Policies | Guideline

Ethics Guidelines

To support our ethics statement, APS lays out ethical guidelines, as well as recommended policies and procedures where appropriate to ensure that these guidelines are upheld.


As citizens of the global community of science, physicists share responsibility for its welfare. The success of the scientific enterprise rests upon two ethical pillars. The first of them is the obligation to tell the truth, which includes avoiding fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism. The second is the obligation to treat people well, which prohibits abuse of power, encourages fair and respectful relationships with colleagues, subordinates, and students, and eschews bias, whether implicit or explicit. Professional integrity in the conception, conduct, and communication of physics activities reflects not only on the reputations of individual physicists and their organizations, but also on the image and credibility of the physics profession in the eyes of scientific colleagues, government, and the public. Physicists must adopt high standards of ethical behavior, and transmit improving practices with enthusiasm to future generations.

Ethics guidelines

Introduction and rationale

The Constitution of the American Physical Society states that the objective of the Society shall be the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of physics. It is the purpose of this document to advance that objective by presenting ethical guidelines for Society members that address many aspects of the practice of physics. Physicists must always tell the truth in scientific communication. Data fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism (FFP) corrupt the scientific literature and the research proposal process, thereby diminishing the value of science and damaging public trust. Physicists must treat others well. Abuse of colleagues, students, or subordinates degrades the conditions for honest interchange that lead to the best scientific ideas and support the scientific enterprise. These principles have long been recognized; however, a new articulation of these principles has become necessary due to substantial work in the past 30 years in identifying what specific actions constitute FFP or abusive behavior, as discussed in the National Academies’ 2017 publication Fostering Integrity in Research. Accordingly, these Guidelines unify APS Statements 02.1 (Improving Education for Professional Ethics, Standards and Practices), 02.2 (APS Guidelines for Professional Conduct), 02.3 (Policies for Handling Allegations of Research Misconduct), and 04.2 (Treatment of Subordinates). Language from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) guidelines has been incorporated to ensure that the delineations of FFP are current. We have added a new section on Responsibilities to the Profession, which extends the 2002–2004 statements to include discussions of explicit, systemic, and unconscious bias, harassment, conduct at scientific meetings, use of social media, use of public funds, and an expanded section on conflict of interest. Each topic is presented as a set of principles with recommended implementation, serving as a resource that can be kept current as the definition and scope of ethics in physics evolves.

I. The research record and publications

Research results

Ethical principle

The results of research include raw data, processed data, research findings and observations, and work products such as software. Fabrication of research results is the invention/alteration of data to support an interpretation or conclusion. Falsification of research results is the manipulation of research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record. This can include falsification of one’s own results, and sabotage of the results of others.

Recommended implementation
  1. Research results (e.g., data, findings, software) should be openly and promptly available, as soon as there has been an opportunity to establish intellectual property rights. Following publication, requirements for open access to the published data set by legislation or funding agencies must be followed. All research products should be retained for a reasonable period and be available promptly and completely to responsible scientists. Exceptions may be appropriate in certain circumstances in order to preserve privacy, trade secrets, or national security.
  2. Research results should be recorded and maintained in a form that allows subsequent use, analysis, review, and reproduction of the findings to the maximum extent possible.
  3. Falsification, fabrication, or omission of data with the intent to mislead or deceive is an egregious departure from the expected norms of scientific conduct, as is the theft of data or other research results. It is the responsibility of all scientists to raise any questions they may have about the provenance or integrity of data at any stage of the research or publication process according to their institutional policies.
  4. It is the obligation of each author to provide prompt retractions or corrections of errors in published works.


Ethical principle

Although there is no universal definition, authorship creates a record of attribution, establishes accountability and responsibility with respect to the work, and is key in establishing careers. Authorship should be limited to, and should not exclude, those who have made a significant contribution to the concept, design, execution, or interpretation of the research study. Authors should be able to identify their specific contribution to the work.

