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, 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 iceland.html
2 06/mossack-fonseca- blames-panama- papers-leak- on-hackers
3 Regarding-Recent- Media-Coverage_4-1- 2016.pdf
4. _who_worked

References: 06/mossack-fonseca- blames-panama- papers-leak- on-hackers iceland.html 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

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Shadow Codes - A space for discussing how codes of ethics can be more expansive and inclusive.

The Shadow Codes website is intended as a multipurpose space for students, educators, professionals, and the general public. Originally conceptualized as a place to host shadow codes of engineering ethics - those codes that bear a variety of merits (they produce critical reflection; they reveal something about the power laden processes by which codes are produced; they have moral merit in and of themselves) but, as of yet, have not found their way into official canons governing professional engineers. The site is now expanding its scope beyond engineering, starting with the sciences. 

In general, it is a place to host ideas and conversations that imagine a future with more expansive, inclusive codes of ethics. The goal of the site is not simply to advocate for the inclusion of these alternative canons into those codes espoused by professional societies; rather, it is to encourage individuals from all walks of life to reflect upon what these codes mean for themselves, their communities, and society writ large. It is an invitation to step outside the confines dictated by historical precedent and envision a more ethical future.

At this point, the site acts as: a place to host conversations; a repository for ideas; and another venue to connect individuals from disparate groups who may not otherwise have occasion to cross paths. In that sense, it's part dialogue medium, part warehouse, part networking space, and part catalyst for students, educators, and engineers to envision what future versions of their codes of ethics might entail. Ideally the activity at the site would facilitate discussions and actions toward changing professional engineering codes in a more inclusive way, but we're trying to forestall tunnel vision that comes from focusing on one singular purpose. If pressed to identify one, the ultimate goal is to encourage more reflection from any and all individuals impacted by science and engineering codes of ethics. That reflection could lead to advocacy for development and change, or it could simply encourage a deeper understanding of the codes' roles in the context of professional practice and society writ large. 

If you have questions about the Shadow Codes Project, please contact Andrew Katz, Graduate Research Assistant at Virginia Tech’s Department of Engineering Education at

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Videos from IPRO 497-226 exploring the user journey for the to-be-published Ethics Codes Collection

After winning their track on IPRO Day, we wanted to share some of what our amazing students got up to this semester.  Charged with producing videos that documented how different types of users will interact with the Ethics Codes Collection, these are the final results of the four teams.

Professional Users Video

Nonusers Video

Nonprofessional Users Video

Owners Video

This class came up with innovative new ideas to reimagine the Ethics Codes Collection into a resource that is not only a great asset for ethics code owners and professionals of all disciplines, but is also a great for students and any new users discovering ethics for the first time. With funding from the MacArthur Foundation, our class began the work to improve it by using a user-centered design approach. User-centered approach means we put the user in the center of our research process and conducted qualitative methods to identify their unmet needs and desires and redesign the collection according to user needs. The students created four videos documenting their findings on how different groups of users are likely to approach the site, and came up with a list of resources that the redesigned site will adopt as part of its new interface and expanded collection. The success of this semester will set us up for next semester, when we will building the prototype of the Ethics Codes Collection!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Developing a Code of Ethics

Frequently CSEP gets requests from professional societies and other organizations interested in getting some help writing (or rewriting) a code of ethics. Here are some tips and resources that can help smooth the process.

Top down or bottom up?
Though it may be tempting to form a committee of organization leaders to expedite the process, think about ways to give all the stakeholders a voice in the development of your organization’s code of ethics.

In 2005, CSEP started a project to develop a code of ethicsfor its home institution, Illinois Tech.  We hosted a series of focus groups of students, faculty, and staff and asked individuals to share some of the ethical questions and issues they regularly faced.  This approach helped us start an outline of what issues the Illinois Tech Code should cover and make the code relevant to all members of our community.

Don’t reinvent the wheel
Look at the codes of ethics of organizations similar to your own. While codes often have many similar provisions, others have come up with novel ways of providing guidance on issues such as communicating with the public or  upholding fair work practices.

