This blog is committed to facilitating a conversation about ethics among the members of the Academy of Management. There are two reasons for this. First, the topic demands it. It is not enough for a professional organization to have a code of ethics, nor even for that code to be rigorously enforced. In order to have a positive effect, ethics must be the subject of an ongoing conversation among the practitioners that work in the relevant communities. There’s no straightforwardly “right and wrong” way of doing a particular thing. We become “better people” by talking about what we do and how we do it, and the consequences of our actions on other people.

Second, it is my firm belief that blogs are best engaged with as conversations, even if only as conversations “overheard”. When I write a blog post, I’m not really pretending to be an “author”. It is certainly not my intention to “lecture”. Your role, as a reader, is not simply to try to understand and then believe what I tell you. Rather, implicitly at the end of the post, there is the question, What do you think? Often (since this is a blog about ethical behavior), What would you do?

So I’ve been thrilled to talk to an anonymous reader in the comments to my post from a couple of weeks ago. Focusing mainly on publication ethics, Anon123 began by saying that he* was “deeply skeptical of any attempts to teach ethics other than by our everyday conduct and, perhaps more importantly, the conduct of the leaders of our field.” I share his worry but am, perhaps, a bit more optimistic. I think that, if the conversation about ethics is being had throughout the many forums of the Academy, our leaders will have both better conditions and better opportunities to set a good example. Perhaps they’ll even find their efforts rewarded in journal and business school rankings. But, for the past 20 years or so, it is true that we have taken ethics somewhat for granted, assuming that people are generally well-intentioned and that errors are generally honest. This has perhaps made us less vigilant than we should be–even, I often emphasize, as regards catching those honest mistakes.

The result, as Anon123 points out, can sometimes be a bit dispiriting:

I have been in the field a fairly long time but I find myself unwilling to believe much of what is published in our journals anymore. The work on the Chrysalis Effect, researcher degrees of freedom, p-hacking and HARKing makes it clear that a substantial proportion of our collective scholarship cannot be trusted, but it is impossible to know precisely what to trust and what not to trust.

These are all issues that concern me too. I’d highly recommend Andrew Gelman’s blog for anyone who is interested in a technical discussion of the many ways in which statistics can be misused, out of either malice or ignorance. (See this post, for example, about how what is sometimes called p-hacking often actually results from perfectly sincere statistical naivety.) Of course, it hardly matters whether people are cheating or just careless (and we do, of course, have an ethical obligation to be careful) if the result is that the published literature becomes an unreliable source of knowledge. And that’s exactly what Anon123 suggests, in very strong terms:

If you told me that 5% or 10% of my favorite cereal brand is infested with worms but that I can only tell that after I have purchased the cereal (or have tried to eat it) I can guarantee you that I would no longer purchase that cereal. Similarly, I feel disinclined to continue to “purchase” many of the paper published in journals like AMJ or JOM – or recommend them to others.

That is, he would not simply buy the cereal with greater caution–testing it for worms, for example, before eating it. Rather, he’d simply stop buying it. This reminds me that I once discovered a shelf-full of hot wings in the local supermarket that were a month over their best-before date. The store clerk I pointed it out to didn’t really seem interested. He didn’t hurry over to check out the problem (even to make sure that my absurd claim was indeed mistaken), but sort of sauntered on with his day. I guess he’d “get to them” when he was ready. Needless to say, I’ve had a hard time buying anything there ever since. Certainly, I confined my purchases on that day to a few imperishables.

Notice that it wasn’t just the extremely out-of-date hot wings that turned me off the store. It was the conversation about it (or lack thereof) that ensued that undermined my trust. Likewise, knowing that 60% of the results of psychological studies can’t be replicated does not mean (though I am sometimes tempted to let it) that we shouldn’t ever take psychology seriously. It is how the psychological sciences deal with this new knowledge that is important. If we get the sense that they are sweeping it under the rug, or simply not really bothered by it, then it will indeed affect how seriously we can take them.