Recommended implementation
  1. The award of authorship should balance intellectual contributions to the conception, design, analysis, and writing of the study against data collection and analysis, and instrument and software development. Those who have made limited contributions should be listed in the acknowledgments section. If no substantial task directly related to the research can reasonably be attributed to a particular individual, then that individual should not be credited with authorship. It is recommended that each author’s contributions be listed in the acknowledgments section or in a supplementary information file.
  2. To avoid disputes over attribution of authorship, it is helpful to decide at the start of writing the paper who will be credited as authors, as contributors, and who will be acknowledged, and validate the choices with the research team.
  3. Large collaborations should have clearly defined authorship policies as part of their governance process.
  4. All authors must agree to publication of a manuscript and take public responsibility for the full content of their paper. The multidisciplinary nature of much research can make this difficult, but this can be resolved by the disclosure and discussion of individual contributions.
  5. Appropriate processes for reviewing and ensuring the accuracy and validity of reported results should be established for all collaborations.
  6. Corresponding and presenting authors should ensure that all co-authors of the work have approved the content of manuscripts and presentations.

Redundant publication

Ethical principle

Redundant publication occurs when two or more papers by the same author share the same hypothesis, data, discussion points, and conclusions. This can often take the form of having substantial duplicate content such as wording and figures.

Recommended implementation
  1. Publication of independently confirmed results is desirable, but re-publication of previously published results or verbatim text is not acceptable unless the publication is intended to be and is clearly represented as a review article.
  2. Previous publication of an abstract or presentation as part of the program for a meeting does not preclude subsequent submission for publication, but full disclosure of the existence of these materials should be considered at the time of submission.
  3. Re-publication of a paper in another language is acceptable with the permission of the copyright holder of the original article.
  4. At the time of submission, authors should disclose details of related papers, even if in a different language, and similar papers in press.
  5. Simultaneous submissions of the same paper to multiple journals is not allowed.
  6. Preprint servers such as arXiv are a valuable means for sharing and communicating new work. A manuscript placed on arXiv may be deemed to be published by certain journals, and subsequent submission would be viewed by them as a redundant publication. Policies established by journals regarding manuscripts placed on preprint servers should be reviewed before uploading manuscripts. When the manuscript has been published in a journal, a link to the final document should be added to the preprint.


Ethical principle

Plagiarism ranges from the unreferenced use of others’ published and unpublished ideas, data and writings, including research grant applications and presentation materials, to submission under “new” authorship of a complete paper, sometimes in a different language. It may occur at any stage of planning, research, writing, or publication; it applies to print and electronic versions. It also includes the use of substantial content from the authors’ own publications or other writings, which is called “self-plagiarism.” Plagiarism is unethical scientific behavior and is never acceptable.

Recommended implementation
  1. All sources of materials should be disclosed or cited, no matter what the dissemination medium. If other people’s or the authors’ own written or illustrative material is to be used, permission must be obtained from the copyright owner. When most of the content has been duplicated from other works without proper attribution, the resulting work is plagiarism, and is not publishable.
  2. In general, if one’s own text or graphic is reused in a publication or widely disseminated document it should be presented as a quoted passage with attribution to the earlier work. Reuse of a small amount of text for limited purposes such as a technical description of theoretical or experimental methods is acceptable if the first instance of its publication is cited.
  3. Re-use of one’s own text for confidential documents such as research grant proposals is acceptable.
  4. Slides and posters prepared for presentations should credit the source of any figures or charts taken from other works.

Peer review

Ethical principle

Peer review provides advice concerning the merit of research proposals, the publication of research results, and career advancement of colleagues. It is an essential component of the scientific process.

Recommended implementation
  1. Peer review can serve its intended function only if the members of the scientific community are prepared to provide thorough, fair, and objective evaluations based on requisite expertise. Although peer review can be difficult and time consuming, scientists have an obligation to participate in the process.
  2. All steps in the peer review process should be executed as expeditiously as possible by reviewers, editors, and authors.
  3. Privileged information or ideas that are obtained through peer review by reviewers and editors must be kept confidential and not used for competitive gain.
  4. Reviewers should disclose conflicts of interest resulting from direct competitive, collaborative, or other relationships with any of the authors, candidates, or proposers, and avoid cases in which such conflicts preclude an objective evaluation (see Conflicts of Interest and Commitment in Section IV).

