ACS Committee on Ethics: An Overview

The ACS Committee on Ethics (ETHX) is an “other” committee of the Council and is currently chaired by Dr. Gregory M. Ferrence. Appointments are made by the ACS President, with the advice of the Committee on Committees. ETHX is a relatively new committee, having been established in 2006 during ACS President Anne Nalley’s progression. The Committee is charged with coordinating the ethics-related activities of the Society and serving as an educational resource and clearinghouse. It is specifically a non-adjudicating body. The Committee is also charged with developing and overseeing “such other ethics-related activities as will serve ACS members and promote the Society”s standards of ethical conduct within the profession of chemistry and its related disciplines.” Its membership comprises Councilors and non-Councilors who have an interest in ethics, particularly in ethics education, professionalism, and responsible conduct of research. To meet the charge, the Committee subdivides its efforts into three main areas: communications and awareness; education and materials; and programming and screening. The Committee closely aligns its strategic plan with the broader ACS Strategic Plan. The Committee on Ethics has the vision that “ethics will permeate the culture of chemistry.” The Committee has adopted four well-defined goals, stated and contextualized below.  The goals are considered equally important. The perhaps esoteric choice to tag them with element symbols is meant to allow the goals to be listed in no particular order, yet each goal may be easily referenced.

Goal Hf of the ETHX Strategic Plan is to promote and increase ethics awareness in the community of chemistry and related disciplines. One approach is to contact units within ACS and organizations connected to ACS to make them aware of ethics-related activities and to identify their needs for these activities. The Committee works with these stakeholders to promote ethics through the development of symposia, workshops and other programs and activities. For example, at the recent ACS National Meeting in Dallas, an important and well-attended Ethical Considerations in Digital Scientific Communication and Publishing symposium and panel discussion was cosponsored by the Chemical Information Division (CINF), the Division of Professional Relations (PROF), the Division of Chemical Education (CHED), the Younger Chemists Committee (YCC), the Division of Chemistry & the Law (CHAL), and ETHX. The speakers and cosponsors made this an exceptional and positive event. We invite all ACS Divisions and Committees to contact us regarding opportunities for cosponsoring symposia. We are enthusiastic to promote YOUR ethics related programming. In the future, the Committee would like to develop an awards program to recognize individuals and/or ACS units and other organizations that have demonstrated support of high standards of ethical conduct in the sciences.

Goal Rf of the ETHX Strategic Plan is to support the ethics initiatives of ACS Committees, Divisions, Local Sections and other units. The committee aims to do this through proactive communication within ACS and external organizations, such as the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE; http://appe.indiana.edu), the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE; http://publicationethics.org), and the National Center for Professional and Research Ethics (NCPRE;  http://ethicscenter.csl.illinois.edu). Key leaders from each of these organizations have attended ETHX executive sessions and engaged the Committee in dialogue regarding the current ethics landscape to identify and act upon opportunities to enhance ethics related initiatives. For example, ETHX provided input to the ACS Board of Directors during the development of the Volunteer/National Meeting Attendee Conduct Policy adopted in December, 2013. The Committee also uses materials from ACS and other sources to support embedded programming at all levels. Like goal Hf, goal Rf is in part, realized by working with stakeholders to develop and deliver relevant programs and activities such as symposia and workshops. Watch for symposia cosponsored by ETHX at upcoming National Meetings.

Goal Ti of the ETHX Strategic Plan is to catalyze ethics education within the scientific communities. The Committee collaborates with other units in the ACS, such as CHED, PROF, the Committee on Chemical Safety (CCS), the Committee on Patents and Related Matters (CPRM), and the Committee on Economic and Professional Affairs (CEPA) to incorporate ethics education throughout the society.  ETHX is participating in CCS’ newly-formed Task Force for Safety Education Guidelines (TFSEG) to “develop guidelines for laboratory safety education for primary, secondary, undergraduate, and graduate education.” The Committee seeks funding to support the development of high quality education materials and consistently update items with currency in technology. For example, Susan Schelble will lead the Innovative Project Grants for Divisional Enhancement funded project Developing Short Video Ethics Scenarios for Ethics Education in Chemistry. The award is to PROF and Sue is both a PROF officer and a Committee on Ethics member.  ETHX also develops portable workshops and symposia for international (e.g. Pacifichem), national, regional and local ACS meetings. Recently I was invited to present on the topic of Ethics to the Wabash Valley ACS Local Section.  I delivered Generating Enthusiasm for Dialogue (Information Flow) About Ethical Conduct and Integrity in the Community of Chemistry and Related Disciplines as an interactive “clicker” enhanced presentation. It was well-received and members of the Wabash section suggested it should be added to the ACS Online Speaker Directory.       

Goal Zr of the ETHX Strategic Plan is to identify and aggregate relevant resources and disseminate them to the community of chemistry and related disciplines. The Committee has been posting resources and links to resources in several key locations. General information about ETHX may be found on the ACS website (www.acs.org/ethics), and the committee maintains a webpage (https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/careers/profdev/ethics.html) with a consolidated list of links to the ACS’s major Ethical and Professional Guidelines and to the committees and divisions offering guidance on ethics-related matters. The committee has posted additional information within the ACS Network (https://communities.acs.org); see the group called ACS Ethics Committee), and at the NCPRE’s  Ethics CORE website (https://nationalethicscenter.org). In particular, a series of ethics-related case studies has been prepared and vetted by ETHX members. Case studies include material regarding chemical health and safety, interpersonal dynamics, collecting and managing data, safety and comportment, cheating, dishonesty, and plagiarism.

The Committee welcomes liaisons from committees and divisions. Learn more about ETHX online at www.acs.org/ethics, and by all means, if you have questions for, comments for, or interest in the Committee, please reach out to Greg Ferrence, ferrence@ilstu.edu, or the Committee’s staff liaison, Eric Slater, e_slater@acs.org.

Gregory Ferrence, Chair, Committee on Ethics