My friend, Frank Cullen, has been a vocal opponent of the American Society of Criminology's movement to adopt a code of ethics. As many of you know, Frank is "Mr. Liberal." Well, in a show of bipartisan support I want to echo Frank's warnings and concerns about the adoption of THE CODE.
Why, you may ask, would anyone be opposed to a code of ethics? Well, to understand our opposition you really have to read the proposed code. The code is a modified version taken from the American Sociological Association and can be found here: http://www.asc41.com/ASC_Code_of_Ethics.pdf
Give it a quick read. You will immediately notice the politically charged language. For example,
In their professional activities, ASC members are committed to enhancing the general well being of societies and of the individuals and groups within them. Thus, ASC members have an obligation to avoid forms of social injustice such as discrimination, oppression, or harassment in their own work. ASC members also must be careful to avoid incompetent, unethical, or unscrupulous use of criminological knowledge.
Who knew I was responsible with enhancing the general well being of societies, individuals, and groups? I didn't even know I had this magical power. How should I do this? Am I to promote social justice ideology, advocate for decarceration, or argue that all citizens, regardless of income, should receive FREE Starbucks?
The next statement, however, really gets under my skin. I will now have an "obligation to avoid social injustice" in my own work.
As many of you know, I have been instrumental in reviving the study of biosocial criminology. I've gone to great lengths to keep the two issues separate on this blog because I want the ideas to stand or fall on their own. However, one reason I wrote my "Conservative" book was because of the reaction I and my colleagues have received for our work in biosocial. We have, on many occasions, been subject to some rather nasty criticisms including but not limited to accusations of being scientific racists and sexists. Given our experiences, ask yourself how this clause in the ASC ethics charge will be used? Is there a possibility that those of us who work in biosocial will be charged with "creating or facilitating social injustice" in our work? And what about someone who conducts research on racial differences in offending, or the death penalty, or any other topic that is politically tinged......will they also be charged with facilitating social injustice? Could I accuse my radical brethren of promoting communism and Marxism and thus "facilitating social injustice?" Don't think it won't happen? Look at other disciplines........
Ask yourself what standard exists to determine whether someone was "incompetent, unethical, or unscrupulous" in their use of criminological knowledge? Are these terms defined or do they mean whatever someone wants them to mean? What, after all, would constitute "unscrupulous" use of criminological knowledge? Would denying sex differences qualify? Would denying the important role of biology in behaviour?
Here is another odd statement:
ASC members will not consult or use their research in any way that would support espionage, spying, torture and other activities that violate human rights or civil liberties in the US or elsewhere.
I'm sorry, but if I wish to collaborate with an intelligence agency and to bring my knowledge to bear so we can obliterate ISIS, prevent terrorist attacks, or destroy drug cartels.....I will. Believe it or not, some of us have military experience, we love our country, and we may even want to help lend a hand to defeat of our enemies. Don't agree? Then don't participate. I see no reason for the ASC to adopt this clause outside of the fact it supports their politics.
The rest of the document details expectations for damn near every part of one's professional career. There is language about teaching, about reviewing articles, about editing, about working as an administrator. Every part of my life....your life....will be subject to ASC oversight.
But wait.....how would allegations of unethical activities be investigated and what sanctions would be aimed at the offender found guilty of making students feel uncomfortable? We don't know. Nothing is spelled out.
I've been told that a committee will be formed to investigate allegations and that the punishments will be "reintegrative," including publishing the offenders misdeeds and name.
Let me be direct: We are talking about people's lives, their reputations, and their ability to make a living. The consequences that accompany any ethics complaint are serious--even if the complaint is unfounded. These things are used by others to besmirch the reputations of those they don't like and of whose work they don't like. They devolve quickly into a feeding frenzy of gossip and the "politics of personal destruction." In the end, even if acquitted, the individual's reputation suffers.
Personally, I would rather be judged by 20 random individuals drawn from a major city street than by 20 academics. In twenty years of work I have witnessed example after example where academics slandered, screwed over, lied about, and maligned other academics. I've seen instances where committee votes happened because members were too afraid to speak up and dissent. Bravery is not a defining characteristic of academics
And for those of you willing to trust others to punish you in a way that is "reintegrative" ask yourself how "reintegrated" you would feel with your name plastered across the ASC's website or published in "The Criminologist." Maybe as an experiment you could send me your name and let me publish it here? Didn't think so.
To vigorously enforce this code, I think the ASC should establish some morals police--people who are charged with making certain nothing "unethical" happens during ASC meetings. They could start at the bar and then maybe attend various panel sessions.
The "Code" is far reaching, encroaches on the legitimate oversight maintained by our universities, and offers no pre-specified enforcement mechanism. Adoption elevates the likelihood that spurious charges will be lodged against scholars for dubious reasons.
Why would anyone voluntarily subject themselves to this level of oversight? It drives up the risks associated with being an ASC member.......risks that are too high for me.
John Paul Wright and Matt DeLisi
Professors of Crime and Criminology