The recent correction of an ASQ paper about CEO narcissism, has given me some hope that the system is improving. Here’s how Jerry Davis described the exemplary process to Retraction Watch:

A concerned reader notified me of the issues with a published table in this paper a few weeks ago, and also contacted the authors.  The authors came forward with a correction, which we promptly published.  We did not consider this sufficient for a full  retraction.  The concerned reader reports that he/she is satisfied with the corrigendum.  The journal is always looking for ways to enhance the quality of the review process, and if errors end up in print, we aim to correct them promptly.

To me, the key here is that the “concerned reader … is satisfied with the corrigendum”. It is all about feeling that when you share your concerns they are taken seriously. That’s the sort of leadership that is likely to rebuild the trust we need in the management literature. Hopefully, over time, even Anon123 can be brought around.



* I had to think about this pronoun for awhile, and I’m sorry if I got it wrong. It is of course possible to get it wrong even when a name (like Jesse or Shawn) is given. In this case, I’ve gone with my intuition based on the style of the comment, its “voice, if you will. If my “ear” has misled me I hope it will cause as little offence as the time I assumed an Italian commenter named Gabriele was a woman.

Ethics and Ethnography

I’ve been having some interesting conversations over at OrgTheory with Victor Tan Chen about the ethical dilemmas that ethnographers face in their research practices. This is closely related to the issues that Benson picked up on in his recent post, noting that our Code of Ehics requires us “to preserve and protect the privacy, dignity, well-being, and freedom of [our] research participants.” In this post, I’d like to bring out to important dimensions which we might distinguish into a concern with our “scientific” and our “professional” integrity.

As scientists, we are concerned with the truth. So, when we observe something in our fieldwork we feel a duty to report those events as they actually happened. But sometimes we have to modify our description of those events, leave them out, or even outright fictionalize them, in order to protect our research subjects from the consequences of making their actions public. (This is not always, but sometimes, because they are themselves involved in unethical or illegal activities, which raises an additional dilemma.) Once we do this, of course, we have made a compromise, we have sacrificed a little bit of truth for the sake of a, presumably, greater bit of justice.

But at the next level of analysis, we now have to ask ourselves whether we are inadvertently circulating falsehoods. Will our readers begin to tell certain anecdotes to their peers and students as though they are “true stories” even though the actual events are very different? What for us might merely be slight embellishment for the sake of concealing an identity or a location, might for our readers become an illuminating “fact” about how the world works.

Consider an analogy to medical science. Obviously, you don’t want to end up claiming that a pill has effects it doesn’t actually have or doesn’t have effects it actually does. That’s why you don’t leave out information about the population that you have tested it on. If you’ve only tested the pill on healthy men in their thirties, you don’t hide this fact in your write up because it’s important to know that its effects on seventy year-old women with high blood pressure are largely unknown. Similarly, if you’ve done your ethnographic research in rural China, you don’t “anonymize it” by saying it was done in India or the US. The context matters, and it is often very difficult to know how to characterize the context while also making it non-specific enough not to reveal who your actual research subjects were.

The broader professional issue has to do with preserving our collective to access to the communities that we want to remain knowledgeable about. If Wall Street bankers always find themselves written about by ethnographers as greedy sociopaths (and assuming they don’t self-identify as greedy sociopaths) or citizens of low-income neighborhoods always find themselves described as criminals, they will slowly develop a (not entirely unfounded) distrust of ethnographers and will, therefore, be less likely to open up their practices to our fieldwork. As Victor points out, these are issues that journalists also face, and which they have a variety of means to deal with. Many of these means can be sorted under “ethics”.

Let me emphasize that these are issues we must face collectively, i.e., as a profession. Losing access to empirical data is not just a risk you face personally in your own work. If your peers don’t enforce disciplinary standards then we’ll all lose credibility when engaging with practitioners. For this reason I also agree with the anonymous commenter on my last post: we must lead by example and, unfortunately, every now and then we must make examples of each other.


It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, and I had better get my act together again. I thought a good way to get going would be say a few words about the practical work of the Ethics Education Committee in the year to come, very much in the hopes that some of our readers here at the Ethicist will see an angle in it that they might find engaging. In addition to attracting Academy members who might like to work directly with the committee, I’m also looking for ways that the committee might make a contribution to the work of the various divisions.

Let me begin with the blog, which we’re hoping will become a major site of activity in the months to come. This is a place where we can discuss the sorts of ethical issues that are faced by Academy members, both as scholars and as professionals. It is also a place where we can can develop the form and content of the materials we contribute to ethics education throughout the Academy. Currently, I’m very focused on the contribution we can make to the doctoral and early-career researcher consortia over the coming years. I will have some news about that soon.

My hope is that the blog can be a place where the Academy’s members can have some influence on what we mean by ethics and how we teach it.  This is the sort of question I tried to raise in my post about the two major approaches to ethics education we tried out in Vancouver.

In Vancouver I was also given the “keys” to the Ethicist’s Twitter account, which I will be trying to promote in the weeks to come. Do please help me help its future followers find it by retweeting the stuff you think is interesting. This, of course, will also give us a better sense of what you do, in fact, find interesting to talk about.

As a general framework for thinking about what the Committee can contribute, I want to propose we think about the ideal presentation, centered on the contents of the Academy of Management’s Code of Ethics, that might be delivered in 5, 15, 30, 45 and 60 minutes. What would be the most important topics and principles to cover? What would be the best way to engage an audience of the Academy’s members (usually doctoral students or early-career researchers)? What’s a sure-fire way to lose them?

To my mind, ethics is a practice by which we form our moral characters. It is both individual and social. It’s the means by which we help each other become better people, and remain good in the face of life’s many pressures. It is a very practical business.

How should we treat each other as scientific subjects?

At the Academy meeting in Vancouver this year, it was brought to my attention that there were PDW’s collecting research data on participating members – without a clear ethics approval or apparent ethics protocol. That is, there was no informed consent, yet data appeared to be collected.

This was not the first time I observed our collective avoidance of Ethics Review Board (ERB) or Institutional Review Board (IRB) protocol when surveying ourselves.  As previous chair of AOM’s ethics education committee, I was tasked with repeating the ethics survey that we had administered to our entire membership some years before. The first thing that I did was to ask for the ethics review board protocol, in order to be sure I was following accepted procedures.

After a few weeks of embarrassing emails and back and forth confirmations, it was eventually clear that we had never submitted our own ethics survey to any kind of ethics review board. I was told that when the AOM board met to discuss this issue there was some hesitancy to constrain the activities of divisions surveying their membership – and no clear path to indicate who would serve as an accepted IRB for Academy research. My own decision was to obtain ERB approval and protocols from my own university, and proceed with the survey in that manner.

Many of us feel IRB’s are a burden. However, it is worth noting how many of these regulations came about.  For one, experiments on concentration camp victims horrified the scientific community, leading to the Nuremberg code. Much later, the experiments by Stanley Milgrom attempted to understand how people willingly agreed to do terrible acts to each other. His work, as well as famous Zimbardo prison simulation study, have led to tighter constraints on how to approach research, what is acceptable, and when ‘the line is crossed”.

One of my very first sociology professors was Laud Humphreys. He was famous for studying homosexual activities in public toilets, where he acted as the “watchqueen”. Later, he surreptitiously followed participants to their cars, identified their license plates, and showed up at their home disguised as a surveying health worker. This was done in 1960’s before IRB’s were mandated by the US federal government.

In fact, we have Academy members who come from countries where there is little of any oversight regarding research, particularly social science research.  However, I would argue we have a collective responsibility to observe the highest standards of research protocol, despite the burden, for our entire membership.

Our own code of ethics addresses this issue, although not as stridently as one might expect, as there is no specific mention of IRB procedures:

Participants. It is the duty of AOM members to preserve and protect the privacy, dignity, well-being,and freedom of research participants.

1.7. Informed Consent: When AOM members conduct research, including on behalf of the AOM or its divisions, they obtain the informed consent of the individual or individuals, using language that is reasonably understandable to that person or persons. Written or oral consent, permission, and assent are documented appropriately.

2.4. Anticipation of Possible Uses of Information:

2.4.1. When maintaining or accessing personal identifiers in databases or systems of records, such as division rosters, annual meeting submissions, or manuscript review systems, AOM members delete such identifiers before the information is made publicly available or employ other techniques that mask or control disclosure of individual identities.

2.4.2. When deletion of personal identifiers is not feasible, AOM members take reasonable steps to determine that the appropriate consent of personally identifiable individuals has been obtained before they transfer such data to others or review such data collected by others

Most North American universities are under strict IRB procedures.  They are virtually unanimous in stating that all surveys involving human subjects should be subjected to ERB committees. Here are a few statements from the Canadian “Tri Counsel” that governs Canadian universities:

If the primary purpose, design, content and/or function of such surveys is to conduct “research”2 involving humans, then it would generally require REB review, under TCPS Article 1.1(a):

Very similar statements appear at the Cornell Univ. website:

At the end of the day, each of us, no matter where we do our scholarly work, have a responsibility to protect the respondent as much as possible, in every conceivable way. The distance between our own behavior, and the 16 German doctors convicted of experimenting on human beings without their consent, is an essential red line that we cannot allow to become a ‘slippery slope’. Thus, even when we decide to research ourselves, as professors, and colleagues, I believe we should commit to the highest standards of scientific ethical inquiry. Even if IRB’s are a ‘burden’.




Who Needs Ethics Education?

At this year’s Academy meeting we had some interesting conversations in the Ethics Education Committee about our approach to teaching the Code. The traditional approach is to assume that our audiences need resources to help them to reflect on what is right and wrong in their professional practices. This can involve everything from from helping them to clarify their underlying values  to helping them decide whether to credit a particular author in a particular circumstance. The presumption is that people want to learn how to become, for lack of a better word, better people. They want to learn what is right. We’re certainly willing and able to provide such support, even if we often approach it by telling them what is wrong, what not to do.

But I had the opportunity to talk a few consortium organizers in the divisions this year and I got the sense that not all our audiences feel that this is the right approach. An alternative, and one for which I’ve been arguing lately every chance I get, is to educate people about what to do when they run into ethically questionable behavior in others. Sometimes it is just that: merely “questionable”, and when the questions are answered everything turns out to be fine. But sometimes there is a need to take action, either to protect yourself from harm or to mitigate the harm that may have been done to someone else. Even when you’re blameless, you need ethics to help guide you towards a constructive resolution of the conflict.

That’s why we’ve been working to incorporate a sense of the various processes and procedures within the Academy of Management in our educational initiatives. In a sense, we want to shift the focus from the “bad guys”, who need to be told what not to do, to the “good guys”, who need to be told what can be done when bad things happen. And it’s even more hopeful than that, in fact. Sometimes, a robustly ethical perspective can give us the hope we need to discover that an apparent wrong was actually not as harmful as we thought, perhaps not a wrong at all.

Let me offer a simple example. One topic that came up a few times was the increasing problem of “coercive citation”. This is the practice of requiring someone to cite your favorite paper (perhaps even one you’ve written yourself) before you’ll publish them. Such power can be exerted by both editors and reviewers, though most of the focus these days is on the editors who do it to boost their impact factors. Now, on the traditional approach we’d try to encourage editors not to be coercive in this way. But do we really think that the Ethics Education Committee will reach the hearts and minds of senior scholars who have become editors of important journals? I’m not very hopeful about this at all.

Instead, therefore, we can try to instruct authors in how to interpret and respond to what appears to be an attempt to coerce a citation. The first rule would be to assume good faith. At first pass, a suggested citation is just that: a suggestion to read a particular paper because including it may strengthen your own. The problem arises after you read it and deem it to be either deeply flawed or simply irrelevant to your aims. At this point, a cynical author might decide to cite the paper anyway, on the understanding that it is required for publication. But a less cynical one–one that has been ethically educated, let’s say–might simply thank the editor or the reviewer for the suggestion and explain that the paper is not, in the author’s judgment, appropriate to include. If the suggestion was indeed intended to be coercive, it just ran into an obstacle (and then we can talk about what might happen next), but if it wasn’t, it would have been tragic to let it harm the quality of the original argument and corrupt the author’s integrity.

I think this sort of instruction in what our options are when something appears to be amiss but might not actually be is too often left out of ethics education. Ethics education is not really for bad people who need to become better. It’s for good people who need strategies and support for maintaining their goodness in the face all sorts of mixed signals and strange incentives. Ethics education is about telling people that there is a community in place to support their attempts to be good, not a surveillance state to thwart their attempts to cheat. In this way, ethics education might even be edifying.

Should an anonymous peer review always remain anonymous?

From all accounts, the Academy meeting in Vancouver was a huge success. We had record breaking attendance, beautiful weather, and a wealth of interesting and provocative sessions. I also experienced a few interesting ethically related discussions, and I thought it would be worthwhile sharing a few of them in these next few blogs. The first ‘discussion’ had to do with peer review disclosure.

I was having a conversation with a very well known scholar when another colleague approached us, recognized this individual, and proceeded to tell him how much he liked the paper that was published in journal XYZ, as that he was one of the blind reviewers for that article.  Suddenly, realizing that he was standing next to the ethicist blogger, he looked at me and stated “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have disclosed that, what do you think Benson”?   As the well known scholar ‘rolled his eyes’, I proceeded to explain that, in my opinion, a blind review is designed to be anonymous not only before publication, but afterwards as well. The reviewer wanted to know why that was the case – and I shared my own perspective: Identifying oneself as a reviewer on a published work could only create some sort of obligation – a social exchange that might be bartered later into some sort of expected favor. After all, if we didn’t expect continued anonymity, why wouldn’t journals simply state, upon publication, the names of the blind reviewers? Surely they would deserve some of the credit for the publication? My view is that the reviewing process should be maintained as an anonymous volunteer activity, disassociated with any sense of possible obligation or appreciation, beyond what the editor and author (anonymously) provides.  Forever….

Later on, I discussed this small incident with another senior scholar and an editor. Surprisingly, the editor couldn’t see a reason why not to disclose the review after publication. His point was that once the publication was accepted, disclosure would only show support and respect for the work undertaken.  The other senior scholar in the conversation pointed out the ‘slippery slope’ problem – that opening up this door would suggest other possible avenues of potential influence. For example, if you were the one reviewer that wrote the most problematic reviews, would you want this disclosed? If you had two favorable reviewers, and one that was a real ‘pain’, would it be fair to help reveal who that third person might be through a process of elimination? Further, if you let it be know that you are the ‘good cop’ in the reviewing process, would you develop a reputation that attracted certain benefits or advantages, that more silent reviewers failed to appreciate?

In searching for an official answer to these questions, I first began with our own code of ethics. While it addresses the issue of confidentiality, there is insufficient detail to precisely indicate what our normative behavior should be, although there is an emphasis on maintaining confidentiality. Specifically:

Maintaining Confidentiality:

2.1.1. AOM members take reasonable precautions to protect the confidentiality rights of others.

2.1.2. Confidential information is treated as such even if it lacks legal protection or privilege.

2.1.3. AOM members maintain the integrity of confidential deliberations, activities, or roles, including, where applicable, those of committees, review panels, or advisory groups (e.g., the AOM Placement Committee, the AOM Ethics Adjudication Committee, etc.). In reviewing material submitted for publication or other evaluation purposes, AOM members respect the confidentiality of the process and the proprietary rights of those who submitted the material.

Given our own code is not particularly explicit, I took a look at the peer review policy of Nature, one of the preeminent scientific journals of our time:

As a condition of agreeing to assess the manuscript, all reviewers undertake to keep submitted manuscripts, associated data, and their own peer review comments confidential, and not to redistribute them without permission from the journal. If a reviewer seeks advice from colleagues while assessing a manuscript, he or she ensures that confidentiality is maintained and that the names of any such colleagues are provided to the journal with the final report. By this and by other means, Nature journals endeavour to keep the content of all submissions confidential until the publication date other than in the specific case of its embargoed press release available to registered journalists. Peer review comments should remain confidential after publication unless the referee obtains permission from the corresponding author of the reviewed manuscript and the Nature journal the comments were delivered to. Although we go to every effort to ensure reviewers honour their promise to ensure confidentiality, we are not responsible for the conduct of reviewers.

Following that, I also took a look at the policy of Science, another outstanding scientific journal:

Confidentiality: We expect reviewers to protect the confidentiality of the manuscript and ensure that it is not disseminated or exploited. Please destroy your copy of the manuscript when you are done. Only discuss the paper with a colleague with permission from the editor. We do not disclose the identity of our reviewers

Thus, while some journals seem to indicate continued confidentiality is expected, it appears that there may be differences of opinion, interpretation, and possibly even confusion regarding what is expected of a blind reviewer, and what would be considered professional or unprofessional conduct.

