We look forward to discussing the ethical dilemmas you are encountering in your academic and professional lives, and in your interactions as an AOM member.
We look forward to discussing the ethical dilemmas you are encountering in your academic and professional lives, and in your interactions as an AOM member.
It seems I can’t visit anywhere without hearing harrowing stories of unethical and abusive editors, reviewers, and scholars. Before starting this blog, I would hear the odd tale or two – but now I seem to be ground zero for the often shocking admissions of disgruntled and abused colleagues the world over!
While it would be nice to view these unfortunate confessions as a biased sample, I am beginning to believe that the entire profession harbors within each of us, numerous examples of blatantly unethical conduct, all simmering and waiting to escape as some sort of neurotic or equally unjust retribution. In short, we may be the walking wounded. All of this has to do with our culture of scholarship – we need to carefully ask ourselves, what kind of culture are we promoting, and what are our overall objectives? How can we improve the cultural landscape that we operate in?
Just a few representative examples:
A junior colleague tells me an anonymous reviewer demands a series of coercive self-citations of their own, only tangentially relevant work. They also disclose, in the review, both who they are, along with insinuations that they know exactly who the jr. scholar is. The editor forwards this review with no comment.
A senior scholar reports presenting a paper with a unique novel analysis of public data during a conference. A few months later, she observes a conference paper written by a member of the audience who had attended the talk – utilizing the exact same methods and data. There is no mention of her paper, not even an acknowledgement. Despite reminding the author of this sequence of events – by sending a copy of the proceedings as a reminder – the paper is eventually published, without a word of recognition, even though the editor is aware of the circumstances.
Dog eat dog…
Finally, we have the ‘curse’ of the special issue editors. These are often the unregulated wild west. I have heard more horror stories than I can relate in this short blog, but they range from ‘tit for tat’ expectations, to outstanding examples of favoritism, nepotism, and cronyism. Editors taking advantage of writing themselves or their friends into special issues is very common. These may represent closed networks of special subject reviewers who are primed to support primarily insider work – and reject outsider material. Social expectations trump scientific merit, and the entire effort becomes mired in politics.
While these are but a few examples, one begins to suspect that what is published is often not recognition regarding the high quality of the research, rather, it has to do with the social processes underlying how the work is presented. Rather than rewarding the highest quality work – or the most innovative work – we wind up with a kind of replication of the norm. We pat each other on the back regarding out methodological rigor, without really considering the accuracy or consequences of our efforts. No wonder managers in the ‘real world’ seldom pay attention to anything we do.
All of which suggests that we need more transparency in our publication and review process, as well as more insight into the methodological and philosophical rigour we use to approach our work. The idea of double blind is good – as long as it is truly double blind, and the objective is to enhance the quality of the subsequent product. However, all too often, we’re simply going through a well rehearsed process of convincing the editors and reviewers that our work is normative, while they go through the ritual of telling us how to frame an acceptable ‘story’ that meets their standards, irrespective of the accuracy of the work.
In a very insightful article, Bill Starbuck in the 60 year anniversary issue of ASQ points out the inconsistencies in reviewer evaluations, including the problems of submissions from ‘low status institutions’, convoluted formulas, and ambiguous editorial feedback. He also highlights the problems of signalling inherent in language usage, whereby reviewers can identify the origin of any particular manuscript’s authors.
Next, Bill tackles the issue of our efforts to enhance the importance of our work, irrespective of the actual merit, sometimes leading to corrupt methodologies, HARKing (Hypothesizing after results are known) and p-Hacking (subjecting data to multiple manipulations until some sort of pattern emerges) both of which misrepresent the accuracy of the theories discussed. Bill points out that this leads to “a cynical ethos that treats research as primarily a way to advance careers”.
Bill concludes that cultural changes are needed, but that they happen only slowly. Senior scholars must take a very visible lead – editors and reviewers alike. In the end, it’s really a matter of education.
I fully agree with Bill – we need to start looking at ourselves carefully in the mirror, stop quoting our individual H indexes, and begin the difficult task of educating ourselves regarding how to advance our scientific capabilities.
