AAAS Joins Coalition that Seeks to Define and Protect Professional Integrity

Glenn Ruskin and Mark S. Frankel

AAAS has joined a coalition of professional associations and unions focused on helping organizations and their members defend against external pressures challenging the integrity of their work.

Launched at a 20 May press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the coalition will provide a forum for organizations to share experiences and case studies to ensure that they and their members are able to use their specialized knowledge and experience to serve the public interest.

During a panel discussion, Mark S. Frankel, director of the AAAS Program on Scientific Freedom, Responsibility & Law, said that scientists and their work are particularly susceptible to outside interference. For example, news reports in recent years have detailed efforts by non-scientists in the government to alter or suppress scientific findings and to place undue restrictions on scientists' freedom to speak about their research and its social significance.

"People recognize the enormous power of expert knowledge and the influence it can have on their lives," said Frankel. "It is understood, then, by both scientists and the larger society, that there is a critical need for an independent and reliable scientific voice when making policy decisions with a strong technical component."

Frankel said that scientists depend on autonomy and the freedom to pursue their work without undue external intrusion. But with freedom comes responsibility.

"The privileges associated with autonomy conferred on professionals by society carry a concomitant responsibility on the part of scientists to ensure they share a commitment to the highest standards of ethical practice and the resolve to live up to them," he said.

Frankel spoke alongside Ann Converso, RN, president of the United American Nurses, AFL-CIO; Mary Ghikas, senior associate executive director of the American Library Association; Glenn Ruskin, director of the office of public affairs at the American Chemical Society; and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO.

Moderating the panel discussion, Paul Almeida, president of the Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO, said that "the collective skills and judgment of professionals offer enormous value in achieving democratic goals."

Almeida cited a 9 March memorandum from President Barack Obama in which he directed the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop recommendations for strengthening scientific integrity in the executive branch.

"We hope that [the coalition] will contribute to the national conversation that President Obama sparked not just in science, but across the professions," said Almeida.

The coalition is a diverse alliance comprised of 19 professional associations and unions in science, engineering, health, human services including AAAS, the American Chemical Society, the Actors' Equity Association, the National Association of Social Workers, and the United Steelworkers.


Joanne Carney

AAAS is represented on the committee by Joanne Carney, director of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology, and Congress, who was an active member of the group's joint planning committee established two years ago during the Coalition's configuration. Carney also serves as secretary of the coalition's operations subcommittee, which sets the rules for how organizations can join the coalition and other procedural issues.

The coalition was founded on the idea that integrity is a defining element of professionalism, and that three elements are central to professional integrity: professional standards, the pursuit of knowledge, and contribution to the common good.

Ruskin said that his organization will work within the coalition to support improving policymakers' access to scientific information, proper unbiased use of scientific information, and freedom of scientific exchange.

"Scientists and engineers must have freedom to study and disseminate information without censorship from policymakers," said Ruskin. He added that chemistry plays a crucial role in many global challenges, including access to nutritious food, clean water, medicine, clean energy, and a healthy environment.

In addition to the press conference, the coalition has launched a Web site to allow professionals to share ideas and experiences related to personal integrity and its connection to the public interest. The site also highlights the members of the coalition and their statements on professional integrity.