Ethics for Professional Astronomers

In 2008 I started a project to discover and codify the ethics of professional astronomers. My course materials are available for other instructors to develop their own courses - see the course website.

Though ethical codes exist for engineers, physicists and science in general, these codes are neither taught to astronomy students, nor do they thoroughly address the ethics of astronomy education, research and enterprise.

Why are ethics relevant to astronomy? Here are a few examples:

  • Many people care about what astronomers predict or conclude, e.g. the recent debate about the status of Pluto, which essentially impacted every primary school in the world. Globally, astronomers are a highly-regarded fraternity of scientists who can influence opinions on a wide range of topics, such as Earth's environment and international conflict.
  • Astronomers steward “big science”, multi-billion dollar, publicly funded endeavors, such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the NSF-sponsored Gemini Observatory.
  • Astronomers influence a spectrum of high-impact science, including life and death issues such as the greenhouse effect (Venus) and the major role of impacts in the history of life on earth.
  • Astronomers interact with teams of colleagues, including subordinates and service
    personnel, and face ethical dilemmas that fall outside the familiar realm of publishing
    research or peer review.
  • In the U.S., a large fraction of the undergraduate population (40%) receives their only college science instruction from an astronomer. Therefore, the Astronomy 101 course may be the singular opportunity for students to formally explore ethics in science. Thus, the stakeholders in astronomy ethics are spread across the globe, among various public and private institutions, and throughout the education system.

Here are some links to documents or web sites that should help in thinking through a broad range of ethical dilemmas.

In the News:

Codes of Conduct

  • Agence Nationale de la Recherche - pdf
  • American Astronomical Society Journals - pdf
  • Engineering Pledge of Ethical Conduct - pdf
  • European Charter for Research - pdf
  • Glossary - pdf
  • Hippocratic Oath for Scientists, Engineers and Executives - pdf
  • NASA Peer Review - doc - pdf
  • Postdocs in Medicine - pdf
  • United States Federal Policy on Research Misconduct - pdf_v1 - pdf2_v2
  • University of California - pdf

Relevant Links