Oaths for Scientists and Other Scholars: The Case for Developing a Common ‘Scholar’s Oath’

By Thomas Clanton.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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Oaths play a prominent but poorly understood role in guiding ethical behavior in a number of communities. They provide multiple functions: 1) a point of departure for new professions, often accompanied by public ceremony, 2) a statement of commitment to ideals and purposes, 3) a behavioral template providing guideposts for ethical decisions, and 4) a mechanism for building shared values. In the past 23 years over 15 oaths for scientists have been presented in the literature. A careful analysis shows that they are quite diverse, and although some basic elements are found in common, there is also a wide diversity of issues that are only sporadically represented. Strengths and weaknesses of existing oaths are discussed along with an overall evaluation of criticisms that have been put forward regarding the usefulness of oaths in modifying behavior. A new Scholar’s Oath is offered which takes the strongest qualities of existing oaths into a context that could potentially be applied to a large population of scientists and scholars, particularly at graduation ceremonies.

Keywords: Oath, Scientific Ethics, Scholarship, Graduate Education, Scientific Misconduct

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp.151-170. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.727MB).

Dr. Thomas Clanton

Department of Applied Physiology & Kinesiology, College of Health and Human Performance, The University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA

Dr. Clanton is currently Professor of Applied Physiology & Kinesiology at the University of Florida. He received his Ph.D. in 1980 in Physiology & Biophysics from the University of Nebraska College of Medicine. He did his postdoctoral work in the Department of Physiology at The Ohio State University where he was later hired as faculty in the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care. While at Ohio State he rose to the rank of professor, was the director of the Biophysics Graduate Program and an Associate Director of the Dorothy M. Davis Heart & Lung Research Institute. In 2007 he joined the faculty at the University of Florida where he continues to do research in skeletal muscle biology, development of new imaging technologies and working toward the prevention and treatment of heat related illnesses. His interests in promoting the responsible conduct of research arise from his experiences in graduate education and the training of scientists for research careers.