History: Established 2016.
Chair & Members: Appointed by the AAS President for a term of one year, beginning at the conclusion of the AAS summer meeting.
Charge: To promote a high level of ethical conduct by astronomers through development and sponsorship of educational activities for AAS members and other astronomers; to oversee the investigation of complaints concerning possibly unethical conduct of AAS members, attendees of AAS-sponsored meetings, and users of AAS-sponsored services; and to supervise mediation or recommend sanctions when a violation of the Code is found to have occurred.
Alison L. Coil (She/Her/Hers)
Term: Jun 2022 – Jun 2024
What is the Code of Ethics Committee?
The Code of Ethics Committee (CoEC) was appointed by the AAS President in 2016 to promote ethical conduct by astronomers. It oversees complaints concerning possible unethical conduct at AAS and AAS-sponsored meetings, by AAS members or those they interact with in AAS-supported settings, or from users of AAS services such as publications. It encourages AAS members at meetings to contact CoEC members for advice or concerns on ethics issues. The committee members serve annual terms with the Chair appointed by the AAS President. The current membership and the full Code of Ethics can be found on the CoEC web page.
What constitutes unethical behavior?
The Code of Ethics covers a wide variety of professional behaviors, including research misconduct (plagiarism, fabrication, and falsification), conduct toward others (harassment, sexual harassment, and bullying), and publication-related behavior (particularly authorship and acknowledgment). It also provides guidance about ethical behaviour in the context of peer review and conflicts of interest. AAS members can report behavior that takes place at a meeting, in the context of the publication process, or during any AAS-sponsored activity.
How do I file a complaint?
While an informal complaint can be made to any AAS officer, submission of an official form is ultimately needed to pursue a resolution of the complaint. A complaint falling under any category can be submitted through the web form, although separate processes exist for rapid response during AAS meetings and for complaints related to publication. Most complaints concerning publication in AAS-sponsored journals are handled first by the Editor in Chief, followed by the Publications Committee, and then the CoEC if needed.
What happens after a complaint is filed?
The chair of the CoEC, in consultation with the AAS President, conducts an initial screening to check the report for completeness and determine whether the actions described in the complaint are likely to constitute a violation of the AAS Code of Ethics. For reports that pass the initial screening, a formal investigation is opened that is usually conducted by a third party professional hired by the AAS, but may sometimes involve members of the CoEC. At this point, a response is solicited from the person or people whom the complaint was filed against. The CoEC and/or the internal investigator conduct an investigation, interview witnesses, and make recommendations for potential sanctions.
Can I file a complaint anonymously?
No, anonymous complaints are not accepted because anyone accused has a right to know who accuses them. Complaints are strictly confidential, but they cannot be anonymous.
How is confidentiality maintained?
All information supplied by the Complainant is kept confidential to the CoEC and the outside investigator. Any CoEC members with conflicts of interest are recused. The Respondent will also be notified of the information in the complaint so that they can provide a written response, and witnesses may be contacted with the consent of the Complainant.
What happens if a violation of the Code is found?
Either the external investigator or the CoEC subcommittee conducting the investigation will make recommendations for counseling, mediation, and/or sanctions, which might include a private letter of reprimand, a letter to the home institution, a public letter of censure, denial of privileges (AAS meeting attendance, publishing in AAS journals, AAS prizes, etc.), or denial of membership. The recommended sanctions are then scrutinized by the CoEC and AAS President. Ultimately, the CoEC recommendations are advisory to the AAS President, and both the Complainant and Respondent are notified of the findings in writing by the AAS President.