It would be great if a some of our members weighed in regarding their own opinion on this matter: Do you think it appropriate for a reviewer to disclose that they were part of the double blind process, after publication?



When scholars are sued for their research

I was told an interesting story recently, and while I am not fully certain about the details or validity, I thought it would make an interesting subject to discuss. The story went like this:

Two faculty members were involved, separately, in doing research on a similar subject – in this case, something related to genetic research. One faculty member believes the other has followed a completely erroneous methodology, essentially invalidating that persons’ work. They sit and discuss this over lunch, and the person accused of making the error get’s furious and storms out. A week or two later, the ‘accuser’ gets a letter from the other faculty member’s lawyer. It is a cease and desist letter, indicating that any further mention of his opinion regarding the asserted methodological errors or limitations, in any public capacity whatsoever, will be met with an anti-defamation lawsuit.

Lawsuits by the private sector against academics are not particularly new. Firms have a vested interest in protecting their businesses and their reputations against slander. So, when one professor asserted that a private firm was a consistent violator of labor laws, they engaged a lawyer in an attempt to set the record straight.

In this case, the lawyer for the firm stated: ”It’s not our desire to destroy anyone or harm anyone. If we could arrive at some accommodation to set this situation right and to set the record straight, that’s all we’re looking for. We just want the truth.”

Of course, what is ‘true’ can be quite subjective, as any reviewer or scholar will freely admit. While many of us maintain we are in the business of seeking truth, or something closely akin, one person’s truth is another person’s nonsense. Fortunately, academics, as it turns out, are typically insulated from such lawsuits in most countries due to protections of academic freedom and free speech. Imagine if every paper we wrote was subject to a lawsuit by anyone, colleague or not, who didn’t agree with our methodology, conclusions or theoretical framework.

So, what does AOM’s code of ethics have to say on this subject? Well, broadly, we begin with integrity:

AOM members seek to promote accuracy, honesty, and truthfulness in the science, teaching, and practice of their profession. In these activities AOM members do not steal, cheat, or engage in fraud, subterfuge, or intentional misrepresentation of fact. They strive to keep their promises, to avoid unwise or unclear commitments, and to reach for excellence in teaching, scholarship, and practice. They treat students, colleagues, research subjects, and clients with respect, dignity, fairness, and caring. They accurately and fairly represent their areas and degrees of expertise.

Further, we have clear suggestion in reference to our professional environment:

  1. To the Academy of Management and the larger professional environment. Support of the AOMs mission and objectives, service to the AOM and its institutions, and recognition of the dignity and personal worth of colleagues are required. We accomplish these aims through:
  •  Sharing and dissemination of information. To encourage meaningful exchange, AOM members should foster a climate of free interchange and constructive criticism within the AOM and should be willing to share research findings and insights fully with other members.
  •  Membership in the professional community. It is the duty of AOM members to interact with others in our community in a manner that recognizes individual dignity and merit.

4.1.3.  AOM members take particular care to present relevant qualifications to their research or to the findings and interpretations of their research. AOM members also disclose underlying assumptions, theories, methods, measures, and research designs that are relevant to the findings and interpretations of their work.

  • 1.4.  In keeping with the spirit of full disclosure of methods and analyses, once findings are publicly disseminated, AOM members permit their open assessment and verification by other responsible researchers, with appropriate safeguards, where applicable, to protect the anonymity of research participants.
  • 1.5.  If AOM members discover significant errors in their publication or presentation of data, they take appropriate steps to correct such errors in the form of a correction, retraction, published erratum, or other public statement.

Thus, in the case of our two faculty members , it appears as though resorting to legal means in order to protect one’s reputation – accurately or not – is a deviation from our professional norms. Rather than hiring a lawyer, the offended scholar would be better advised to take the argument to the journals. Further, if true, it demonstrates a scholarly insecurity and fear of a critique of that person’s reputation that almost defies my imagination. If our scholarly opinions become shuttered due to the capability of a disagreeing scholar to employ an expensive lawyer, the entire foundation of our scholarship becomes undermined.

John Doe endorsed me as an expert in watching paint dry!

