Ethical Guidelines for Science Journalists

Following the recent sexual harassment scandal at Scientific American, heated ethical debates dominated the science journalism digisphere. We  —the ten budding writers in the UC Santa Cruz Science Communication Program class of 2014, led by our instructor, Nature reporter Erika Check Hayden — decided to weigh in.

We started with the nine Principles of Journalism created by the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project. We adapted the principles to specifically address the practice of science journalism, a specialty that demands rigorous examination of complex research and bold questioning of super-smart experts. We integrated our personal tenets and worked together to refine the results.

We hope these guidelines will support the continuing conversation on ethics and healthy self-examination of the science journalism profession.

 

Ethical Guidelines for Science Journalists

 

1. Don’t sensationalize. Don’t draw far-flung conclusions, create false hope or misrepresent the novelty of the work.

 

2. Take an objective stance toward your work and sources.

 

3. Behave professionally at all times. Be reliable, responsive and flexible, represent yourself and others accurately and treat others with respect and consideration.

 

4. If you aren’t completely comfortable with something, ask or confide in a trusted colleague.

 

5. To decide how to craft a piece, and which positions to include, consider the scope of the story, the audience, the outlet and strength of the evidence supporting the opinion or view. It is acceptable to provide one side of a story, if the other side(s) do not have authority on the topic. It is also acceptable to include discredited points of view if they are put in context.

 

6. Always provide context by including the perspective of someone who is as objective as possible and preferably not directly involved with the material reported in the story. Be aware of indirect conflicts of interest such as former employment and biases such as professional relationships.

 

6. Anticipate and strive to meet the needs of your audience.

 

7. Contribute to the wellbeing of society.

 

8. Be accurate.

 

9. Take pride in your work. Let it reflect your best efforts.

 

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