Draft APS Statement on Ethics

Physicists are citizens of the global community of science and 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 the prohibition of fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism. The second is the obligation to treat people well, which includes the prohibition of abuse of power, and encouragement of the practice of fair and respectful relationships with colleagues, subordinates and students, and avoidance of bias. The American Physical Society has adopted new Guidelines for Professional Conduct that incorporate these values. 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 strive for continual improvement in their standards of ethical behavior, and transmit improving practices with enthusiasm to future generations.

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 Statement 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, in the past 30 years there has been substantial development of our understanding of what specific actions constitute FFP or abusive behavior,  as discussed in the National Academies’ 2017 publication Fostering Integrity in Research. Accordingly, this Statement unifies APS Statements:

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 a discussion 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 in this statement is presented as a set of principles with accompanying actions, serving as a resource that can be kept current as the definition and scope of ethics in physics evolves.

APS Member Comment

Today, more than ever, it is important for professional organizations to make a clear statement on ethics and expected professional behavior. For over a year, a subcommittee of the APS Panel on Public Affairs has been reviewing, updating, and combining the existing APS statements in the areas of ethics and professional conduct into one comprehensive document that addresses expected standards of behavior and professional activity.

A draft of this revised Statement on Ethics is now available and has been approved by the Board of Directors to be sent to APS members for comment. All comments will be read and will receive full consideration by the Panel on Public Affairs subcommittee as it prepares a final statement that will be forwarded to the APS Council for approval early next year. Your comments are welcomed and suggestions for improving the statement
are encouraged.

All comments must be submitted no later than November 26, 2018.

Submit a Comment

I. The Research Record and Publications

Research Results

Definition: 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.


  1. Research results (e.g. data, findings, software) should be recorded and maintained in a form that allows subsequent analysis and review.

  2. Research results 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.

  3. Falsification or fabrication 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.


Definition: While 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.


  1. The award of authorship should balance intellectual contributions to the conception, design, analysis, and writing of the study against the collection of data and other routine work. 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 early on in the planning of a research project who will be credited as authors, as contributors, and who will be acknowledged, and validate the choices with the research team. “Deciding early” does not preclude changes as the research develops.

  3. All authors must 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.

  4. Appropriate processes for reviewing and ensuring the accuracy and validity of reported results should be established for all collaborations.

Redundant Publication

Definition: Redundant publication occurs when two or more papers, without full cross reference, share the same hypothesis, data, discussion points, or conclusions. This can often take the form of having substantial duplicate content such as wording and figures.


  1. Publication of independently confirmed results is desirable, but re-publication of previously published results or verbatim text is not acceptable.

  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 made 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. Manuscripts placed on them may be deemed to be published by certain journals, and subsequent submission would be viewed as redundant publication. Policies regarding 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.


Definition: Plagiarism ranges from the unreferenced use of others’ published and unpublished ideas, including research grant applications, 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.


  1. All sources of materials should be disclosed, 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, the resulting material is a redundant publication, which is not publishable.

  2. The text and graphics in papers, proposals, and published writings should be original to those works. If one’s own text or graphic is reused it should be presented as a quoted passage with attribution to the earlier work. If the text or graphic has been previously published, it may be necessary to obtain permission to use it from the copyright owner, and in any event must be attributed to the original author.

Peer Review

Definition: 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.


  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. Privileged information or ideas that are obtained through peer review must be kept confidential and not used for competitive gain.

  3. 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

Definition: 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.


  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 indicate 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

Definition: 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 – accused, accuser, and the institution(s) with which they are affiliated. Diligence in upholding the fundamental values on which science is based strengthen the scientific community and society, as well as reinforce the personal integrity of individuals. Each institution and organization establishes 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 fully adhere to and support these policies and procedures to uphold the integrity of their institution and the broader scientific enterprise.


  1. A person who witnesses a colleague engaging in research misconduct is obligated to act in accordance with institutional requirements.

