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.
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
[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