Of Codes and Conduct

by Robert T. Pennock | Feb 23, 2022


As is clear from Sigma Xi’s original 1886 Constitution, the honor of Society membership was never meant to be a concluding recognition of one’s achievement in science or engineering, but rather an encouragement to advance further and to help others do the same. Membership was intended to be an invitation to join the Society’s efforts to promote and encourage “the highest and truest advances in the scientific field.” Thus Sigma Xi has always promoted honor in science, though recent initiates have wondered what this exactly means in terms of professional conduct in the modern era.

This past year, Sigma Xi developed and formally adopted an explicit code of ethical conduct that serves to unpack what it means to take on these vocational ideals and to conduct oneself with honor. The full code, which I encourage you to read, can be found on sigmaxi.org, but here I want to highlight a few of its key elements.

The code's preamble begins with our mission statement, which expresses the goals of the Society: “To enhance the health of the research enterprise, foster integrity in science and engineering, and promote the public's understanding of science for the purpose of improving the human condition.” The preamble also includes Sigma Xi’s core values of excellence, integrity, and companionship, and articulates norms for achieving those values:

  • Excellence refers to the ideals of methods, practices, and character that guide researchers in their search to discover truths about the natural world and to create technologies to improve the human condition. 

  • Integrity refers to the integrated expression of honesty, objectivity, and the other virtues that make for a trustworthy research enterprise.

  • Companionship refers to the fellowship, collegiality, and mutual respect among members of the scientific community who cooperatively seek to achieve these goals.

Specific expectations with regard to professional conduct are then organized under three headings:

  • Responsibility to science involves how to advance honor, integrity, and honesty in all research activities. 

  • Responsibility to the scientific community deals with how to treat all persons involved in the research enterprise with respect. 

  • Responsibility to the public involves how to ensure that the wider public can have confidence in the research enterprise.

Unlike many codes of conduct, ours does not just deal with avoiding misconduct, but also incorporates virtues and ideals we should aspire to. From the inception of Sigma Xi, the awarding of the honor of membership was intended to signify to recipients both a welcome and an aspirational challenge: "Come up higher!" Our new code reaffirms that message and makes it concrete.



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Robert T. Pennock, Ph.D.
Sigma Xi President

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