’s scientific integrity and professional ethics work. In the future, we expect this report to include comparisons among years to demonstrate trends and progress. The report will be made available at the end of the first quarter of each year and will be available at on the web at Ethics.agu.org. We will also begin a quarterly Ethics Corner in AGUniverse to update you on our latest efforts in scientific integrity and ethics—the first Ethics Corner is in today’s AGUniverse.

The Impacts

While it is too soon to determine the full reach and impact of AGU’s harassment efforts, we are proud to share positive indications that the culture may be changing; and, that there is a willingness to put in place stronger policies and more concerted efforts to address these long-standing issues. Anecdotally, we’ve heard that a number of institutions have taken steps to develop a stronger policy in line with AGU’s. If your department or organization is in the process of developing an updated policy, we want to hear about it.

We’re continuing to build partnerships, share our insights with other organizations, and spread the word. Putting an end to the issue of harassment, discrimination and bullying in science and creating a zero-tolerance culture will take the collective efforts of our community and our society.

Further Reading

In case you missed these articles, we’d encourage you to read: