A code of ethics for professional economists

One of the most interesting things to come out of this year’s American Economic Association (AEA) meetings is the formal adoption of a code of conduct in relation to  potential conflicts of interest in the AEA’s publications. The idea of the code is to provide more information to readers of published work about the funding sources and other commitments authors of reports may have about their subject matter.

The code of conduct, reports Olaf Storbeck, contains the following points:

(1) Every submitted article should state the sources of financial support for the particular research it describes. If none, that fact should be stated.

(2) Each author of a submitted article should identify each interested party from whom he or she has received significant financial support, summing to at least $10,000 in the past three years, in the form of consultant fees, retainers, grants and the like. The disclosure requirement also includes in-kind support, such as providing access to data. If the support in question comes with a non-disclosure obligation, that fact should be stated, along with as much information as the obligation permits. If there are no such sources of funds, that fact should be stated explicitly.  An “interested” party is any individual, group, or organization that has a financial, ideological, or political stake related to the article.

(3) Each author should disclose any paid or unpaid positions as officer, director, or board member of relevant non-profit advocacy organizations or profit-making entities. A “relevant” organization is one whose policy positions, goals, or financial interests relate to the article.

(4) The disclosures required above apply to any close relative or partner of any author.

(5) Each author must disclose if another party had the right to review the paper prior to its circulation.

(6) For published articles, information on relevant potential conflicts of interest will be made available to the public.

(7) The AEA urges its members and other economists to apply the above principles in other publications: scholarly journals, op-ed pieces, newspaper and magazine columns, radio and television commentaries, as well as in testimony before federal and state legislative committees and other agencies.

Storkbeck did a follow up interview with one of the progenitors of the idea, Prof. Gerald Epstein, who seemed cautiously optimistic about the wording, while wisely holding judgement on the efficacy of the code until five years or so have elapsed. Interestingly, Epstein argues for the adoption of codes like this in other professional economic associations:.

Would you recommend economic associations abroad to adapt similar guidelines?

Yes. Absolutely. I think this would be a good starting point for other associations. If they do not have publications, then they could still recommend the broad guidelines as indicated in point 7 of the guidelines. In fact it would be good to start with point 7 and then if they have publications, then require that they apply to the organizations’ publications.

In Ireland we have the Irish Economic Association, and its publication, the Economic and Social Review. The annual meeting of the IEA is on 26/27 of April this year in Dublin. Does it make sense to consider these types of resolutions, and if so, what do commenters feel the wording should look like?