Why do we need Professional Codes in the first place? Isn’t it a given that anyone with specialized training will, by definition, behave ethically on the job?
Actually, it isn’t that simple. No one starts out trying to be unethical—it’s more a question of juggling several responsibilities at once.
One way to look at Professional Codes is to see them as a systematized approach to mediating the conflicts that can occur when one person wears several hats. Another view is that formal Codes of Conduct are a reflection of the relationship between society and trained experts.
The topic of professional responsibility is about more than right or wrong conduct however. What of the goals, ideals and desires that bring one to a profession in the first place? The ideal of scientific training as a form of public service is what drives many scientists for whom research is more a way of life than a time clock to punch.
Professional ethics concerns one’s conduct of behavior and practice when carrying out professional work. Such work may include consulting, researching, teaching and writing. The institutionalization of Codes of Conduct and Codes of Practice is common with many professional bodies for their members to observe.
Any code may be considered to be a formalization of experience into a set of rules. A code is adopted by a community because its members accept the adherence to these rules, including the restrictions that apply.
Apart from codes of ethics, professional ethics also concerns matters such as professional indemnity. Furthermore, as will readily be appreciated, no two code of ethics and identical. They vary by cultural group, by profession and by discipline. The former of these three variations is one of the most interesting, as well as controversial, since it challenges the assumption that universal ethical principles exist.
In some cultures, certain behaviors are certainly frowned upon, but in other cultures the opposite may be true. Software piracy is a good case in point, in that attitudes towards software piracy vary from strong opposition to strong support – attitudes that are supportable within a particular culture. At the end of these pages is a section called Cultural Perspectives, where we hope to point you to alternative perspectives of ethical standards, attitudes and behaviors.
Codes of Ethics are concerned with a range of issues, including:
- Academic honesty
- Adherence to confidentiality agreements
- Data privacy
- Handling of human subjects
- Impartiality in data analysis and professional consulting
- Professional accountability
- Resolution of conflicts of interest
- Software piracy
The Advantage and Disadvantage of a Code of Ethics
A Code of Ethics enables us to:
- Set out the ideals and responsibilities of the profession
- Exert a de facto regulatory effect, protecting both clients and professionals
- Improve the profile of the profession
- Motivate and inspire practitioners, by attempting to define their raison deter
- Provide guidance on acceptable conduct
- Raise awareness and consciousness of issues
- Improve quality and consistency
On the other hand, we must also consider:
- Whether the so-called standards are obligatory or are merely an aspiration
- Whether such a code is desirable or feasible
- Whether ethical values are universal or culturally relativistic
- The difficulty of providing universal guidance given the heterogeneous nature of the profession