References in scientific communication

Ethical principle

References within a scientific communication make it possible for the readers to access, and for the authors to attribute, relevant prior work from the scientific literature. Key references are those that expert practitioners in a field recognize as foundational. Proper referencing gives credit to those whose research has informed or led to the work in question, helps to avoid duplication of effort, and increases the value of a paper or other communication by guiding the reader to related materials.

Recommended implementation
  1. Authors of papers, proposals, presentations, and other scientific communications have an obligation to their colleagues and the physics community to include a set of references that indicates the precedents, sources, and context of the reported work. It is the responsibility of authors to have surveyed prior work in the area and to include relevant references. These include key references as well as review articles.
  2. Proper and complete referencing, in accord with the policies of the publication forum, is an essential part of any physics research publication. It is unethical and unacceptable for authors to knowingly omit references to a relevant author or publication.

II. Policies for handling allegations of research misconduct

Ethical principle

Research misconduct can break down the self-regulation of the conduct of scientific research, shake public confidence in the integrity of science and the veracity of scientific results, and deny society the potential benefits of research. Allegations of inappropriate behavior can have serious consequences for all parties concerned, including the accused, the accuser, and the institution(s) with which they are affiliated. Diligence in upholding the fundamental values on which science is based strengthens the scientific community and society, as well as reinforces the personal integrity of individuals. Each institution and organization establish its own policies and procedures for handling allegations of misconduct, in compliance with legal requirements. Each investigation requires a fair and systematic approach to assessing and dealing with allegations. APS members are expected to be aware of and fully adhere to and support these policies and procedures to uphold the integrity of their institution and the broader scientific enterprise.

Recommended implementation

  1. A person who witnesses a colleague engaging in research misconduct is obligated to act in accordance with institutional requirements.
  2. Researchers should adhere to the governmental policy on research misconduct with associated institutional requirements. See U.S. Federal Regulations on Research Misconduct (PDF)
  3. Each individual has a responsibility to be aware of institutional policies regarding research misconduct, and to ensure those whom they supervise are aware of these policies.

III. Treatment of colleagues and subordinates

Explicit, systemic, and implicit bias

Ethical principle

The American Physical Society values a diverse membership, and supports the right of all people to pursue the study of physics and to participate in the physics community free from discrimination. As stated in the 2019 Strategic Plan of the American Physical Society "In order for physics and the physics community to benefit from the greatest talent, and to strengthen APS as an organization, we will provide a welcoming and inclusive environment for all those engaged in physics." The American Physical Society specifically rejects discrimination based upon race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, and political ideology. For example, research has shown it is not unusual for members of groups defined by sex, race, and color to feel unwelcome in physics and other scientific fields, because of low expectations and poor treatment by some mentors, colleagues, and peers. More members of groups that have historically been excluded or discouraged from physics would bring valuable contributions to the field if barriers to their participation were removed.

Discrimination results from bias, which can be explicit, systemic, or implicit. Explicit bias occurs when conscious attitudes or beliefs about a group of people manifest themselves in discriminatory speech or action. Explicit bias includes but is not limited to derogatory speech, harassment or creation of a hostile work or learning environment, hate crimes, preferential treatment of persons based on group membership, and dismissing or ignoring other occurrences of explicit bias.

Systemic bias occurs when policies, procedures, and practices of an institution result in the exclusion of some groups, and the promotion of others. Systemic bias can result from historic patterns of discrimination, and can persist even if the individuals involved do not harbor explicit or implicit bias.

Implicit bias occurs when an individual has a preference for, or aversion to, a group of people, or a member of the group, without conscious knowledge. A 2016 Interagency Policy Group on Increasing Diversity in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) Workforce by Reducing the Impact of Bias presents experimental evidence from STEM disciplines that addressing bias can increase employment offers and improve the environment for underrepresented groups.

Recommended implementations
  1. To assist the APS in pursuing the goal of diversity, the Society encourages members to inform themselves on the history of discrimination in the United States and other countries, and current research on explicit, systemic, and implicit bias.
  2. Each person should strive to be aware of his or her preferences and alert to situations where bias can be damaging to colleagues or the progress of science.
  3. The APS strongly encourages members to participate in efforts in their workplace designed to counteract explicit, systemic, and implicit bias and reduce discrimination. This is particularly important for any APS member who actively engages in the hiring or reviewing of other physicists or writes or reads letters of recommendation on behalf of another physicist applying for jobs, fellowships, or awards.
  4. During decision-making processes, specific tools such as pre-determined qualification lists and interview scripts can be used to mitigate the impact of unconscious biases that can affect the outcome.