Did you realize that as a member of the Academy of Management you “agree to uphold and promote the principles of the ‘AOM_Code_of_Ethics’ and to adhere to its enforced ethical standards”? Do you know what principles and standards you agreed to uphold?
Like most people, you probably think the Code of Ethics exists as a reference to consult when things go horribly wrong. Understandably, studying the AOM Code of Ethics is probably at the very bottom of an extremely long to-do list.
So why would you read and think about the AOM Code of Ethics? First, you might want to know what the AOM expects of you as a member, and what you can expect of other members. Are there specific ethical guidelines you should know about, as related to participation in activities in your Divisions, committees, the annual conference or other AOM events? What about guidelines for your professional life outside of AOM– as a researcher, instructor, consultant, or as a student?
Second, you might want to know where you can find help or answers when you encounter ethical dilemmas. Who should you go to within the Academy? What are the roles of the Ethics Committee including the Ombuds Committee, the Adjudication Committee, as well as the Ethics Education Committee (EEC)?
Finally, you might want to know what is contained in the current Academy of Management Code of Ethics, so you can provide input on periodic revisions. How can we make sure this Code is up-to-date and relevant given emerging dilemmas in our world?
The Ethics Education Committee is here to help. At the coming Annual Meeting in Anaheim we can offer the following types of sessions for your meeting, Division Consortium or Committee:
Please contact EEC Chair Janet Salmons (jsalmons[at]vision2lead.com or with the contact form below) to discuss ways the EEC can help ensure that new and returning members your area of the Academy are familiar with the principles and standards they agreed to uphold.
The EEC will also be offering these opportunities for discussion at the Annual Meeting:
I recently read a NY times article highlighting an obvious conflict, when stock analysts own stock or options in the companies they are evaluating, or retain close ties with those companies. It’s kind of horrifying to think that what is regarded as objective, unsolicited advice, may really be individuals trying to ‘game’ the system, by pushing up the price of their options for personal gain. Of course, that’s Wall Street, we’ve seen it before, and I’m sure we’ll see it again. But it got me thinking – what about journal editors?
Journal editors make decisions, often with considerable career implications, but their relationships – with the persons they evaluate, or the way they make decisions – is entirely opaque. It’s not like there’s some sort of appeals board one can go to if one thinks they have been slighted by an editor who bears a grudge against an author, their university, or even the theoretical or methodological paradigm they are writing about. This opens up not only questions of abuse of power and self interest, but also of due process.
We all want to think that the blind review process is objective – but what about the reviewer selection? What about other practices? I don’t have to go far to find a litany of editor’s abusive activities. Just scratching the surface, we find the ‘tit for tat’ exchange – “ I will publish your paper in my journal, with the expectation that you will reciprocate with a publication your journal”. The special issue editor, that always seems to publish good friends and colleagues from their particular sphere of influence. Special issue editors are a particular problem, as they seem to go relatively unregulated. These practices effectively reduce the probability of a general submission being accepted, as there are few slots allocated to the genuine public of scholars. We also have coercive citations abuse, whereby the editor informs the author that they need to cite their journal (to improve the impact factor) in the editor’s R&R letter. And, of course, we have the form letter rejection, sometimes not even reflecting the contents of the paper submitted, or addressing the material in a way demonstrating that the editor actually read anything.
What I find particularly surprising is that there is virtually no recourse. Many of us have experienced egregious editorial injustice, yet we simply grin and bear it. Students, on the other hand, seem to have figured out a way to vent their frustrations is a way that might, perhaps, temper the worst of academic injustice. Sites like ‘rate my professor’ allow students to voice their anger and frustration at what they view to be unjust or unprofessional activities. While I am the first to acknowledge that the site is relatively un-monitored and subject to potential biases and abuse – at least it provides a forum.
Academy of Management journals maintain a fairly transparent editorial policy, limiting the tenure of editors, and opening up nominations to our membership. This is good practice. Why don’t ALL journals publish a code of editorial ethics? Why don’t they ALL consider grievance procedures? Where is our academic forum? Why is it that we academics, have not devised a site to discuss perceived biases, unprofessional behavior, and irresponsible editing? I know, from talking with colleagues, that most of us have experienced unprofessional and sometimes outright unethical practices. Yet, we sit silently, submitting our papers to yet another journal, hoping for a fair evaluation at another venue. Meanwhile, some editors, even those demonstrating deeply abusive practices, are professionally rewarded.