  2. (Institutional requirements for the US have been outlined in a US Federal document (insert link to Federal policy from 2000). Other regions may also have similar legislation, and their requirements must be adhered to.

III. Treatment of Colleagues and Subordinates

Explicit, Systemic, and Implicit Bias

Definition: Scientists are expected to be objective, and open to learning the truth from their research. Yet, physicists are also human. Each of us has our own conscious likes and dislikes, preferences and preconceptions and these can influence how we treat others. Individual biases can become systemic if they are incorporated into institutional practices. All of these biases can influence our decisions, cause us to act in ways that are not fair to all involved, and create barriers. The net result of such biases is to hurt physics. Research has shown it is not unusual for women, African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans to feel unwelcome in physics and other scientific fields, because of the low expectations their professors and colleagues have for them, and because of how they are treated by the people who should be their peers and colleagues. These groups, and others who are different from the majority and have traditionally been excluded or discouraged, would bring valuable new perspectives to the field if barriers to their participation were removed.

Implicit bias (also called unconscious bias or implicit assumptions) is the platform upon which our unwitting discrimination rests. Thoughts and feelings are unconscious if we are unaware of them or mistaken about their nature. We have an implicit bias when, rather than being neutral, we have a preference for (or aversion to) a person or group of people, e.g. when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge. As noted in the 2016 Interagency Policy Group on Increasing Diversity in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) Workforce by Reducing the Impact of Bias, experimental evidence from STEM disciplines shows a causal relationship between implicit bias and diminished opportunities for some groups, and shows that addressing bias can increase hiring of and improve the environment for underrepresented groups (link to REF).

The American Physical Society values a diverse membership, and believes that the social science research on implicit bias illuminates the way implicit assumptions impact women and underrepresented groups in STEM.


  1. To assist the APS in pursuing the goal of diversity, members will benefit if they become cognizant of the social science research on implicit bias and implicit assumptions and their impact on women and underrepresented groups in STEM.

    1. Each person should strive to be aware of his or her preferences and alert to situations where the bias can be damaging to science or one’s colleagues.

    2. One can become a careful observer of others and take action to counteract the unfair or inappropriate consequences of explicit and systemic biases, especially those that work to exclude or diminish people from different backgrounds than the majority.

    3. Implicit bias can affect all aspects of science. It is imperative that 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 should engage in implicit bias training. Training about the characteristics of such bias can eliminate their negative effects.

    4. During decision-making processes, specific tools such as facilitated discussions should be used to identify unconscious biases that can affect the outcome.


Definition: Harassment is disrespectful behavior of any kind intended to humiliate and control another person. It can include verbal and physical interactions, and display or circulation of written materials or images. Harassment creates an atmosphere in which productive scientific discourse is not possible, and harms the victim as well as the progress of physics. 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 with these protections, many people across the country still face sexual harassment in their workplaces and educational institutions. Behaviors include, but are not limited to, requests for sexual favors, unwanted touching, unwanted attention, and unwanted sexual advances. It is difficult for victims to feel safe in reporting harassment.


  1. Institutions must provide a safe means for harassment allegations to be reported, assessed, investigated and resolved.

  2. Observers of harassment have an obligation to report instances to the appropriate institution.

Treatment of Subordinates

Definition: In science-focused workplaces, subordinates can include but are not limited to students, postdoctoral researchers, and technical 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.


  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. Institutions have a responsibility 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.

  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 work-place practices as it relates to mentoring and performance appraisals.

  6. Institutions must inform students, postdoctoral researchers, and employees where they can get help to resolve conflicts, and where they can report harassment including sexual harassment.

Code of Conduct for Meetings

Definition: 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.

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 without 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.


  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, 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 to the Profession

Social Media

Definition: Social media represents a public forum of communication that 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.


  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

Definition: 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.


  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.

  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. [include link here to legal statutes]

Conflicts of Interest and Commitment

Definition: 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.


  1. 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, supervisors and subordinates 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 and colleagues receive training that specifically addresses this area. The American Physical Society will develop, maintain and disseminate materials to support this training.