Ethical principle

Harassment is disrespectful behavior of any kind with the intent or effect of humiliating and controlling another person. It can include verbal and physical interactions, and display or circulation of written materials or images, including those communicated via digital devices, such as interactions via text messaging or social media. Harassment creates an atmosphere in which productive scientific discourse is not possible, and harms the victim as well as the progress of physics. Harassment can be based on group memberships including race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, and political ideology. In the US, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Even in countries with legal protections, many people still face sexual harassment in their workplaces and educational institutions. Behaviors include, but are not limited to, requests for sexual favors, unwanted touching, persistent unwanted attention, and unwanted sexual advances. It is difficult for victims to feel safe in reporting harassment.

Recommended implementation
  1. In the US, Title IX requires educational institutions receiving federal funds to provide a safe means for harassment allegations to be reported, assessed, investigated, and resolved. In cases where this does not exist, the APS encourages members to work within their institutions to provide it.
  2. Observers of harassment have an obligation to report instances to the appropriate institution.

Treatment of subordinates

Ethical principles

In science-focused workplaces, subordinates can include but are not limited to students, postdoctoral researchers, and technical and nontechnical staff in permanent positions and in temporary or visiting positions. The relationship between supervisor and subordinate often includes a tension between timely delivery of goal-driven research to a sponsor by an investigator and provision for the well-being of the people who participate in the work. Because of the power imbalance between supervisor and subordinate, it is often difficult for victims to report any form of harassment by a supervisor, including sexual harassment. Supervisors must clearly understand their responsibilities in creating an environment where all individuals can feel safe and succeed.

Recommended implementation
  1. Subordinates should always be treated with respect and with concern for their well-being. Their supervisors have the responsibility to facilitate their research, educational, and professional development, to ensure they have the knowledge and training to perform their work safely, to promote their timely advancement to the next stage of career development, and to provide a supportive working environment and fair compensation.
  2. In the US, Title IX requires institutions to support subordinates by providing confidential mechanisms for them to express feedback, report harassment and other harmful treatment, and raise concerns without fear of retribution. In cases where this does not exist, the APS encourages members to work within their institutions to provide it.
  3. Contributions of subordinates should be properly acknowledged in publications, presentations, and performance appraisals. In particular, subordinates who have made significant contributions to the concept, design, execution, or interpretation of a research study should be afforded the opportunity of authorship of resulting publications.
  4. Supervisors and/or other senior scientists should not be listed on papers of subordinates unless they have also contributed significantly to the concept, design, execution, or interpretation of the research study.
  5. Mentoring of students, postdoctoral researchers, and employees with respect to intellectual development, professional and ethical standards, and career guidance, is a core responsibility for supervisors and senior, established scientists. Periodic communication of constructive performance appraisals is essential for individuals to thrive in the work and research environments. It is the responsibility of any professional physicist who is in a supervisory role to adhere to good workplace practices as it relates to mentoring and performance appraisals.
  6. Supervisors should ensure that students, postdoctoral researchers, and employees are informed where they can get help to resolve conflicts, and where they can report harassment including sexual harassment.

Code of Conduct for Meetings

Ethical principle

Creating a supportive environment to enable scientific discourse at meetings such as conferences and workshops is the responsibility of all participants. Participants need to treat each other with respect and consideration to create a collegial, inclusive, and professional environment that successfully advances physics. This responsibility encompasses both formal sessions and informal interactions in connection with the meeting.

Disrespect and harassment include but are not limited to offensive behavior and language, discriminatory jokes or comments, unwanted touching or attention, unwanted sexual advances, offensive images, photography of individuals without their permission, and stalking. They also include sabotage of others’ presentations, making false reports of harassment, and similar malicious behaviors. Just as the falsification of data is seen as scientific misconduct, these behaviors are considered to be in this same category.

