Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Ethics of Birdwatching

Birdwatching. A lesser-known hobby that does not seem to raise many ethical issues.  Turns out, organizations even have a code of ethics for the hobby! Take the Brookline Bird Club. They take their hobby, and implications that we may not have realized existed for it, very seriously.

The Brookline Bird Club points out the dangers of disturbing birds in their natural habitat, and lays out guidelines for how to best avoid harming them. They even account for the changes in season, and the difference in behavior of different species. They also care for keeping the environment healthy, including a recommendation to stay on designated paths in parks and woods, so as to not trample anything growing there. Also interestingly, they specifically tell their members to behave politely around others to not create a bad name for the group. While many organizations have similar codes, it’s interesting to see that a hobby like bird watching could have something like this too!

The American Birding Association code has similar ethical requirements - to ensure the welfare of birds in their own environments. It also gives details on what to do if you want to attract birds to other environments. If you set up a simple bird feeder, it’s important to also keep in mind a few things. You don’t want the food and water to be contaminated so make sure to keep it clean. You also don’t want to lure birds to predators, so keep the cat away!

However, they also have the specification of helping new members in their own groups. This code has many more specific examples of scenarios, and also recommends being willing to teach others. They claim that the knowledge and experience you gain should be freely shared among the group. Who would have thought people would get so dedicated about something like finding rare birds?

There is plenty more information where that came from, and it can all be found in the links provided. More interesting ethical codes exist on the Ethics Codes Collection website, so feel free to look around!

The Ethics Code Collection is managed by the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions. Look forward to a new and improved website come September!

Written by Alice Amell and Tabitha Anderson

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Should Journalists be Impartial?

Recently, Lewis Wallace was fired for republishing a blog article that he was ordered to take down. Lewis is a radio journalist for the National Public Radio show Marketplace, and also writes a blog on Medium. On his blog, he declared “neutrality is impossible for me, and you should admit that it is for you, too.” Marketplace’s ethics code requires impartiality, or remaining neutral and not interjecting your own opinion on a subject. They are required to avoid being political, not only in their pieces but also in their lives; they cannot go to rallies, donate to candidates or publicly support a candidate. This is designed to take away their partiality, or at least, the appearance of partiality. Few, I suspect, would argue that they don’t have opinions. Is Lewis right and is it impossible for these opinions not to spill over in some way?

The traditional view of impartial journalism is globally influential. The Media Ethics Charter from the Journalists Trade Union in Poland’s requires journalists to report on different viewpoints and to report independent of one’s own views. Similarly, the Media Alliance Code of Ethics from Australia disallows personal beliefs to influence the journalists reporting.

How much does impartiality matter? It affects more than just a particular newscaster or author; it affects the entire institution and the public’s perception of them. The New York Times’ code on Ethical Journalism states as its first introductory point that news must be covered “as impartially as possible.” It’s overarching goal is to protect the reputation of the New York Times. Thus the appearance of impartiality matters as it serves to protect an institution’s reputation. However, despite the widespread dedication to impartiality in journalism, many people will look at any given news source and say they are “liberal” or “conservative.” Different takes on this could include: news sources are not being impartial enough, there is an inherent limit on our ability to be impartial, or people's perception of these sources as partial is wrong.

Can impartiality even truly exist? A different way of presenting news is to embrace partiality and to acknowledge it. Journalism can still seek the truth and make clear distinctions between fact and opinion while also having opinions. The Journalists’ Ethics Codes from the National Association of Hungarian Journalists declares that journalists can both have and express their opinions; they can be openly partial. However, it makes clear that these opinions should not discolor the facts of the news such that the audience misinterprets them.

Is this modality of news presentation better? Should we acknowledge our biases and openly admit them, or should we strive to remain neutral and present both (or more!) sides of any given case? And on the point of different sides, must an exact opposite view be found for a larger issue and given credit, even if it is only held by an extreme minority? (Such as the 3% of scientists who deny climate change, and often have clear personal motive towards promoting oil industries.)

Feel free to add your own comments and peruse for more sources on journalistic ethics. There are many more interesting ethical codes on the Ethics Codes Collection website.

The Ethics Code Collection is managed by the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions. Look forward to a new and improved website come September!

