Adopted by the CASCA Membership on May 29, 2013.
The Canadian Astronomical Society is dedicated to the promotion and advancement of astronomy through research, teaching and education. To reach these goals, its members must act ethically, fairly, and with full respect of the rights of others. As members of the scientific community, astronomers must embrace the responsibilities associated with the privileges of academic freedom, and commit to honest and rigorous analysis, to prompt dissemination of the research results, to proper acknowledgment and credit of the work of others, and to place the advancement of the discipline ahead of personal interests.
Several guidelines of ethical behaviour that are relevant to the pursuit of astronomical research are described in the document “Responsible Conduct of Research”[i], issued in 2016 by Canada’s three research granting agencies — the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). In particular, this “Tri-Agency Framework” states:
“Researchers shall strive to follow the best research practices honestly, accountably, openly and fairly in the search for and in the dissemination of knowledge. In addition, researchers shall follow the requirements of applicable institutional policies and professional or disciplinary standards and shall comply with applicable laws and regulations. At a minimum, researchers are responsible for the following:
- Using a high level of rigour in proposing and performing research; in recording, analyzing, and interpreting data; and in reporting and publishing data and findings.
- Keeping complete and accurate records of data, methodologies and findings, including graphs and images, in accordance with the applicable funding agreement, institutional policies and/or laws, regulations, and professional or disciplinary standards in a manner that will allow verification or replication of the work by others.
- Referencing and, where applicable, obtaining permission for the use of all published and unpublished work, including data, source material, methodologies, findings, graphs and images.
- Including as authors, with their consent, all those and only those who have materially or conceptually contributed to, and share responsibility for, the contents of the publication or document, in a manner consistent with their respective contributions, and authorship policies of relevant publications.
- Acknowledging, in addition to authors, all contributors and contributions to research, including writers, funders and sponsors.
- Appropriately managing any real, potential or perceived conflict of interest, in accordance with the institution’s policy on conflict of interest in research, in order to ensure that the objectives of the Framework are met.”
CASCA fully endorses these policies. In what follows we highlight and clarify CASCA’s support for these responsibilities. This document is modeled after the Ethics Statement[ii] issued by the American Astronomical Society, modified as appropriate, in particular to include specific references to Canadian society. Senior members of our community are encouraged to inform junior members, in particular those whose work they supervise, of the ethical issues and guidelines outlined in this document. However, it is ultimately the responsibility of all members of our Society to familiarize themselves with the ethical standards for research and conduct adopted by CASCA.
Conduct Towards Others
All people encountered in one’s professional life must be treated with respect and dignity. Discrimination, harassment and abusive behaviours, be it against colleagues, students, or members of the media or the public, are never acceptable. Equal opportunities must be provided regardless of gender, “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for an offense for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered” (quoted from “The Canadian Human Rights Act[iii]).
Specific Responsibilities of Supervisors, Students and Postdoctoral Fellows
Researchers that supervise the work of others, and in particular the work of students and postdoctoral fellows, must never disadvantage those they supervise by exploiting their position of influence. When selecting research projects for students, supervisors must consider first and foremost the student’s professional development. Thesis projects should allow the students to learn skills, develop critical thinking and sharpen the ability to carry out independent research. Such projects should never be reduced to mechanical tasks and they should not be chosen exclusively for the advancement of the supervisor’s research and/or career. When possible, advanced Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows should be allowed to take leadership roles in research projects. They should be encouraged to attend national and international conferences and they should be financially supported to do so where possible. The order of authorship in published papers should reflect the relative scientific contributions to the results presented in the paper.
Likewise, students and postdoctoral fellows in project-related positions must always behave professionally and carry out their research in a timely and conscientious manner. In assigning a project, supervisors put a great deal of trust in their students and postdoctoral fellows, since projects carry not just scientific, but often financial liabilities. Students and postdoctoral fellows must be aware of the responsibilities associated with their positions. It is not acceptable for a student to deliberately stall his/her research in order to delay graduation for personal interest, just as it is not acceptable for a supervisor to unnecessarily delay the graduation of a student. Students and postdoctoral fellows whose work is supported by their supervisor are expected to share ownership of the work.
Research should always be conducted in a transparent manner. Accurate records of data, methodologies and findings should be kept so that results can be reviewed and/or reproduced by others. Information relevant to the verification of any published results should never be deliberately withheld and should always be made available in published papers. Errors, when detected, should be promptly acknowledged and corrected.
The AAS Ethics Statement states that “fabrication of data or selective reporting of data with the intent to mislead or deceive is unethical, unacceptable and fraudulent, as is the appropriation of unpublished data or research results from others without permission and attribution.” CASCA fully endorses this statement. Additionally, intentionally misquoting the work of others, with the intent to discredit their result, is unethical.
Finally, researchers, including students, should be made aware that data from experiments and observations, as well as hardware and software, are not the property of the researcher alone. The researcher should be cognizant of their Institution’s policies on ownership of their work and intellectual property.
Publication and Authorship Practices
CASCA endorses the AAS standards for ethical behaviour regarding authorship policies, as reproduced here:
“All persons who have made significant contributions to a work intended for publication should be offered the opportunity to be listed as authors. This includes all those who have contributed significantly to the inception, design, execution, or interpretation of the research to be reported. People who have not contributed significantly should not be included as authors. Other individuals who have contributed to a study should be appropriately acknowledged. The sources of financial support for any project should be acknowledged/disclosed. All collaborators share responsibility for any paper they coauthor, and every coauthor should have the opportunity to review a manuscript before its submission. It is the responsibility of the first author to ensure these.