If participants observe inappropriate comments or actions, and personal intervention seems appropriate and safe, consideration of all parties involved should be made before intervening. The policy of the APS is that violations of this code of conduct at its own meetings will not be tolerated, and the APS will pursue an appropriate course of action if complaints are received. The policy applies to attendees, vendors, APS staff, volunteers, and all other stakeholders at APS meetings.

Recommended implementation
  1. All participants in scientific meetings will conduct themselves in a manner that is welcoming to all and free from any form of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.
  2. Participants in scientific meetings will avoid any inappropriate actions or statements based on individual characteristics such as age, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, nationality, political affiliation, ability status, educational background, or any characteristic protected by law.
  3. Sanctions by the APS will be applied as appropriate. They may range from a verbal warning, to ejection from the APS meeting without refund, to notifying appropriate authorities. Retaliation for complaints of inappropriate conduct will not be tolerated by the APS.

IV. Responsibilities of the profession

Social media

Ethical principle

Social media are public forums of communication which can be used for scientific discourse. Postings to internet sites or mobile apps are generally not reviewed and can be widely disseminated by anyone, so it is the responsibility of the poster to ensure accuracy of their content.

Recommended implementation
  1. Social media communications should be accurate and not misleading, regarding both their content and correct attributions to prior work when appropriate.
  2. In public outreach communications, wording and images used to describe scientific work should be understandable to the non-specialist, thereby minimizing opportunities for misinterpretation.
  3. Claims of impacts to science, technology, and society beyond those that have been rigorously established can be misleading, and should be avoided or clearly identified as speculation.

Ethical use of public funds

Ethical principle

The acceptance of public funds comes with the expectation that these funds will be spent in a manner that upholds the public trust in science and in the physics community.

Recommended implementation
  1. All research funding sources must be accurately reported at the time of a grant application.
  2. The time devoted by research personnel to research activities must accurately reflect the funding that supports them when there are multiple sources of external support.
  3. Requesting grant support from multiple agencies for a project is allowed but accepting funding for the same research from multiple agencies without full knowledge and approval of the agencies involved is unethical and may have legal consequences.
  4. Investigators who receive public funds must know and ensure compliance with all laws, regulations, policies, and agreement terms applicable to the funds, and ensure that the funds are only expended for authorized purposes. Restrictions on the use of funds include limitations on use for personal purposes, to support a business, or in relation to political activity.
  5. It is an investigator’s obligation to weigh the societal benefits of a research program against the costs and risks to human welfare.

See U.S. Grant Fraud Responsibilities

Conflicts of interest and commitment

Ethical principle

There are many professional activities of physicists that have the potential for conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment that may be personal, commercial, political, academic, or financial. Relevant conflicts are matters that, when revealed later, would make others feel misled or deceived, may prevent full attention being paid to one’s responsibilities, or improperly influence one’s judgment and decision-making. Conflicts of interest can arise from employment, research funding, stock ownership, payment for lectures or travel, consultancies, and corporate support for staff. Conflicts of commitment include acceptance of projects or roles that are beyond one’s available time and resources, evidenced, for example, by persistent failure to complete a project’s goals.

Recommended implementation
  1. Conflicts or potential conflicts of interest must be fully disclosed. This allows determination of whether they can be managed, or whether the conflicting activity should be discontinued.
  2. Conflicts of interest relevant to the publication process must be declared to editors by researchers, authors, and reviewers. Editors should also disclose relevant conflicts of interest to their readers. Sometimes editors may need to withdraw from the review and selection process for the relevant submission.
  3. Conflicts of interest associated with awards and promotion decisions are defined by institutional policies and must be disclosed.
  4. When a subordinate is engaged to work on a project, the supervisor and subordinate should each ensure that they have sufficient time and resources to perform the work successfully.

V. Improving education for professional ethics, standards, and practices

Education in professional ethics is an essential part of science education. Scientists must ensure the integrity of data, analysis, and presentation of results. Scientists must treat students and colleagues in an ethical fashion. It is part of the responsibility of all scientists to ensure that all their students receive training that specifically addresses this area. The American Physical Society will develop, maintain, and disseminate materials to support this training.

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