by Judith Curry
Updated AGU Ethics Policy available for member comment. Proposed new language identifies harassment and bullying as scientific misconduct.
From AGU News: Updated AGU Ethics Policy Available for Member Comment. Excerpts:
The current policy is silent on the important issue of harassment and other types of negative behavior such as discrimination and bullying. With the updates, AGU would extend the ethics policy to members in general, rather than only to volunteers and to participants during meetings, as it currently applies.
Recommendations from the task force, which is chaired by past AGU President Michael McPhaden, include language in AGU’s code of conduct to explicitly define and address harassment. The new language defines harassment as a scientific misconduct issue.
The update expands the ethics policy’s coverage to include code-of-conduct implications for all AGU programs, including Honors and Awards as well as Governance. In addition, it identifies conditions under which the policy’s provisions may apply to actions that occur outside of AGU programs. It also outlines clear procedures for reporting and follow-up on ethics issues. In proposing revisions, the task force considered both the leading practices of other professional and scholarly societies and the needs of AGU members.
The complete document is AGU Scientific Integrity and Professional Ethics. It says on the document ‘not for public dissemination’, but the News Release (which is being tweeted by AGU) includes a hyperlink to the full document. So apparently it is fair game for public dissemination.
The document is long and thorough; the section of particular interest to me is:
- III. CODE OF CONDUCT TOWARDS OTHERS
AGU members work to maintain an environment that allows science and scientific careers to flourish through respectful, inclusive, and equitable treatment of others. As a statement of principle, AGU rejects discrimination and harassment based on factors such as ethnic or national origin, race, religion, citizenship, language, political or other opinion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, appearance, age, or economic class. In addition, AGU opposes all forms of bullying including threatening, humiliating, coercive, or intimidating conduct that causes harm to, interferes with, or sabotages scientific activity and careers.
Discrimination, harassment (in any form), and bullying create a hostile environment that reduces the quality, integrity, and pace of the advancement of science by marginalizing individuals and communities. It also damages productivity and career advancement, and prevents the healthy exchange of ideas.
We affirm that discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, or bullying in any scientific or learning environment is unacceptable, and constitutes scientific misconduct under the AGU Scientific Integrity and Professional Ethics policy. Such behavior should be reported and addressed with consequences for the offender, including but not limited to AGU sanctions or expulsion as outlined in this policy. In addition, as part of AGU’s commitment to providing a safe, positive, professional environment, the SafeAGU Program has been created to provide trained staff and volunteers to meeting attendees if they need to report harassment, discrimination, bullying or other safety/security issues during an AGU meeting, or to request confidential support when dealing with harassment-related issues that may not rise to the level of a formal ethics complaint.
Each major AGU program—including Meetings, Publications, Honors, and Recognition, and AGU Governance—has or will have additional statements to address specific code of conduct expectations unique to their activities and consistent with this AGU Scientific Integrity and Professional Ethics policy. If no such policy yet exists, the principles and processes for reporting, investigating and addressing potential code of conduct violations as outlined in this policy will prevail. AGU leaders are held to additional standards as outlined further in the AGU Volunteer Leaders Section of this policy.
Bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse,intimidate, or aggressively dominate others in the professional environment that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. These actions can include abusive criticism, humiliation, the spreading of rumors, physical and verbal attacks, and professional exclusion and isolation of someone.
The policy seems to have some ‘teeth’:
If a finding of scientific misconduct has been made, the Board of Directors will decide the action to be taken. These may include appropriate sanctions, the period over which the sanction will be in effect, correction of the publication record, and/or recommendations for education or training. Sanctions, in increasing severity, may include but are not limited to the following:
- Written reprimand or warning.
- Removal from AGU volunteer position.
- Publication of “errata” notices.
- Withdrawal/retraction of presentations, publication, or posters.
- Placement of an author or reviewer on an AGU Editor’s watch list.
- Notification to other journals
- Suspension from publishing in AGU journal(s) for a specific period, including permanently.
- Suspension from making presentations at AGU sponsored meeting(s) for a specific period, including permanently.
- Suspension of membership.
- Permanent expulsion from AGU.
- Revocation of honors and awards.
- Notification to respondent’s home institution.
- Publication/notification to members of incident in Eos or other AGU publication.
- Public statement regarding the scientific misconduct.
When an AGU member is sanctioned by another organization for scientific misconduct or convicted of criminal activity, the AGU Board may consider its own sanctions related to membership, attendance at AGU programs, and publishing with AGU.
Well this is certainly an interesting development, I would be very interested in hearing more about how AGU came to the decision to include this in its ethics statement.
Presumably any code violations made prior to formal adoption of the policy will not be influenced or eligible for sanctions.