Written by Alice Amell and Tabitha Anderson

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Ethical Representation in Media

Many of us have experienced the annoyance when that “type” of character pops up again: the dumb blonde, the bumbling husband, the trophy wife, the emotionally-repressed action hero, and so on. We may think of them as mere harmless caricatures or traditional stereotypes, but the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) see it as potentially harmful. To them, there is risk not only in the way people are portrayed, but who is (or is not) portrayed at all. The CAB’s Equitable Portrayal Code from 2008 elaborates on how radio and television ought to portray people in a harmless way.

The CAB’s concern with equitable portrayal is partially influenced by the Task Force for Cultural Diversity on Television, which conducted research looking specifically at the portrayal of ethnocultural and Aboriginal groups. They found three areas of concern: stereotyping groups, portraying groups of people inaccurately, and portraying groups of people people in an unbalanced way. The CAB Persons with Disability report had similar concerns regarding the portrayal of persons with disability.

We just don’t see certain groups represented enough, and when we do, that representation can color our view of them because it is the only exposure we might have of a certain type of person. Conversely, some groups are overrepresented, but portrayed in a negative or stereotypical way. In the 1990 Sex Role Portrayal Code for Radio and Television, they comment that “Canadian broadcasters recognize the cumulative effect of negative and inequitable sex role portrayal. . .” In other words, these pervasive cliches can negatively affect us. It is not always the result of one movie or commercial, but the overall context of movies or commercials that paint broad strokes and stereotypes can affect. If we saw just as many smart blondes as dumb blondes, and just as many bumbling husbands as effectual ones, would the negative effects of these stereotypes be diminished?

To give another real-world example: many people critiqued the American Oscars for being inequitable regarding its representation of races. This code appears to be unique to Canada and not many others adopt a similar stance on the issue. In light of the Oscars, America might also benefit from being held to an ethical standard like this.

So how does the CAB’s Equitable Portrayal Code combat these issues? Avoid portraying stereotypes, avoid negatively portraying people based on their status (race, sex, religion, disability, etc), and avoid using sexist language. What effect do you think something like this could feasibly have on negative stereotypes against various groups of people? There might be much debate over these topics, but these are important questions to be asking. Check out the rest of the code for yourself to see what you think!

There is plenty more information where that came from, and it can all be found in the links provided. More interesting ethical codes exist on the Ethics Codes Collection website, so feel free to look around!

The Ethics Code Collection is managed by the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions. Look forward to a new and improved website come September!

Written by Alice Amell and Tabitha Anderson

Monday, January 30, 2017

How to be an Ethical Astrologer

Did you check your horoscope today? Have hope for the fate that hides in the stars? There’s something about astrology that catches many people’s attention, whether it is genuine belief, or simple fun. There are all sorts of different types such as daily horoscopes, which vary from honest to satirical, and personality-based advice. Sometimes, you can find ones that tell you what kind of supervillain archetype your sign is. There are also in-person astrological readings, which you may assume can only be found at festivals for a quick buck -- but there are many professional astrologers, and they hold themselves to that.

In fact, there are several Codes of Ethics that astrologers hold themselves to. These codes act as guidelines that all astrologers are expected to follow -- and they may be more stringent than you expect!

The American College of Vedic Astrology Code of Ethics provides a clear definition of an astrologer’s work, in case you need a refresher.

An astrological consultant is one whose services include discussion of an astrological chart in order to (1) help individuals recognize their strengths and talents, (2) provide insight into life challenges 3) elucidate patterns of growth and development, (4) encourage self-knowledge, (5) suggest the life purpose, (6) reveal periods of challenge and opportunity, (7) explore the meaning of a particular experience or phase of life, or (8) provide guidance as to timing or decisions with regard to a particular course of action, such as financial and business decisions, prasna and muhurtha.

Other codes elaborate (and differ!) on what astrologers can and cannot do. In the Avalon School of Astrology Code of Ethics, astrologers cannot make astrological comments on public figures. This is intended to keep astrological work focused on willing clients and to maintain the reputation of the Avalon School.

By contrast, the American Federation of Astrologers (AFA) Code of Ethics does not hold this requirement. They do, however, specify that any astrological reading done on someone must only be informed by the charts and the correct location, year, month, etc. unless the client is explicitly informed that alternative methods were used.

One of these alternative methods is specified in the American College of Vedic Astrology Code of Ethics; things such as tarot and even just plain intuition are considered outside sources. The client must be informed if any information the astrologer gives them doesn’t come from the charts.

