AAA Draft Code of Ethics Posted for Comment

December 10, 2011
From Lise Dobrin
The American Anthropological Association’s Task Force for Comprehensive Ethics Review has recently completed a multi-year process of revising the Association’s Code of Ethics (see the earlier discussion of this topic on this blog). Look here to view the draft code, read the Task Force’s final report, and submit your comments on the draft. The special subcommittee of the AAA Executive Board that is reviewing the Draft Code is chaired by Monica Heller, President-Elect of the AAA and a linguistic anthropologist.

Clearly the Task Force put a great deal of thought into what a code of ethics is and how it can best serve its users. Whether or not it is adopted, the AAA’s Draft Code sets a new benchmark for ethics codes. It represents a whole new kind of document, one that is dynamic and treats readers not simply as ‘adherents’, but as active explorers of ethical issues that concern them. Online users can follow links to resources that expand the discussion of particular segments of the code text, offering further perspectives on the kinds of subtlety and complexity that accompany ethical deliberation in the real world. At a session sponsored by the AAA Committee on Ethics at the AAA Annual Meeting in Montréal, Task Force members half-joked about developing an “ethics code iphone app”. What a terrific idea!

Code of Ethics for Linguists in Forensic Linguistics Consulting Approved

October 27, 2011

In July, the Ethics Committee posted a draft ethics statement for linguists involved in forensic linguistics consulting.The statement was revised in light of comments from the membership and has now been approved by the LSA Executive Committee. The final version is now posted on the LSA website.

AAA comments on the ANPRM

October 26, 2011

Not surprisingly, the LSA was not alone in submitting comments on the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that has been discussed previously in this blog. The AAA, for example, submitted a very detailed response which is likely to be of interest to many linguists, especially those whose research methods trend towards the social science end of the spectrum.

The deadline for comments is today, October 26. The Ethics Committee will continue to use this blog to post updates about possible changes to the Common Rule.

LSA comments on ANPRM

October 17, 2011

In July, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced it was considering changes to the guidelines for human subjects research. The LSA has just submitted its own official comments on the changes in a letter that was drafted with input from the LSA Ethics Committee and the Executive Committee.

Individuals can also submit their own comments through October 26.

Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) for Revisions to the Common Rule

July 26, 2011

The U.S. government is considering significant changes to the current guidelines for human subjects research. From the Office for Human Research Protections website (OHRP):

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced that the federal government is contemplating various ways of enhancing the regulations overseeing research on human subjects. Before making changes to the regulations – which have been in place since 1991 and are often referred to as the Common Rule – the government is seeking the public’s input on an array of issues related to the ethics, safety, and oversight of human research. The changes under consideration can be found in an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), Human Subjects Research Protections: Enhancing Protections for Research Subjects and Reducing Burden, Delay, and Ambiguity for Investigators, published in the July 25 Federal Register.  The proposed changes are designed to strengthen protections for human research subjects.

The OHRP has provided an overview webpage of the proposed changes and also a table highlighting how the newly proposed rules will change existing policies. The government is presently soliciting comments on the proposed changes from the general public.

There has been national news coverage of this topic, and the LSA is examining how it might best respond to the proposal. Members of the LSA can also, of course, submit comments on their own as members of the general public. According the the OHRP website, “The ANPRM comment period closes 5:00 p.m. Monday, September 26, 2011.” (This appears to be sixty days after the posting of the proposal in the Federal Register, which occurred on July 26 rather than July 25 as indicated in the quote above).

Update: It appears that the deadline for comments has been extended to October 26.

Code of Ethics for Linguists in Forensic Linguistics Consulting

July 2, 2011


The LSA Ethics Statement that was approved in 2009 was intended to be applicable to the whole field of linguistics. Some members of one subcommunity of linguists, those involved in forensic linguistics consulting, believed that the special ethical considerations of their work could be best captured in a more targeted statement, a draft of which we present here for comment. While there may be attempts to incorporate the ethical principles embodied in this draft into the general ethics statement in the future, it is proposed here as a possible amendment to the existing statement.

After a period of comment of at least six weeks, the comments will be reviewed and the LSA Ethics Committee  will determine how to proceed. If the range of comments only suggests a need for relatively straightforward revisions, these will be made and the revised statement will be sent to the LSA Executive Committee for review and, potentially, approval. If the comments suggest a need for more extensive changes, a new draft may instead be posted on this blog for a second round of review.

The primary compiler of the current draft of the statement is Ronald R. Butters, with contributions from Janet Ainsworth, Philip Gaines, Tim Grant, Jeff Kaplan, Geoffrey Nunberg, Roger Shuy, and Larry Solan. The statement is broken down into the four sections, and we request that comments are directed at the section that they are most closely related to.

Questions about the process for commenting on and approving the statement should be directed to Jeff Good, chair of the Ethics Committee for 2011. The Ethics Committee welcomes additional proposals to either revise or amend the Ethics Statement, and those interested should also feel free to contact the Ethics Committee chair.


July 2, 2011

The following principles of ethical conduct are intended to guide those members of the Linguistic Society of America who engage in forensic linguistic research and legal consulting and testimony; other scholarly and professional associations (for example, the International Association of Forensic Linguists) may have additional ethical codes that members of those organizations should also consult.

I. Integrity

July 2, 2011

A. Mindful of their obligations to furnish valid, reliable, and accurate linguistic information and analyses to the justice system, consultants must recognize that their duty is to provide objective scientific evidence that will assist the court in arriving at its conclusions—a duty that overrides any obligation owed to the retaining attorney or litigants who have engaged them. Under no circumstances will consultants knowingly provide linguistic analyses or conclusions that are misleading to an accurate fact-finding process.

B. Linguists who are engaged in forensic linguistic consulting will not enter into any arrangements in which compensation is dependent on the outcome of the case.

C. In appropriate cases (usually where clients are unable to pay full fee), consulting linguists may provide their services at reduced-fee rates or without charge, not only for the sake of the advancement of science but also as a duty to linguistic science, society, and the judicial system.

D. Testimony and reports must be based upon the linguist’s professional knowledge and expertise, and upon meticulous research that uses established and accepted scientific linguistic knowledge and methodology.

E. Consultants will not add to, delete from, or otherwise alter their reports at the request or suggestion of the retaining attorney if doing so would materially affect the accuracy or reliability of their analyses or conclusions. If material within a report must be deleted because it is legally privileged or inadmissible, consultants should carefully consider whether such deletions materially affect the validity of their analyses or conclusions, and they will inform the retaining attorney if the emended report would be inaccurate or misleading to the fact-finding process.