Let’s take a look at three previous incidents that may be an ethics violation, and speculate how these transgressions might fare under the new guideline.
You may recall the ‘Gleick affair‘ whereby Peter Gleick created an elaborate web of deception to obtain proprietary Heartland Institute documents, in an attempt to discredit Heartland.
Ironically, Gleick was Chair of the AGU Committee on Ethics.
As a result of this incident, he was asked to resign his Chairmanship of this Committee. But apparently there were no other sanctions from AGU, and I seem to recall that Gleick gave a big invited AGU Union lecture within the next year.
Does ‘others’ in the AGU guidelines include Heartland? It is my understanding that some scientists are involved with Heartland, but I don’t know if any of them are AGU members.
The second case is Michael Mann’s recent congressional testimony that included the following statements:
Bates’ allegations were also published on the blog of climate science denier Judith Curry
That includes the study28 led by Zeke Hausfather of the “Berkeley Earth” project—a project funded in part by the Koch Brothers and including29 as one of its original team members, climate change contrarian Judith Curry. (JC note: footnote 29 is the source watch slime job on me )
So does being called a ‘denier’ in the Congressional Record count as bullying? How about attempting to discredit me via a tortuous link to the ‘evil’ Koch brothers (who I have never had any interactions with and I never received a nickel from Berkeley Earth?) Not to mention linking to the slime job source watch article on me.
Consider Michael Mann’s lawsuit against Tim Ball because of an interview with Ball that was posted on the Frontier Center website. In the interview, according to court documents, Ball responds to an anonymous questioner regarding the “Climategate” scandal by saying “Michael Mann at Penn State should be in the State Pen, not Penn State.”
It’s interesting to compare the nature of Tim Ball’s statement about Mann, with Mann’s statement about me, and different venues in which the statements were made.
I’m sure there are many other cases to discuss, but these three were the first that came to my mind.
So, should the AGU be providing sanctions against scientists for their behavior towards other scientists? It is easy to argue that this is the case at AGU meetings, for AGU officers, and others in appointed positions at AGU (this would clearly put Gleick in the AGU cross hairs). But what about Mann’s behavior (who is an AGU fellow) and Tim Ball’s (assume for the sake of argument that Ball is an AGU member; I simply don’t know).
At the time of ClimateGate, I recall the argument (I think from Gavin) that Sir Isaac Newton was a SOB, and that did not make his science incorrect. Well, in the 21st century, the whole system of peer review for publications and grant proposals, not to mention promotion and awards committees, and research assessment committees (e.g. NAS, IPCC) rely on ethical conduct towards others.
I suspect that this code of conduct towards others emerged from social justice concerns related to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and national origin. I have to say that other than some very subtle discrimination, I don’t think that bullying is a big issue in this context. The bullying that I have seen relates scientific disagreements, with the majority (consensus) opinion being used a rationale for bullying, plus politics and policy preferences regarding the social consequences of the research topic.
Defining bullying when an issue such as race and gender is involved seems fairly straightforward, it is less straightforward when the bullying is related to scientific and/or policy-political disagreements. Where do you draw the line? I would say the line should be drawn when the actions of the bully causes harm to, interferes with, or sabotages scientific activity and careers. Lets take a look at some examples and ponder where this line might be in terms of the bullying behavior of scientist A towards scientist B:
- Bullying tweets
- Bullying blog posts
- Op-eds published in the mainstream media
- Statements to journalists in the mainstream media
- Direct communications to a scientist’s employer
- FOIA requests (I don’t know of an examples of scientist A making FOIA requests of scientist B?)
- Statements made in Congressional testimony
Based on my own experience, I would say that #1, #2 doesn’t matter, it’s just noise. Tweets, in particular, are fairly ephemeral and typically spur of the moment.
Bullying op-eds and statements to journalists do matter, these are read by my employer and have shown in up in Georgia Tech’s daily news roundup that is circulated to the entire population of administrators, faculty members and students.
Direct communications to my employer (e.g. the Grijalva inquisition) definitely matter, but to my knowledge the communications from bullying scientists have been fed to my employer via several sympathetic faculty members at Georgia Tech. These definitely matter(ed).
Regarding statements made in Congressional testimony. Well the dynamics have changed in the last year, with my retirement and Trump’s election. I may actually benefit from that in some circles, whereas in other circles it will harm me. Remains to be seen.
I don’t know if the AGU is prepared to confront the bullying/tyranny of scientists from ‘majority’ perspective versus scientist with minority perspectives. Not to in any way dismiss the problems of racial, gender, etc. discrimination, I mainly see bullying as being associated with minority scientific and policy perspectives.
In any event, I regard this as a welcome development.