Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 25–43 | Cite as

A code of ethics for the life sciences

  • Nancy L. JonesEmail author
Original Paper


The activities of the life sciences are essential to provide solutions for the future, for both individuals and society. Society has demanded growing accountability from the scientific community as implications of life science research rise in influence and there are concerns about the credibility, integrity and motives of science. While the scientific community has responded to concerns about its integrity in part by initiating training in research integrity and the responsible conduct of research, this approach is minimal. The scientific community justifies itself by appealing to the ethos of science, claiming academic freedom, self-direction, and self-regulation, but no comprehensive codification of this foundational ethos has been forthcoming. A review of the professional norms of science and a prototype code of ethics for the life sciences provide a framework to spur discussions within the scientific community to define scientific professionalism. A formalization of implicit principles can provide guidance for recognizing divergence from the norms, place these norms within a context that would enhance education of trainees, and provide a framework for discussing externally and internally applied pressures that are influencing the practice of science. The prototype code articulates the goal for life sciences research and the responsibilities associated with the freedom of exploration, the principles for the practice of science, and the virtues of the scientists themselves. The time is ripe for scientific communities to reinvigorate professionalism and define the basis of their social contract. Codifying the basis of the social contract between science and society will sustain public trust in the scientific enterprise.


Professionalism Ethics Code Research integrity Life sciences Norms Social contract 



I thank Dr. Nigel M. de S. Cameron whose class assignment required his bioethics students to compare the ethical codes in their profession to the Hippocratic tradition which birthed this prototype. I thank Dr. David Cook for his critical review and suggestions to strengthen the philosophical arguments. I thank the following individuals for reviewing the prototype code and offering suggestions for refining its concepts and organization: Linda K. Bevington, Drs. Nigel M. de S. Cameron, David Cook, William P. Cheshire Jr., Frederic R. Fairfield, David B. Fletcher, Gregory A. Hawkins, C. Christopher Hook, Henk Jochemsen, John F. Kilner, Howard S. Kruth, David A. Prentice, Jarrett W. Richardson, Joyce A. Shelton, Richard W. St. Clair, Jeanne M. Wallace, and Mark C. Willingham. This work was partially funded by The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wake Forest University School of MedicineMedical Center BoulevardWinston-SalemUSA
  2. 2.Strategic Planning and Evaluation Branch (SPEB), Office of Strategic Planning and Financial Management (OSPFM)National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH, DHHSBethesdaUSA

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