Is there something we can do? Does anyone have a suggestion? Or, are we all ‘happy campers”?
As members of the Academy, we each hold responsibility in upholding our professional ethics. Once the ‘egg is broken’, it will be very hard to re-establish public confidence. VW, for instance, will undoubtedly have a long road in convincing the public that their organization acts in an ethically responsible way. While the public seemed to quickly forgive GM for their ignoring a faulty ignition problem, they are less willing to forgive systemic premeditated corruption. We have seen the flashback from the American Psychological Association regarding members advising how best to conduct torture having an impact on their community. In short, many of these professional ethical issues have a way of impacting our field for the long run.
In the last posting, Greg Stephens AOM’s onbudperson, outlined a range of issues they examine, with instructions regarding how to proceed should you have a professional ethics dilemma. They do a fantastic job, often behind the scenes, and we should be very appreciative of their hard work.
Of course, these issues are primarily only of relevance to things that happen in and around the Academy of Management. If you observe something at another conference, or at a non AOM sponsored journal, well, there may be few if any options for you to pursue.
A AOM recent censure ruling, the first I ever recall seeing, included the sanctioning of an academy member. Professor Andreas Hinterhuber had submitted a previously published paper for consideration at the upcoming Annual Meeting. The ruling was as follows:
The final sanctions include disqualification from participation in Academy of Management activities (including but not limited to submission to the conference, participation on the conference program, serving the Academy or any of its Divisions or Interest Groups in an elected or appointed role, or submission to any of the Academy of Management journals) for a period of three (3) years, public notice of the violation through publication in the AcadeMY News; formal notification to the journal where the work was previously published, and ethics counseling by the Ombuds Committee.
Seeing a public and formal sanction is a good professional start, and I applaud our organization for taking the trouble to demonstrate that we have professional limits that should be honored. However, what if Professor Andreas Hinterhuber were found to have done the same thing at, say, EGOS, or BAM? Of what about someone who submits a paper simultaneously to two different journals for review? Would the consequences be the same? Likely not.
It would seem to me that we would all benefit from a larger professional ‘tent’ whereby public notice of violations and censure were more systematically discussed. I find it very odd that, out of 20,000 members, it is so rare for us to have a public censure (this is the first I am aware of – although there may have been other non-public consequences). Every year I hear of multiple cases of doctors and lawyers getting disbarred. The odds are presumably the same for our profession, but the consequences far less, and the frequency of public humiliation quite rare. This would only provide incentives to engage in unprofessional conduct. I am not suggesting we begin a yellow journalistic finger pointing exercise. Only that given the rise in competition, and the important stakes involved in our profession, we should collectively think about professional monitoring, public dialog, and the provision of clear ethical guidelines in our doctoral and professional career development.
Your thoughts on the matter are welcome.
Imagine . . .
A co-author on a paper submitted to an Academy of Management Conference is telling others that you didn’t really contribute much to the paper, and that your name was included as a “courtesy.” You are upset, and don’t know why she would do this, but you want it to stop.
You have just learned that a person you believe to have been a reviewer on a paper you submitted to an Academy journal has published a paper that draws largely on ideas you first put forth in your paper, and has claimed those ideas as his own. The journal editor doesn’t seem especially interested in taking action.
You have just discovered instances of what you believe to be unauthorized/unattributed plagiarism of your previous work in a paper submitted to an Academy journal. You are angry, and want the other person to withdraw his paper and to promise to never submit it to any other journal or conference.
You have been accused of plagiarism, and have no idea where the other person is coming from…to you, it seems that you simply (and legitimately) built on past work. As a doctoral candidate, you are very worried about the impact this might have on your job prospects, and you don’t know where to begin to resolve the issue.