Proper acknowledgement of the work of others should always be given, and complete referencing is an essential part of any astronomical research publication. Authors have an obligation to their colleagues and the scientific community to include a set of references that communicates the precedents, sources, and context of the reported work. Deliberate omission of a pertinent author or reference is unacceptable. Data provided by others must be cited appropriately, even if obtained from a public database.
All authors are responsible for providing prompt corrections or retractions if errors are found in published works with the first author bearing primary responsibility.”
These practices apply not only to published papers. In the public presentation of research results, co-authors should be credited, as should be the contribution of others.
Plagiarism is defined as the “appropriation of the literary composition of another and passing off as one’s own the product of the mind and language of another” (quoted from p.170 of the Canadian Law Dictionary[iv]). Plagiarism is not limited to the exact reproduction of text without properly crediting the original source. It also applies when the text is paraphrased or translated, and includes the copying of images, graphs, tables, and ideas. Any form of reproduction of material without citing the original source is considered plagiarism, whether the material is reproduced in a published manuscript, in an oral presentation, a class assignment, a webpage, a grant or telescope time proposal, or any other form of scientific communication. Citation of one’s own work without the correct credit of the original source is also plagiarism. Plagiarism is not only a serious ethical breach, it is also punishable under Canadian law as it can constitute copyright infringement and/or fraud. Most Universities have strict policies and severe penalties for employees who are found guilty of plagiarism.
Plagiarism can be avoided by citing the original source of material and including all cited text within quotation marks.
Peer review (or refereeing) is the main mechanism by which research proposals, research results, and career advancements are evaluated. It is essential to the discipline: it allows the best project to be carried forward, it ensures the quality of published manuscripts, and it serves to set the standards of excellence in the field. It is an obligation of all astronomers to participate in the peer review process, to conduct their review in a timely, rigorous and fair manner, and to disclose all possible conflict of interests. When conflict of interests preclude an objective evaluation, referees must recuse themselves from the process.
Material submitted for peer review must always be treated with extreme confidentiality. It is unethical, for instance, to share the contents/ideas of a research proposal one is asked to review, as it is unethical to use those contents for competitive gain, by either unfairly criticizing the work of others or by using confidential information to advance one’s own research projects.
Conflicts of Interest
Peer review and membership in national and international committees must never be exploited to inappropriately obtain an advantage for oneself or an advantage or disadvantage for others.
Any personal or professional situation that might influence the outcome of a deliberation constitutes a conflict of interest. Any such conflicts must be disclosed and resolved (for instance by recusal) before the deliberations take place. If the deliberations take place within a committee (for instance, a Time Allocation Committee or a Science Advisory Committee) all conflicted members must leave the room if their staying causes discomfort in the remaining members or can bias the discussion/deliberations.
Obvious examples of conflicts of interests are evaluation of one’s own grant proposal, or the proposal of a family member; in such cases the party in conflict must recuse him/herself from the evaluation. Other examples are cases in which a researcher is asked to evaluate the work of a close collaborator, a former student/postdoc, or a competing researcher/team: in all such situations, when a close professional relation might lead to a biased review, a conflict of interest must be reported. Other cases are not clear cut; for instance, in the evaluation of a grant proposal, belonging to the same institution as the researcher whose proposal is being evaluated is generally considered a conflict (funding Agency will have specific guidelines in this regard), since a financial award benefits (through overheads and prestige) all institutional members. However, institutional affiliation does not necessarily represent a conflict in the evaluation of a proposal for telescope time when no financial reward is involved.
It must be realized that conflicts of interests are unavoidable, especially in a relatively small community such as CASCA, but can and must be resolved. Common sense and judgement must be exercised in doing so. The CASCA Board is available to discuss specific perceived conflicts of interests when these pertain to the deliberation of CASCA committees.
Avenues for Resolution
Breaches or violations of the aforementioned ethical behaviours must be reported and investigated without fear of retaliation; failure to report is not acceptable as it is an implicit admission that such behaviours should be condoned. There are several avenues for reporting breaches of ethics, depending on the nature of the complaint.
Most astronomy research is Agency-funded; by accepting a grant or an award, a researcher implicitly agrees to comply with all policies of the funding Agency. Failure to do so is a serious offense. The Tri-Agency Framework describes in detail the process for resolution of policy breaches by Agency-funded researchers. In addition, many universities have issued Ethics Statements and detailed guidelines for resolution of conflicts; one’s own institution’s policies should always be the first term of reference for ethical conduct. Avenues for resolution of violations by researchers employed in the public sector are described in the document “Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector”[v]. Journals (for instance all AAS journals[vi]) have published guidelines for the investigations of misconduct allegations. Perceived unethical or inappropriate behaviour by members of CASCA committees while performing their committee work should be reported directly to the CASCA Board.
[i] The Canadian Tri-Agency Framework: Responsible Conduct of Research: http://https://rcr.ethics.gc.ca/eng/framework-cadre.html
[iv] The Canadian Law Dictionary, 2nd ed., by John A. Yogis, Q.C. (adapted fr. Law Dictionary by Steven H. Gifis), © 1990 Barron’s Educational Series, Inc.; ISBN #-0-8120-4308-1; Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 90-34213
- The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/H-6.pdf
- The American Physical Society Guidelines for Professional Conduct: www.aps.org/policy/statements/02_2.cfm
- The US Federal policy on research misconduct: www.ostp.gov/cs/federal_policy_on_research_misconduct
- The US National Academies’ On Being a Scientist: www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12192