Look outside your organization for help
Have questions? Don’t be afraid to reach out to other ethics committees, ethics and compliance officers, or other experts for help.  The Ethics and Compliance Officer Association, other professional associations both nationally and internationally, and the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics are all good ways to try and connect with individuals who can help in the process.  And, don’t forget, the CSEP Library can help put you in touch with experts in your field who have drafted codes of ethics before.

Try and build consensus
When putting together the Illinois Tech Code of Ethics, CSEP brought together a committee made of individuals who participated in the focus who helped to put together the draft version of the code. This committee then brought it to meetings of the student council, faculty council, and staff council for discussion and approval. Changes were made to the code after each meeting. The process can take time, but the final version proved to be stronger and accepted by the majority of the Illinois Tech community.

Codes are living documents
A good code of ethics should change over time to reflect new ethical challenges faced by an organization. For instance, the American Astronomical Society has been working this spring on a new draft of their code to better handle instances of sexual and other types of harassment. Other issues that might also call for an organization’s code to be revised might be issues of social media, privacy, or international collaborations.

Need more information?
Check out these resources for more help on writing or revising your organization’s code.

 The Center for Applied Philosophy and Public Affairs provides a number of examples that organizations can use in their code of ethics, including the descriptions of ethics and morality, the different kinds of codes, and even a process for developing a code of ethics that will include all organizational stakeholders.
 CSEP's newsletter, Perspectivesfeatured a Fall 1999 issue on Writing a Code of Ethics
 Creating A Code Of Ethics for Your Organization, with many suggested books, by Chris MacDonald
 The Ethics & Compliance Initiative  has a toolkit available for use, including tips, common code provisions, and other helpful guidance.
 The Deloitte Center for Corporate Governance offers a variety of resources for those who are active in governance, including a variety of resources and a set of suggested guidelines for writing a code of ethics or a code of conduct.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

New Publications on Codes of Ethics

Here is a quick roundup of some interesting articles we stumbled across recently looking at the ongoing usefulness of codes of ethics....

The code not taken: The path from guild ethics to torture and our continuing choices.
Pope, Kenneth S.
Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, Vol 57(1), Feb 2016, 51-59.

Psychology’s controversial role in torture in settings like Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and Guantánamo fractured a comforting façade and raised questions about how we can best serve the profession. The controversy confronts us with choices about what our profession is, what it means, what it does—who we are, what we mean, what we do. It asks whether our lives and organisations reflect professional ethics or guild ethics. Professional ethics protect the public against abuse of professional power, expertise, and practice, and hold members accountable to values beyond self-interest. Guild ethics place members’ interests above public interest, edge away from accountability, and tend to masquerade as professional ethics. Psychology’s path to involvement in torture began before 9/11 and the “war on terror” with a move from professional ethics to guild ethics. In sharp contrast to its previous codes, APA’s 1992 ethics code reflected guild ethics, as did the subsequent 2002 code (APA, 2002). Guild ethics are reflected in the questionable nature of APA’s, 2006, 2007a, 2008a, and 2015 policies on interrogation and torture. This article examines tactics used to maintain the façade of professional ethics despite over a decade of publicized reports of documentary evidence of psychology’s organisational involvement in what came to be called “enhanced interrogations.” It asks if we use versions of these tactics in our individual lives. If a credible identity, integrity, and professional ethics are not reflected in our individual lives, it is unlikely they will thrive in our profession and organisations. 

Effectiveness and Content of Corporate Codes of Ethics as a Model for University Honor Codes
Katherine Hyatt (Reinhardt University, Waleska, GA, USA)
International Journal of Technology and Educational Marketing (IJTEM) 6(1)

DOI: 10.4018/IJTEM.2016010104

Reports of unethical behavior in the corporate, governmental, and academic settings are gaining attention. At least 50-70% of students have engaged in academic misconduct. Some colleges and universities have codes of conduct while others do not. However, the implementation of an effective code can deter academic dishonesty. This article discusses how corporate codes of ethics can be used as models for implementing university honor codes. Effective corporate codes of ethics have certain characteristics, are communicated appropriately, are accompanied by training, and become part of the culture of the organization. These elements and strategies can be applied by universities in order to deter cheating and other unethical behaviors.