If you’ve experienced anything similar to these incidences, you’d probably like some assistance. Perhaps an Ombuds can help! It’s a good time to contact an AOM Ombudsperson when:
Ombuds are independent, impartial and provide a free service for AOM members involved in conflicts or with ethics complaints regarding work involving AOM journals or conferences. We adhere to the standards of the International Ombudsman Association, whose principles are informality, confidentiality, neutrality/impartiality, and independence (future blogs will expand on each of these principles). Ombuds provide a listening ear, assist with options generation, and offer advice regarding how to handle your dispute. They will work to help you clarify what you can do or how you can act to resolve the conflict, or to improve relationships. An Ombuds can help you understand your own rights and options with regards to complaints you might have that involve AOM research outlets or other functions and activities.
To help AOM members, the Ombuds may draw upon the following approaches, as needed:
The Ombuds makes no decisions for the parties nor judgments on the merits of a complaint. We will work to assist the parties in resolving their disputes informally, but if necessary may recommend further formal action by the Ethics Adjudication Committee (EAC). If that proves necessary, the Ombuds will explain the AOM process for filing complaints and provide forms and policy information that may be helpful in moving forward should the individual choose to file a formal complaint. With regard to inquiries and complaints involving non-members, the Ombuds guides the non-member and is available for counseling if needed.
The AOM’s Code of Ethics require AOM members hold themselves accountable to a high ethical standard. Unfortunately, occasionally issues arise that would benefit from further conversation. Using the AOM Ombud serves as an initial and informal attempt to resolve such issues. Using Ombuds services does not take away the option of moving to a formal disciplinary or dispute resolution process. For more information about AOM Ombuds services, please see the AOM Policies and Procedures for Handling Ethical Complaints.
Please contact us (Ombuds@aom.org) if you believe we can help.
The Academy of Management Ethics Education Committee (EEC) focuses primarily on “educating” AOM members about how to understand our Code of Ethics and use ethical practices in our work as researchers, practitioners, and teachers. When we are in instructional roles, we have a responsibility to develop the next generation in the management field—hopefully with some sense of ethical ways to practice their chosen professions. We may teach courses devoted to business ethics, but more likely, we may want to create opportunities to incorporate a focus on ethics in courses on other leadership and management topic.
To encourage an exchange of ideas and approaches, the EEC is partnering with the Business Ethics Education Initiative at Kansas State University to publish novel tips for teaching ethics in virtual and face-to-face classrooms. Presently, seven such tips are published on the K-State Initiative website in the section called “Ethics Education,” and soon these tips will be published here on The Ethicist as well.
The AOM Ethics Education Committee invites Academy members to submit your Teaching Tips by sending an abstract of 50 to 100 words that describes your novel method for teaching ethics, along with a link to the fuller description. Please send tips to ethics[at]vision2lead.com. For format guidance, see the examples of Teaching Tips published at the Kansas State University site in the section called “Ethics Education” at this link. Select Teaching Tips will be published here and on the K-State Ethics Education Initiative site.
See a popular example from Diane Swanson, Professor of Management at Kansas State University and Ethics Education Committee member. She uses three Star Trek characters to introduce students to ethics in decision making and the importance of moral courage. Students read her short essay “To Go Boldly! Trekking for Moral Courage” as a point of departure for exploring these topics in class.
We hope by sharing our approaches online throughout the year and at the annual conference, we can create a worthwhile forum where members can interact regarding their roles as ethical instructors who practice what they teach.
Sorry for the long absence, but I’ve been on the road quite a bit lately, providing me with an excuse for taking a short holiday from blogging in the ethicist.
I recently returned from Nairobi, Kenya, where I was involved in running a track for a management conference for the Africa Academy of Management. The conference was a wonderful success, and it was great seeing so many management scholars from all over the world converging on Africa.
Of course, with any international scholarly conference, there are significant cultural norms, attitudes, and differences that we carry with us to our meetings. I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss just one of them: the perennial elephant in the room: publication, and in particular, predatory publication.