Of the codes mentioned, the American College of Vedic Astrology Code of Ethics is by far the most thorough of the astrology codes in the Ethics Codes Collection. It has guidelines on how to market, what to advise clients in, and what credentials are needed to call yourself an “astrologer.” They even have a subsection explaining the guidelines to doing predictive work in general, like divination. They advise giving clients continuums of meanings, so that they do not feel trapped in one outcome, and ban diviners from calling themselves omniscient or infallible in their predictions. They also ban giving “dire warnings” or predictions that are meant to cause fear in the client -- they specify that all negative readings must be balanced with positive, equally probable, readings.

There is plenty more information where that came from, and it can all be found in the links provided. More interesting ethical codes exist on the Ethics Codes Collection website, so feel free to look around!

The Ethics Code Collection is managed by the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions. Look forward to a new and improved website come September!

Written by Alice Amell and Tabitha Anderson

Monday, September 12, 2016

Center receives $335,800 from National Science Foundation for developing ethical cultures in STEM research

The Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions (CSEP) at Illinois Institute of Technology has been awarded a three-year, $335,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for a project focused on developing ethical cultures in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) research. Under the guidance of the project’s principal investigator Elisabeth Hildt, director of CSEP and Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Humanities, and the Co-PIs Kelly Laas, CSEP’s librarian, Eric Brey, Duchossois Leadership Professor and Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and Christine Miller, Clinical Associate Professor of Innovation at Stuart School of Business, Illinois Tech graduate students in STEM fields will develop discipline and laboratory-specific ethical guidelines aimed at providing support in handling ethical issues important to the lab environments in which they work. The goal of this project is to positively influence researchers’ understanding of ethical research and practice issues, enhance their handling of these issues, and promote an ethical culture in their respective labs and across campus.

  “With this project we plan to develop a broadly applicable module that helps cultivate an ethical culture in experimental labs at IIT and elsewhere,” says Elisabeth Hildt.

The project entitled, “A Bottom-Up Approach to Building a Culture of Responsible Research and Practice in STEM,” focuses on the creation of ethics codes-based guidelines for STEM researchers. Starting from discipline-specific codes of ethics, available through CSEP’s Ethics Codes Collection (graduate students in four different STEM departments at Illinois Tech will develop guidelines on responsible conduct of research (RCR)-related issues they consider of relevance to their laboratory practice. The process of developing these guiding principles will cultivate a high level of ownership in participating students, and help make the guidelines an integral part of the orientation of new lab members.

This is a highly collaborative project with involvement from Armour College’s Departments of Biomedical Engineering (Eric Brey) and Chemical and Biological Engineering (Sohail Murad), and the College of Science’s Departments of Physics (Grant Bunker) and Biology (Andrew Howard) on this project. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Panama Papers: A Blog Post from a member of IPRO 497

This summer, we will be sharing a series of blog posts from the undergraduate students who worked with us on a semester-long project looking at redesigning the Ethics Codes Collection.

The first are the reflections of Zachary Pergrossi, a senior in finance who became interested in ethical codes in accounting, finance and business.

The release of the documents from the Panamanian corporate service provider Mossack Fonseca (see
Mossfon.com), dubbed “The Panama Papers”, has caused quite a bit of controversy surrounding the
parties involved and the ethical breaches they committed. The leak has already seen lasting
repercussions for notable figures worldwide. Ties to political leadership (including Russia’s Vladimir
Putin and the Prime Ministers of Iceland, Britain, and Pakistan, among others) 1 have already caused
sudden responses from the public. The resignation of Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, in particular, showed the response that a breach of ethics can cause. As a member of Iceland’s Progressive party, a violation of the public’s trust brought non-partisan support for nation-wide protests. Results like these come from a clear breach of the ethical codes our societies subscribe to, but these were not the only codes bent or broken during the revelation of the Panama Papers.

Many codes were broken in the years-long process to reveal the information. So why, then, is the
breach of code by the whistleblowing hacker 2 celebrated while those of Mossack Fonseca and its clients are reviled? A close look at each code can help us to understand the public sentiment toward this issue.

