Ethical Issues in Physics


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Department of Physics and Astronomy





Other Physics

Other Ethics



The following is a bibliography (with brief annotations) designed to assist those involved in ethics education for physicists.  It is designed as a browsing resource since there are many indexing services available for these publications.  The bulk of the material comes from Physics Today, Science and Engineering Ethics, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and the Forum on Physics and Society Newsletter.  The newsletter is freely available through the American Physical Society website.  The other three publications are available by subscription.  They also have electronic versions, but much of the material requires either a subscription to access or a per-item payment to download.  Check your library for availability.  I looked through each issue of these four publications during the period 2000-2011.  I cannot guarantee I found all of the relevant articles, so feel free to bring oversights to my attention.


I want to emphasize that this is a bibliography on ethical issues, NOT a bibliography on misconduct.  That is, there are more sources that, in my opinion, illustrate responsible conduct by physicists than illustrate irresponsible conduct.


Items are grouped by subject.  Within a subject, they are more or less in chronological order, the most recent appearing first.  When several articles are linked by a common thread (such as a Physics Today article followed by letters to the editor in a subsequent issue), they are listed together with the earliest article. Articles coupled with letters often do a good job of representing debate within the physics community.   Book reviews are included for those who want to explore more in-depth resources, and their appearance here does not indicate an endorsement of the book; rather the reviews are intended to help you decide if it is worth looking at the book in more detail.


The starting point for the development of my classification scheme was the Office of Research Integrity’s topics for education in responsible conduct of research.  I extended coverage to include other areas of significance within the physics community as well as major sections dealing with physics and society issues.



Data Management                 pdf version

From acquiring and documenting data, to storing it and analyzing it, there are numerous procedures we employ to maintain the integrity of the data.


Animal Subjects

I have no references here.


Human Subjects           pdf version

If you experiment with different instructional methods and disseminate the results, you are doing research with human subjects.


Conflicts of Interest             pdf version

Conflicts can occur when we have competing interests arising from our role as scientists, our career objectives, our family interests, or our financial interests.


Peer Review                pdf version

Peer review of journal submissions and grant applications plays an important role in what ideas and which individuals advance in physics.


Collaboration               pdf version

The rules of collaboration, implicit and explicit, vary from one field to another in physics.  This variation has not been studied much, although many general articles on collaboration exist.


Publication/Authorship                 pdf version

Publications are used to both carry on public discourse in science and to measure the quality of research.


Mentorship                  pdf version

The necessarily unequal relationship between faculty and their students and post-docs gives rise to a number of interesting issues.


Research Misconduct            pdf version

Sometimes physicists cross the line in blatant, highly publicized ways, but lines are also crossed in much quieter ways.


RCR Education Strategies              pdf version

Here is where to look for ideas on how to approach ethics education in a classroom or seminar setting.


Under-represented Groups            pdf version

The demographics of the physics profession in this country do not mirror the population at large in a number of ways that should cause us concern.


Physicists as Advisors           pdf version

During the last century, physicists have provided advice to society at large on critical issues.  These references explore both the history of this advice and ethical standards that apply to those giving advice.


Energy Issues               pdf version

Many physicists are directly or indirectly involved in issues related to society’s use of energy.


Climate Change            pdf version

Physicists can play an important role in advancing the public debate on climate change.


National Security                  pdf version

World War II put physicists in the midst of a number of issues related to national security, raising questions such as, to what extent are physicists responsible for the use of their research?


Other Physics and Society Issues            pdf version

Just a few of the many other issues are represented in this section.


General Topics             pdf version

These references are both those that do not neatly fit into one of the above categories as well as those that provide an overview of ethics in physics or ethics in science.



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