Adventures in Ethics and Science

Rules of engagement.

To address an issue that came up in discussion of posts on other blogs, I want to make clear the principles I follow when dealing with real-world scenarios here or via email:

My overarching goal is to foster reflection and dialogue among people (particularly scientists) working out how to behave ethically.

Talking about different scenarios can provide good material to sharpen our ethical intuitions and to try to formulate courses of action that are both ethical and do-able (from the point of view, say, of not wrecking one’s career).

I don’t believe that scenarios lose their usefulness if they don’t have attached to them the real names of the people or institutions involved. Given that I would like to support scientists in being able to talk about the situations they find challenging to navigate — with the aim of increasing the proportion of ethically engaged members of the tribe of science — the last thing I want to do is bring down the wrath of Google on someone who is trying his or her best.


  1. If you would like to email me to seek my input regarding a situation, I will not use your real name or the real names of those involved in the situation (including institutions) without the express permission of those parties. I’m perfectly happy to provide advice and analysis on the basis that the scenario is completely hypothetical, or that someone asked about a scenario with these characteristics, although I cannot myself vouch for the true facts of the case.
  2. If you email me regarding a situation where you’d like my advice but you would prefer that I not blog about it at all (because, in your judgment, the details would be recognizable to the parties involved even if I anonymized them), let me know that you’re looking for a private reply. I will honor all such requests for privacy, although I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to respond to all such requests (given how busy the three-dimensional world gets), nor that my advice will solve all your problems.
  3. In cases covered in the media, I won’t conceal names that are already out there, and I will base my analysis on the facts as presented in my sources. I’ll be as clear as I can about where I engage in speculation, and I will try very hard not to make claims about other people’s desires, beliefs, and intentions. If I slip into this, please call me on it!
  4. If you are a player in a case covered by the media and discussed here, you are hereby invited to weigh in with your point of view, especially if you take issue with how the situation has been presented. However, understand that your say in the matter will not automatically invalidate anyone else’s.
  5. I will not expose your identity.* I have no intention of outing anyone. I’d demonstrate my bona fides by trotting out the list of bloggers whose secret identities I have guarded, but I couldn’t do that without telling you too much about their identities.

I thought it was important to get this on the table so we can get down to the business of thinking about ethical science rather than worrying about blow-back from engaging in the conversation.

*The only exception would be if conditions arose where I was required by law to share what I knew about your identity — say, if you were making death threats against someone. Please do not make death threats against anyone, nor put me in a position where the law might compel me to reveal your identity to the authorities!


  1. #1 Zuska
    June 14, 2007

    Janet, thanks for writing this. As always, you inspire me to be a better blogger than I am.