The first thing to note about this situation is that Mossack Fonseca has no specific code of ethics
whatsoever. Their site boasts of their services and accomplishments but does not specify the codes they operate under. However, following the leak, Mossack Fonseca detailed some of the rules they follow in dealing with clients:
we conduct due diligence on clients at the outset of a potential engagement and on an ongoing
  • we routinely deny services to individuals who are compromised or who fail to provide information we need in order to comply with “know your client” obligations or when we identify other red flags through our due diligence;
  • we routinely resign from client engagements when ongoing due diligence and/or updates to sanctions lists reveals that a party to a company for which we provide services been either convicted or listed by a sanctioning body;
  • we routinely comply with requests from authorities investigating companies or individuals for whom we are providing services;
  • we work with established intermediaries, such as investment banks, accountancies and law firms, as part of the regulated global financial system. 3
Despite these standards, Mossack Fonseca’s clients are some of the most prolific tax- and regulation-
dodgers worldwide. The failures of codes of ethics to prevent situations like this are one of the most
common arguments against the documents. Some argue, even, that “aspirational” codes of ethics
simply reveal the organization’s commitment to not being able to follow their own code. A code made simply ‘for show’ will do nothing to prevent unethical behavior. Unfortunately, many codes seem to be made as public relations pieces rather than a governing document. A strong code, though, provides protections for both professionals and the people they interact with.

Where Mossack Fonseca’s code failed them, the journalists’ did not. Each was a member of the
International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and held to a strict set of principles about how the information was to be handled. While journalists from the Sueddeutsche Zeitung had access to the data for over a year, the maintenance of their code of ethics allowed them to work with ICIJ members during this time for over a year without information being leaked to the public. A concerted effort from the ICIJ members allowed them to release the information in unison to maximize the effect of the documents. This coordination was important to the journalists because of the potential harm a mistake could cause. Naming an individual in a case like this was a serious matter. Beyond that, the nature of the information could potentially put the journalists at risk for retribution; only a simultaneous release could protect them, and only a strict code of ethics could accomplish that.

Even now, the journalists stick to their ethics. Asked to release the raw data, employees of the
Sueddeutsche Zeitung explained that they could not:

“We are not going to release the raw data and we have valid reasons to do so. The source
decided to give the data to journalists and not, i.e., to Wikileaks. As journalists, we have to
protect our source: We can’t guarantee that there is no way for someone to find out who the
source is with the data. That’s why we can’t make the data public.

And as responsible journalists we also stick to certain ethical rules: You don’t harm the privacy
of people, who are not in the public eye. Blacking out private data is a task that would require a
lifetime of work - we have eleven million documents!” 4

While weak ethical stances allowed Mossack Fonseca’s clients to dodge taxes and regulation on a global scale, strong ethical codes allowed the Panama Papers to make an impact on the corruption of the world’s elite. A code of ethics made to be seen will prevent nothing, but a code of ethics meant to be followed will make all the difference.

To bring one of the latter type to your company or organization, please see the IIT Ethics Code
Collection’s resources on writing and improving codes of ethics.

1 http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/06/world/europe/panama-papers- iceland.html
2 http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-04- 06/mossack-fonseca- blames-panama- papers-leak- on-hackers
3 http://www.mossfon.com/media/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Statement- Regarding-Recent- Media-Coverage_4-1- 2016.pdf
4. https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/4fi6ck/we_are_the_investigative_journalists _who_worked

http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-04- 06/mossack-fonseca- blames-panama- papers-leak- on-hackers

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/06/world/europe/panama-papers- iceland.html

http://www.mossfon.com/media/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Statement- Regarding-Recent- Media-
Coverage_4-1- 2016.pdf

Thursday, May 12, 2016

New Report from the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues: Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science, and Technology.

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) has published a new report, Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science, and Technology.

Since 2010, Bioethics Commission has completed 10 projects on topics as diverse as privacy and whole genome sequencing, ethics and Ebola, and neuroscience and society. Presented with topics that involve deeply held values, public concern, and controversial questions, the Bioethics Commission approached each project with reasoned deliberation, inviting testimony from experts in various disciplines and from across the country and the world to weigh in, soliciting input from the public, and conducting almost 200 hours of public discussion. Deliberation has been a key feature of this Bioethics Commission’s work. 

In addition, in each of its reports, the Bioethics Commission’s substantive recommendations have included suggested improvements in ethics and bioethics education to advance ethical decisions and policymaking. Following the release of each report, the Bioethics Commission published educational materials to amplify its analysis and recommendations, tailoring its work to diverse stakeholders.

The Bioethics Commission chose deliberation and education as its capstone topic to underscore the importance it places on these two tools, and to demonstrate how deliberation and ethics education mutually reinforce one another to create a more democratic and just society. The report offers eight recommendations to advance the use of both tools as they intersect with bioethics.

·         Read the full report
·         Read the Bioethics for Every Generation press release
·         Read more about Bioethics for Every Generation on our blog
·         Access all of the Bioethics Commission’s educational materials