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January 8, 2011

Sigma Xi's 51-page ethics guidebook, Honor in Science, is now available online in a searchable PDF format.

Sigma Xi Year of Ethics Part of 125th Anniversary Celebration

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC - Sigma Xi, the international honor society of research scientists and engineers, will commemorate its 125th anniversary in 2011 with a yearlong focus on ethics.

Among other activities, a series of essays on ethical issues will appear in American Scientist, the society's award-winning magazine.

In the first, called "A Troubled Tradition," David Resnik says it's time to rebuild trust among authors, editors and peer reviewers (American Scientist, January-February 2011).

In "Honesty," John F. Aheane says that ultimately ethics in scientific publishing, as in life, comes down to one word (American Scientist, March-April 2011).

In "Authorship Diplomacy," authors Melissa Anderson, Felly Chiteng Kot, Marta A. Shaw, Christine C. Lepkowski and Raymond G. De Vries explore how cross-national differences complicate allocation of credit and responsibility (American Scientist, May-June 2011).

And in "Making Ethical Guidelines Matter," Michael J. Zigmond says that professional societies are uniquely positioned to develop effective codes of conduct (American Scientist, July-August 2011). Zigmond a professor of neurology, psychiatry and neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh.

Since its founding in 1886, Sigma Xi has stressed that integrity is vital to science. Ethical research practices directly impact the validity of scientific results, and also shape public trust in the scientific process.

In June, Sigma Xi invited a group of advisors to meet here to discuss ethical issues related to peer review and authorship.

The Ethics Summit was the initial step in developing a proposed new booklet to complement Sigma Xi's highly successful Honor in Science (1984) and The Responsible Researcher: Paths and Pitfalls (1999).

The new booklet on peer review and authorship might also be accompanied by a workshop curriculum designed to help Sigma Xi chapters stimulate discussion and distribute the booklets in a meaningful context.

Among the issues that detract from the credibility of the scientific process are unethical publication practices. In recent months, high profile examples include a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper subjected to a highly suspect review process; discussion of ghost-written medical studies; and the hacked climate e-mails that referred to interfering with the peer review process.

These high-profile cases are a small sample of the poor practices that, even when they do not become news, affect the reliability of scientific information and alter researchers' careers.

Clearly, ethical peer review and authorship practices are key to maintaining the integrity and efficiency of the scientific process. Yet these topics are often a source of confusion.

Misunderstandings are especially likely in the case of interdisciplinary collaborations, where partners from different fields may bring different ethical standards or assumptions to the publication process, and may be unable to evaluate the validity of one another's contributions to a study.

Similarly, international students working outside their native cultures may be unaware of expected practices. And beginning graduate students may simply adopt their advisors' peer review and authorship practices with little awareness of broader ethical considerations.

These are among the issues Sigma Xi's new ethics booklet on peer review and authorship will seek to address.

Sigma Xi Ethics Summit participants included:

John F. Ahearne, executive director emeritus, Sigma Xi; emeritus director, Sigma Xi Ethics program; author of The Responsible Researcher: Paths and Pitfalls.

Jerome F. Baker, executive director, Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.

Stephanie Bird, consultant, editor of Science and Engineering Ethics and former Sigma Xi Ethics Committee member.

Thomas F. Budinger, professor emeritus, College of Engineering, University of California, Berkeley; Home Secretary, National Academy of Engineering.

Julia Frugoli, associate professor, Department of Genetics and Biochemistry, Clemson University; has helped plan programs for the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics.

Nancy L. Jones, contractor, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; adjunct associate professor of public health sciences, Wake Forest University School of Medicine; working on unified code of ethics for science.

Dena Plemmons, research ethicist, Research Ethics Program, University of California, San Diego; working on initiatives to promote ethical and responsible conduct in research and scholarship.

David B. Resnik, bioethicist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences; has published on alternative systems for allocating credit for scientific work.

Juliet P. Shaffer, senior lecturer emerita, Department of Statistics, University of California, Berkeley; psychological and educational measurement.

Fred Spilhaus, executive director emeritus, American Geophysical Union; editor of geophysical journals; and chair of Sigma Xi's Publications Committee.

Daniel A. Vallero, adjunct professor of engineering ethics, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University.

Daniel R. Vasgird, director, Research Compliance Service, University of Nebraska; author of the review and authorship unit of Columbia University's online ethics course.

Media Contact: Charles Blackburn at 800-243-6534 or 919-549-4691

About Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society
Founded in 1886, Sigma Xi is the international honor society of research scientists and engineers, with more than 500 chapters at colleges and universities, government laboratories and industry research centers. Membership is by invitation, in recognition of research potential or achievement. Over the years, more than 200 Sigma Xi members have received the Nobel Prize. In addition to publishing American Scientist, the non-profit Society awards hundreds of grants annually to student researchers and sponsors a variety of programs that support science and engineering.


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