Surprisingly, while I was attending the conference, our Assoc. dean back home in Canada circulated a tract on the hazards of predatory journals. In particular, the email circulated informing the faculty of Beall’s list of predatory publishers. The list provides perhaps a dozen journal titles specifically tailored toward management scholars. It also includes so called “hijacked journals” which emulate the name or acronym of other famous journals, presumably to confuse readers, as well as misleading metrics, whereby journals publish misleading impact factors (note: inflating impact factor by journal self plagiarism is NOT considered a misleading practice!). So, for example, there are two ‘South African Journal of Business Management” publishers, presumably a legitimate one, and a ‘hacked’ one. Information Systems Management must contend with ‘Journal of Information System Management’, etc.. etc…
What surprised me most about our Canadian encounters is the reactions of some of my colleagues. An initial request was made to indicate that journals from this list would not be considered for hiring, tenure or promotion. This seemed like a reasonable request. Surprisingly, there was considerable debate, which ranged from “who created this list, anyway, it seems subjective” to “We’ve always been able to distinguish quality in the past, we should just continue as we have always done”.
While this was going on in the home front, my African colleagues were telling me stories of their own. Publication is now de-rigueur for academic hiring and promotion at most African universities, even though they have barely established a research culture of their own. Incentives can vary widely, but many institutions pay bonuses for publications, and faculty are often offered opportunities to publish in little known journals for a ‘publication fee’ that can be considerable. During our ‘how to publish’ seminars, faculty repeatedly asked us how to distinguish between these predatory journals and the ‘other’ ones. Young scholars proudly shared how they had published six or seven articles in two years (in what journals, one might ask?). Doctoral students asked how to deal with advisers that insist on having their names on publications, despite them having absolutely nothing to do with any aspect of the research in question. In short, they had little information regarding the full range of scholarship, their own institutions rarely subscribed to the better journals, and they were often in a position of working in the dark regarding quality and scholarly norms.
So, coming full circle, it seems we have a problem of global proportions, one that might impact weaker institutions somewhat more (those without the governing systems to adequately ‘sniff out’ the corruption), but one that nevertheless impacts all of our work.
Of course, I can’t help but reflect the culture I live in – North America (I spend a lot of time in Europe as well…). So many of us would like to thumb our noses at our less fortunate colleagues and explain to them, with our own self importance, how our standards of publications reign supreme, and are only to emulated. To those of you, I’d like to refer to to Andrew Gelman’s recent posting that points out some serious weaknesses of our peer review system, where he critiques ‘power pose’ research. Gelman points out that “If you want to really review a paper, you need peer reviewers who can tell you if you’re missing something within the literature—and you need outside reviewers who can rescue you from groupthink”….” peer-review doesn’t get you much. The peers of the power-pose researchers are . . . other power-pose researchers. Or researchers on embodied cognition, or on other debatable claims in experimental psychology. Or maybe other scientists who don’t work in this area but have heard good things about it and want to be supportive of this work.”
So, let’s come full circle for a moment. We are in an international arena. Institutional norms are diffusing such that everyone wants to get into the same ‘game’. However, the rules of the game are subtle, often manipulated, rarely challenged, and heavily biased in favor of insiders over outsiders. No doubt, clarity would help everyone involved. How can we overcome our own blind spots? How can we validate and authenticate the publication process? What kind of measures might we employ to do so?
I disagree with my colleagues who argue ‘it worked in the past, we can continue doing it in the future’. First, I’m not certain how effective we were in the past. There may be numerous failings hidden inside our collective closets, some of which may come to light in the form of future retractions. Second, I’m not so certain we’ve made enormous progress in our own field of study. And finally, and most importantly, new mechanisms for corruption, cheating, and exploiting seem to pop up each and every day.
Which brings me to the central question I’ve been pondering: What can we do, as a community, to improve the quality of our work, while sifting out potential corrupt forces?
We’re long overdue here at the Ethicist to get back into the swing of things! Obviously, we’re now looking forward to the annual meeting in Anaheim, which has an especially fortuitous theme for the Ethics Education Committee. As this year’s program chair, Mary Ann Glynn, points out, meaning and ethics are closely related issues for organizations:
Recently, there have been highly publicized corporate scandals, Wall Street corruption, and failures of government to meet the needs of its citizens, with a resulting rise in public distrust and questioning of organizations’ reasons for being. We often take as given that an organization’s purpose to produce economic value; and, although economic value can often add to social value, sometimes it does not. This disjuncture raises the question of meaningfulness.
