Additional Information


A History of the ASA Code of Ethics    

a. The Presence of a Code in ASA
The ASA adopted its first Code of Ethics in 1970. During the 1960's, a series of research activities across the social and behavioral sciences considered unethical prompted the ASA to develop a Code. While there had been ongoing debate about the need for a Code that dated back to at least the early 1950's (see references throughout this volume), in 1968 ASA Council assigned the responsibility for producing a Code to the Committee on Professional Ethics. It was approved three years later.

The first major revision of the Code (at least as can be determined by a review of the ASA Council minutes) was done in 1984. At that time, Council assigned COPE the responsibility of reviewing the Code every five years. In 1989, the Code was updated, mostly to include more articles related to sociological practice. In 1991, a few amendments primarily related to teaching responsibilities were added to the Code.  

b. The Revision Process for the 1997 Code
The new Code resulted from two years of intensive work by the Committee on Professional Ethics. When the Committee on Professional Ethics started the review process in 1994, we determined that the Code needed more than a few revisions. The existing Code was difficult to read, did not pertain to many of the current positions that sociologists occupy, and was not easily enforced. Other factors that led to the more thorough review were changes in the requirements of federal agencies and other granting agencies regarding research ethics and societal expectations about professional behaviors. Many professional organizations had recently revised or were currently revising their codes of ethics.

This heightened concern with ethics was the context within which COPE began its examination of the ASA's current Code. At the time, COPE had no major or continuing ethical cases to consider. This paucity of issues gave the Committee time to consider in depth the impact of changes on sociologists in their daily activities and responsibilities. The Committee wanted the revision to reflect the diversity of roles and work activities of today's sociologists. We have been very deliberative in our review and our recommendations for a new Code. The ASA Council supported our desire to undertake a comprehensive review of the Code. The intersection of these forces led to the two-year process that resulted in the proposed new Code.

The Committee has met regularly for two years (1994 to 1996). The Code revision began in December 1994, when the Committee met for three days of intensive work on the outline and specifications for the new Code. The Committee met four additional times for three-day sessions, plus a four-hour meeting at the ASA annual meeting. During May, we met again for three days. Through-out this period, subcommittees met occasionally, and the co-chairs traveled to the ASA office for two-day meetings. Mike Trister, the ASA attorney, joined us for at least a half-day in all meetings. In addition, email, faxes, and FedEx's have moved drafts among members.  

We undertook substantial research during the process. Prior to the first meeting, Felice Levine, the Executive Officer and Liaison to the Committee, sent the Committee materials about four inches thick related to ethics code development. We looked at the documented history of the ASA Code, reviewed numerous articles on various ethical issues (e.g., the Scarce and Picou cases), and examined the ethics codes of related professional organizations (e.g., the APA, AHA, APSA, and AAA).  

During the first meeting in December 1994, we sketched an outline for the proposed Code based on our discussions about the issues that might be included. Three subcommittees then sketched the issues in more detail and produced a series of reports in spring 1995.  

In May 1995, we met with the AAA committee that is developing a new code for anthropologists. During the meeting, Bernard ..., (Felice, I can't find his name anywhere in my records.) an ethicist from Dartmouth, discussed the philosophical bases of ethics codes. At other times during spring and summer 1995, we met with representatives of the APA and the AAAS. Mark Frankel from the AAAS acted as a consultant and regularly reviewed code drafts.

In December 1995, we produced most of what is contained in the Code. In May 1996, the co-chairs met at the ASA office with Executive Office staff, Mark Frankel, and Mike Trister to work on some unresolved issues. At the end of May, the Committee met to finalize the version that is now available. During this period, COPE also conducted a number of outreach activities. We held Workshops at the ASA annual meetings (in 1995 and 1996) at which members were invited to review progress on the Code and provide input into its development. In the past two years, there were a number of articles in Footnotes related to the Code development, including an Open Door article that focused specifically on it and other Open Door articles on related issues, such as the Grassley Amendment. The Code was on the agenda for the ASA Business Meeting and for Council in 1996. During the 1996 annual meetings, COPE members attended meetings of aligned organizations, sections, and committees to discuss the Code. To further encourage discussion of the proposed Code, a listserv was set up at Indiana University. In the fall of 1996, the Committee continued to gather comments and suggestions from ASA members. In mid-October, COPE met to finalize the revision presented to the ASA Council for its approval during its January 1997 meeting. With Council approval, the proposed Code was distributed with the 1997 election ballot for approval by all members of the ASA.

While we were developing the Code, two other activities occupied substantial meeting time - a) discussions of a casebook that would accompany the new Code, and b) issues related to enforcement of the Code. The entire process, we believe, has allowed for a long and thoughtful analysis that produced a draft Code that meets the needs of sociologists for ethical guidelines.

The Committee accomplished a substantial amount of work for a volunteer activity. Meetings were faithfully attended. Only two members missed one meeting each. To maintain continuity, Council froze the Committee's membership in 1994. Some members have been on the Committee for as long as six years. The meetings were very long and intense. Ten-hour meeting days were the norm. There were some spirited and intense discussions. While we didn't always agree on approaches or priorities, goodwill and a willingness to consider all points of view prevailed. All members agree that working on the Code was a rewarding intellectual activity and, reflecting on our work, we believe we considered most issues, discarded those we didn't think should be included, and focused on those we included.  

Committee Membership

The Committee membership included a range of sociologists who occupy a variety of roles and positions. Besides sociologists actively engaged in teaching and research in academic departments, there were sociologists employed in academic settings but not in sociology departments. One member is president of a research company and vice-provost of her university. Two members were the past and incoming presidents of the Society for Applied Sociology. There was also a former ASA journal editor, two department chairs, and a sociologist directing a major research project that studies a vulnerable population. Yet another member is employed by a social science research company. There were quantitative and qualitative researchers. While not officially members of COPE, two ASA Executive Office staff participated in the meetings and took responsibility for organizing the meetings. Also, two ASA Council liaisons attended the meetings and participated fully. We believe that the diversity of the Committee allowed its members to introduce the range of topics that might be included in an ethics code.
[List of names and Affiliations of COPE members, Council Liaisons, participating ASA staff and Legal Representatives]

Continuing Dialogue:  The ASA has set up a homepage which includes updates on issues related to ethics as they occur:


Schuler, E.A. 1969. "Toward a code of ethics for sociologists: a historical note." Amer. Sociologist 3 (Nov.):316-18.

1964. "Against the Code of Ethics (for the ASA)" Amer. Sociological Rev. 29:409-10.