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Committee on Ethics encourages member input

by Judith N. Currano, Chair, ACS Committee on Ethics
February 2, 2019 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 97, ISSUE 5

 

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Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

At the American Chemical Society, early February is a time for reports. As local section and division leaders rush to put the final touches on (or in some cases, begin) their annual reports on their ACS activities, they reflect on the fantastic achievements they have made over the past year and plan for the current year. Annual reports include self-nominations for the ChemLuminary Awards, which recognize ACS groups for their work promoting chemistry and the chemical sciences.

The Committee on Ethics looks forward to honoring a local section with a 2109 ChemLuminary Award for Outstanding Local Section Programming Related to the Promotion of Ethics in Chemistry, but first we need some self-nominations.

If your local section is not sure which of your many fine activities would qualify as ethics related, I offer you a list of possible categories of ethical issues of interest to chemists, devised and worded by the Resources and Communications Subcommittee with input from other committee members: accountability, assignment of credit, conflict of interest, data integrity, data ownership, employment, environmental stewardship, intellectual property, peer review, regulation, research funding, respect, and safety and health.

These are certainly not the only topics into which a successful ethics-related program might fall, but I offer them here to spark ideas and to jog your memory. For those local section officers who are thinking, “Yes! Our recent session on intellectual property sounds like a perfect candidate for this ChemLuminary Award,” we encourage you to be descriptive in your self-nomination: tell us how the program promoted awareness of ethical issues to your members, report the number and diversity of the members impacted, indicate the ways in which you assessed its effectiveness, and demonstrate how the activity promoted diversity and inclusion in general.

If you did not do any ethics-related programming last year, remember that 2019 is still young; plan a program or two this year that will increase ethics awareness among your members, and self-nominate next February.

On a separate note, I’d like to share some other committee activities. As part of the ACS salary survey, the committee was recently given the opportunity to survey ACS members. Our goal was to gauge their ethics-related interests and concerns so that we can begin assembling and disseminating appropriate resources. The Resources and Communications Subcommittee devised two questions to discover which of the issues from the aforementioned list are of greatest interest to ACS members and on which topics they would like to see more resources available. To date, we have received 2,509 responses to our survey questions. The subcommittee is currently reviewing the data and will report its findings to the committee, which, in turn, will share them more broadly. I will offer a teaser here: 97% of survey respondents thought the topic of data integrity was important, with 88% of respondents ranking it as very important and 50% listing it among the top three issues for which they wanted to see resources developed.

Plan a program or two this year that will increase ethics awareness among your members.

I agree with the majority and find the topic of data integrity to be central to research and publication ethics. Without data integrity, we cannot trust our scientific record, and if we cannot trust our scientific record, the articles that we laboriously write, seek, and read diminish in value.

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One aspect of data integrity that appears to confuse many authors is the accurate presentation of images. According to the ACS journals’ ethical guidelines, “Images should be free from misleading manipulation. When images are included in an account of research performed or in the data collection as part of the research, an accurate description of how the images were generated and produced should be provided.” All researchers wish to optimize their images so that they are clear and of the best possible quality, but if an author adjusts an image too much, he or she may misrepresent the actual outcome of the experiment and, purposely or accidentally, mislead the reader.

Outside of ACS, the Journal of Cell Biology’s editorial policies offer advice for authors on optimizing their images. They say that authors who wish to adjust image parameters like color, brightness, or contrast must adjust the whole image, not just one section of the image, and they must ensure that all features present in the original are safeguarded and that no portion is artificially amplified. By paying attention to such conventions, we can safeguard our literature, ensuring that the data we publish are valid, relevant, reproducible, and honestly and accurately presented to others.

The Committee on Ethics is interested in learning what other ethics-related topics are of interest to you. If you would like to suggest some areas in which we can develop resources, please contact us at ethics@acs.org.

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.

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