Code of Ethics for Scientists Stated 30 Years Ago: Still Relevant Today

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The Toronto Resolution

November 9, 1991 by Science for Peace

All codes of ethics in science and scholarship should include certain key elements. We
suggest that codes adopt a common preamble. We hope that the community of
scholars and scientists can agree to a particular code in the light of these
considerations, and that they will examine their existing codes for adequacy,
effectiveness, and applicability.

I Preamble

Living in a world in which all forms of life are interdependent, we recognize that human
activity since the scientific revolution now threatens much of the life on our planet. This
threat stems in part from reckless exploitation of the earth’s resources and massive
pollution of the biosphere by humankind, exacerbated by rampant militarism. To help
solve these problems, scientists, scholars, and all those concerned with the welfare of
life on earth, need to unite in a worldwide moral community, with fundamental
consideration for beneficence and justice at a global level. Knowledge gives power.
Because power tends to corrupt and may be used for dangerous and destructive
purposes, scientists and scholars, who share the privilege of participating in the
advancement of knowledge-many under the shelter of academic freedom and in the
tradition of open publication-have a particular responsibility to society for the effects of
their work. They should make a determined effort to foresee the possible
consequences of their research and avoid studies that are likely to harm the quality of
life.

Knowledge also gives enlightenment and promises emancipation from disease, poverty
and other social evils. As an enlightened community of experts and citizens, scientists
and scholars should participate in directing their research and its applications to benign
ends, while educating their students and the public concerning this, the proper role of
scholarly and scientific knowledge.

II Elements of Ethical Codes

Considering the existence of numerous codes of ethics, most being specific to a single
discipline and often to the scientists and scholars in only one country;
Considering the difficulty of expressing in a single code the concerns of scientists and
scholars in various disciplines and in different countries;
Considering that war is obsolete, futile, and destructive beyond comprehension, and
that the present level of direct military research is unprecedented, with human,
physical, and financial resources being diverted away from the proper ends of science
and scholarship:

1. A code should articulate as far as possible the underlying assumptions and
guiding principles of a working ethic.
2. A code should indicate specific measures designed to ensure that signatories
adhere to its principles.
3. A code should be sufficiently general to encompass scholarly work and basic,
applied, and technological research, as well as the actions of practitioners
engaged in the discipline or profession.
4. A code should oppose prejudice with respect to sex, religion, national or ethnic
origin, age, sexual preference, color, or physical or mental disability.
5. A code should take into account that, while in general it is difficult to anticipate
all the consequences of research, scientists and scholars have a responsibility,
individually and collectively, to try to foresee, and to keep themselves aware of
the developing applications of their work, and to choose or redirect it
accordingly.
6. A code should recognize that actions designed narrowly to benefit humankind
may in fact threaten the survival of all species, since the ecosystem is a
seamless web.
7. A code should forbid research directed towards developing or using methods of
torture, or other devices and techniques that threaten or violate individual or
collective human rights.
8. A code should direct scholarly and scientific activity towards the peaceful
resolution of conflict and universal disarmament. Since all research has military
potential, every scientist and scholar should seek to resolve the ethical problem
that knowledge, which should enlighten and benefit humanity, may be used
instead to harm the planet and its people in war and in preparation for war.
9. A code should encourage compliance with procedures for the scientific and
(where appropriate) ethical peer review of research studies conducted under its
auspices. Where such procedures do not exist, a code should specify them.
10. A code should urge that all basic research results be made universally available.
11. A code should urge its adherents to identify and report violations of its terms,
and should ensure their protection from retribution by their fellow scientists,
professional and learned societies, and the judiciary for such exposure.
12. A code should be widely disseminated through the school and university
curricula, to educate rising generations, as well as practising scientists and
scholars, about their emerging responsibilities.
____
Notes on the genesis of the Toronto Resolution
The Toronto Resolution was formulated at a Workshop on “Ethical Considerations in
Scholarship and Science” held in Toronto, November 8 and 9, 1991, which was
cosponsored by: New College, Victoria University, University College and the Centre for
Bioethics in the University of Toronto; Norman Bethune College and MacLaughlin
College in York University; and Science for Peace.
This Workshop followed a Symposium on “Constraints on the Freedom of Scholarship
and Science” organized by the Royal Society of Canada, Ottawa, November 4-6, 1991.
The Symposium was international and interdisciplinary, being attended by about 20
scientists and scholars from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, as well, of course,
as Canadian. Four of these overseas participants in the Ottawa Symposium were able
to attend also the Toronto Workshop:

Solomon Benatar, Head of Dept of Medicine, U of Capetown, South Africa
Alex Dantchev, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
Gerhard Jacob, former president of U Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
Ladislaw Tondl, Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences
Other participants from Canada (almost all are members of Science for Peace):
Bhatia, R: mathematician
Burkhardt, Helmut: physicist
Creighton, Phyllis: historian
Ching, Julia: religious & East Asia study
Davis, Chandler: mathematician
Fawcett, Eric: physicist
Gardner, L.T.: mathematician
Gotlieb, Calvin: computer scientist
Kushner, Eva: comparative lit.
Lavery, James: bioethicist
Meslin, Eric: philosopher
Newcombe, Hanna: chemist
Nicholls, Peter: biologist
Prentice, James: physicist
Rapoport, Anatol: math/social psych
Summers, Craig: psychologist
Timmerman, Peter: philosopher
Vanderburg William: philosopher

Note on continuing work on academic ethics (2013):
In 2013, Science for Peace launched its Freedom for Research working group, building
both on the goals outlined in the Toronto Resolution and on concerns around the
muzzling of scientists and researchers by outside bodies, including the federal
government. Ongoing status reports, lectures, and bibliographic notes can be found
here.

Appendices

1. Human and financial resources dedicated by the military to scientific research
and development includes around 20% of the world’s 2.5 million research
scientists and engineers, while over 50% of the world’s research physicists and
engineering scientists are military scientists [SIPRI Yearbook (Taylor and Francis:
London) 1983]. In the U.S.A., for 1989, the military research and development
budget was 66% of the total for Defense, NIH (Health), NSF (Science), NASA
(Space), Energy and Agriculture, dropping to 50% in 1992., with the same level
proposed in the 1993 budget [Science 255 (1992) 672]
2. The Toronto Resolution was published in a paper entitled, “Working Group on
Ethical Considerations in Science and Scholarship”, by Eric Fawcett in
“Accountability in Research”, Vol. 3, 1993, 69-72. A second paper was published
entitled, “Do Scientific and Scholarly Codes of Ethics Take Social Issues into
Account?”, by Craig Summers, Colin L. Soskolne, Calvin Gotlieb, Eric Fawcett, and
Peter McClusky in “Accountability in Research”, Vol. 4, 1995, 57-68, which
examined the extent to which existing codes are consonant with the 12
principles of The Toronto Resolution by performing a content analysis on the
codes of 21 Ontario-based scientific and scholarly organizations.
3. The Toronto Resolution was published as a statement stemming from the RSC
Conference on pp. 259-266 of the Proceedings: “Constraints to Freedom of
Scholarship and Science/ Entraves à la liberté scientifique et les sciences”,
Proceedings of an international symposium /Déliberations du symposium
international de novembre 1991, Edited by/ sous la direction de Eva Kushner
and/et Michael Dence (Ottawa: Royal Society of Canada, 1996).

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