Avoiding scandal and fostering trust is arguably the very meaning of ethics. And if it is true, as I think it is, that communities are essentially constituted by their ethics (show me your ethics and I’ll tell you a great deal about what kind of community you’ve got) then there’s no doubt that frequent scandals and and deepening mistrust would raise fundamental questions about an organization’s “reason for being”. What’s going on? What’s it all about? Why are we here? What does it all mean? Important issues to think about.
Nor is the academy (and even the Academy) able to keep itself entirely aloof from these questions. In the world of research, there have also been scandals and mistrust, and we need to face these issues squarely in our own research practice and communities. That’s where the Ethicist and the Ethics Education Committee would like to be of help.
We’re currently reaching out the AOM divisions to offer our help in developing and implementing ethics modules in their PDW’s and consortia sessions. It is our view that ethics is best approached as a conversation, not a merely a code of conduct. While we have the Code to guide us, the really interesting work happens in a discussion of the details. And that conversation always has to be anchored in the actual practices that constitute the wide variety of research communities with the Academy of Management. Accordingly, our first responsibility as ethics educators is to listen and learn from members about the situations they face.
This post, then, is an invitation to engage in conversation. Feel free to leave comments below about the sorts of issues you think need to be faced, either by your own discipline or by the management field in general. Also, I am coordinating our consortia contributions this year, so if you are leading a consortium session for your division and would like include the EEC, either in your presentation or in your planning, please contact me by mail so we can work out the details.
A while back, I got into an interesting discussion with Andrew on the subject of courage, which stemmed from my temporary reticence about speaking my mind in public, or my resentment, if you will, of my “obligation to publish”. (I’m happy to say that I’m much better now.) One thought led to another and I soon found myself warning against a situation in which it might take “heroic amounts” of courage to tell the truth in the social sciences, management studies included. Andrew rightly found that prospect depressing.
But along the way I also noticed the particular virtue that might make all the difference here. It’s an insight worth explicating, if for no other reason than to reveal its flaws. (Let me know if you can spot any, please.) It seems to me that we depend on the decency of others not to make too great demands of our courage. What is this strange comportment we call decency that it could have this power?
In the comments, Erik suggested that the anonymity of peer review removes the need for a great deal of courage. And in an important sense, this is exactly the sort of thing I mean. It’s not that I think anonymous reviewers are congenital cowards, though I’m sure many disgruntled authors would like me to validate them in this belief. Rather, since it takes no courage to review a paper (in ordinary cases), we have to rely on the reviewer’s decency. Since they are protected from our personal judgment of them, we can only hope that they will not exploit their freedom to cruelly abuse us, or lead us on a wild goose chase for pointless references, or waste our time with needless revision. We count on them not reject (or accept us) for their own personal gain, and to tell us honestly what they of our work.
But by the same token, where strong institutions ensure decency, e.g., where editorial oversight protects authors from unhelpful reviews, it also takes less courage to submit a paper for review. We know the editor is not going to let our reviewers abuse us and we can rest assured that if they do form a very negative of opinion of our work, they will not be able to form a correspondingly negative opinion of us.
I’ll never forget the lightbulb that went off in my head many years ago when I was reading Edward Johnson’s Handbook of Good English. He said that it’s an editor’s job is to “protect the author from criticism”, meaning unconstructive complaints about language and grammar from the end reader. An associate editor’s job at journal, by extension, is to protect the author from unconstructive criticism of one’s ideas, first from the reviewers, by demanding a certain standard of them, and thereafter from readers, by selecting competent reviewers that are actually able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the paper that has been submitted.
I like to think of decency as the virtue of “immediate rightness”, or appropriateness in the moment. It’s a matter of keeping the surfaces of social interaction tolerably pleasant. Our code requires us to “respect the dignity and worth of all people” in our activities as management scholars and professionals. We might also say we are bound to be decent. It’s akin to “civility”, but that will have to be a topic for another day.