It seems as though few days pass between individuals ‘recommending me’ on researchgate or Linkedin, for all types of skills. It started innocuously enough – when I received a recommendation on my main field of study from a colleague who knew me fairly well. What began as a friendly ‘tip of the hat’ has blossomed into a full scale encyclopedia of ratings (all, naturally positive – as nobody seems to dis-recommend me for anything) of just about everything related to what I might or might not do as a scholar, faculty member, or even dog walker. There are now dozens of references, some by people I barely know, or might not even know, or ever meet. So, what’s going on?

Presumably, there is a tit-for-tat process going on, whereby I am expected, in turn, to recommend the colleague I don’t even know or have hardly spoken with as a ‘expert’ in the field of xyz. In fact, these two rating organizations ‘helpfully’ remind me every so often to do so, by providing lists of people I may or may not know, along with questions “do you recommend Rumplestilskin as an expert public speaker”? (never mind that I don’t know who they are, and have never heard them speak publicly or privately). The assumption is that given that they were so nice as to recommend my paint drying observational skills, I will return the favor by also highly recommending them (I often do). It reminds me a bit of when I collected baseball cards as a kid – more was always better. Unfortunately, mom gave away the box and I no longer have my Mickey Mantle rookie card – although I’m not sure who will take my expired Linked-in recommendations – maybe I’ll just have to assume a new identity.

So, what’s going on, anyway, with all these internet evaluation schemes? In an op-ed in the NY times last year, David Brooks pointed out that while the private sector demands for peer-to-peer rating systems have obvious advantages, there is as yet no role for government in terms of regulating peer based reference systems. They exist in a ‘grey zone’ between bake sales and personal security. Yet, as these systems increasingly take on currency in our professional lives (e.g. rate my professor), it seems like our Academy might want to play a more active role. Certainly, our professional associations should be drawing certain red lines regarding appropriate behavior of our membership, including consulting roles that seem to be reflected in these reference systems. The recent shocking revelation that the American Psychology Association provided supporting recommendations to the US government regarding consulting about torture suggests that professional organizations will increasingly play a public role in providing both public and private ethical guidance and boundaries related to public trust in the integrity of our professional activities.

I was able to find two related passages in our code of ethics that obliquely address the importance of providing accurate assessments:

Credentials and capabilities. It is the duty of consultants to represent their credentials and capabilities in an accurate and objective manner.

And later: AOM members do not make public statements, of any kind, that are false, deceptive, misleading, or fraudulent, either because of what they state, convey, or suggest or because of what they omit, including, but not limited to, false or deceptive statements concerning other AOM members.

So, the next time you are asked to evaluate a colleague – someone you might barely know – and have the urge to ‘return the favor’, give some consideration to who you are recommending, and what you are recommending them for. If we are ever able to enhance peer-to-peer reference systems such that they actually have an impact, it will be critical to carefully follow the recommendations outlined in our own code of ethics.

Working and trusting your co-authors

In the past few weeks, I’ve received a couple of examples of co-author oddities that I will shortly discuss. Because many of us work simultaneously in many virtual teams, we may have a less than comfortable knowledge of the ethical red lines of our co-authors. I have seen the result of working with co-authors we are unfamiliar with to seriously compromise the scholarly integrity of seemingly innocent contributors. In a few cases, reputations and careers have been seriously undermined.

I have always found it strange that we scholars tend to assume high integrity on all members of our profession, as though ethical norms are universally agreed upon and followed. In fact, cultures vary greatly, as do individual interpretations of what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’. We do ourselves a service when we carefully investigate the norms and practices of potential collaborators. Sometimes, asking a former collaborator can provide insight. Otherwise, frank discussions regarding what they deem acceptable, or not, can be quite illuminating. What is most important is that the conversation take place before collaborative work is undertaken.

In one case discussed with me, a scholar was informed that a paper was published, with their name on it, only upon publication of the manuscript. The journal was not a very prestigious one, but the scholar had no idea the paper was being submitted, and it was published with another co-author that he was unfamiliar with.

In the second case, a scholar was working on a manuscript over a number of years, that had already gone through a few rejections, and elaborate revisions. Only following a specific inquiry was the co-author informed that her colleague had already published a ‘stripped down’ version of the paper in a lower tier journal, as sole author. This scholar was concerned that this prior publication invalidated the subsequent, more developed one (which had never cited the earlier work) and was unsure what the correct ethical protocol was.

Both of these cases illustrate problems surrounding intellectual property, integrity of authorship, and the importance of trusting, working relationships. Most journals accept submissions whereby a single author signs for the copy write on behalf of the remaining authors. However, consultation with the entire authorship team is not only expected, it is also specified in AOM’s code of ethics, as follows: In cases of multiple authorship, AOM members confer with all other authors prior to submitting work for publication, and they establish mutually acceptable agreements regarding submission.

The second case, where related work is left un-cited, is perhaps somewhat more common. Many journals are now explicitly requiring submitting authors to verify that the work they are submitting is not based on previously published data or research, and if so, precisely where, and how the work differs. Because of increasing pressures to publish, scholars are increasingly enticed to ‘salami slice’ their work into multiple articles, even when publishing all the findings in a single article would be more appropriate. Editors have told me that they expect at least 60% of a paper to be new, however, they require the initial work in order to evaluate the measure of originality of the submission. Fortunately, AOM’s code of ethics is explicitly clear on the issue of citing previously related work: When AOM members publish data or findings that overlap with work they have previously published elsewhere, they cite these publications. AOM members must also send the prior publication or in-press work to the AOM journal editor to whom they are submitting their work.

Very few of us would do banking with an uninsured bank or money lender lacking clear and transparent procedures. We would want to know that the staff of the bank are properly bonded, adhere to strict ethical guidelines, and will perform according to normative expectations. While the official laws regulating academic research are less institutionalized and so less codified, working with someone entails even more trust than we might have in our day to day banking. Money can easily be replaced (and is often insured). While we often focus on the technical competency of our co-authors, it behooves all of us to closely examine the ethical compasses of those we work with.

Reputations, once damaged, are very difficult to reestablish.



Management Without Borders

As many of us get ready for the annual AOM conference, it is worthwhile considering the theme for a moment, “Opening Governance”. We are invited “ to consider opportunities to improve the effectiveness and creativity of organizations by restructuring systems at the highest organizational levels.”

I believe we can begin with ourselves, as professionals, by enhancing our ability to act as organizational catalysts, stakeholders, managers, and global leaders. Certainly, AOM has created some very important mechanisms to ensure fair and transparent governance, and we refer to our global responsibilities clearly in our code of ethics:

  1. To all people with whom we live and work in the world community.

Sensitivity to other people, to diverse cultures, to the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, to ethical issues, and to newly emerging ethical dilemmas is required. We accomplish this aim through:  Worldview. Academy members have a duty to consider their responsibilities to the world community. In their role as educators, members of the Academy can play a vital role in encouraging a broader horizon for decision making by viewing issues from a multiplicity of perspectives, including the perspectives of those who are the least advantaged.

Like most of you, I’ve attended numerous academic conferences where great world issues are actively discussed and debated, including the relevance of management scholarship, of public policy research, Corporate Social Responsibility, and the like. Yet, as I think of our activities revolving around our conference and our professional roles, I often come up empty handed regarding the actual contribution our field makes in today’s current environments, particularly on a global basis. Most of us are fortunate enough to have established positions in wealthy ‘western/northern’ countries. We are rarely forced to worry about basic health care, nutrition, housing, and education, never mind political instability, personal freedom, safety and security, all of concern to most of the world’s population.

Henry Mintzberg, in his most recent book “Rebalancing Society” points out the need for a balance between government, business, and civil society (often referred to as the third sector, or by Mintzberg as the plural sector). He argues that the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 was due to an imbalance (overly centralized government unbalanced with other forces) rather than a triumph of capitalism over communism. Our responsibility – as elite professional intellectuals – arguably includes helping to re-establish a balance that, according to Mintzberg (as well as many other scholars of public policy who examine empirical evidence) has become skewed, pushing civil society into the margins as a minority position. Resulting inequality, one consequence, should concern us all.

So, besides attending a conference exploring good governance, what else can we academicians do? What if the Academy developed and sponsored an ‘Academic Management Without Borders’ program? Is there any interest out there?