Analytics Pros See Value in Code of Ethics for Growing Field

by   |   April 11, 2013 11:03 pm   |   0 Comments

SAN ANTONIO—Not everyone at the INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics and Operations Research here had heard of the recently unveiled code of ethics for analytics professionals who receive the organization’s certification.

Judging from the reaction of random attendees at the recent INFORMS Conference on Business Analytics and Operations Research in San Antonio, most members were unaware of it or were unfamiliar with its contents. But those who were aware of it favored it.

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“I need to sit down and look at this,” said Robert Love with Booz Allen Hamilton, borrowing the author’s copy, exemplifying a typical reaction.

Others, however, were very aware of it, and welcomed it as a measure that could promote the stature of the Certified Analytics Professional (CAP) designation, since the addition of a code of ethics implies that those who stumble ethically will not be able to keep their professional certification. INFORMS established the code of ethics in parallel with the launch of its certification program. (Excerpts from the code of ethics appear at the end of this article.)

“It’s long overdue,” said Walter DeGrange, a faculty member at the Naval Postgraduate School in California. “I was on the organizing committee that saw we needed a code of ethics. It was felt that credentials must have meaning for the commercial world. Otherwise, what do our credentials mean to customers and the public, compared to, for instance, nurses? It does not make us comparable to doctors who are licensed by the state, but it puts us on an equal footing to professional project managers, or somewhere between them and professional engineers.

“When we first looked into having a code of ethics there were those who could not believe that we didn’t have one. Now we have definition of good and bad,” DeGrange added.

“As a new field it helps to have good ethical foundation,” noted William Klimack, a decision analysis consultant at Chevron in New Orleans and a vice president of INFORMS. “Not that there were ethical problems before, but we were a much smaller community. The field has since exploded, and certification without the code would have been a loss. You need both in order for both of them to mean something.”

Klimack noted that INFORMS will set up a separate and independent board to oversee the certification program, and membership of the board will include people who are not members of INFORMS. The board will have a subcommittee to handle any ethics issues that arise, Klimack added.

“There is not much plagiarism in this field,” said Alkis Vazacopoulos, head of Industrial Algorithms in Harrington Park, N.J. “The work is so complicated, and so specific to a particular project, that you really can’t simply copy something off the Internet, put your name on it, and say that you did it. The field is very honest.

“Anyway, what the customers want is to have the answers faster and faster, and you can’t fake that. But it is good to have the code of ethics since the field is expanding so rapidly,” Vazacopoulos said.

“The admonition to stay current is crucial,” said Judith Guzzatta with UPS in Alpharetta, Ga. “You see too many people with their expensive educations doing the same things they always did, even from the days before computers when everything was done very differently.”

Guzzatta was referring to the fourth sentence in the next-to-last paragraph, titled, “INFORMS and Profession.” “Remain current in constantly changing analytical methodology, as preferred methods from yesterday may be barely acceptable today, and totally obsolete tomorrow,” it urges certificate-holders.

Various sections of the code also call for the certificate-holder to maintain professional standards of personal behavior, and she welcomed that.

“I was given the same advice as an undergraduate at Berkeley,” she recalled. “Everything in here was mentioned. Remember, these days especially, thanks to the Internet, you can be quoted forever if you say something inappropriate when you’re younger,” Guzzatta noted.

A Code of Ethics for Analysts

The INFORMS Code of Ethics for Certified Analytics Professionals includes six sections under the responsibilities for an analyst in the field. Excerpts are below:

Society

  • All professionals have societal obligations to perform their work in a professional, competent and ethical manner.
  • Professionals should adhere to all applicable laws, regulations and international covenants.

Employers and Clients

  • It is the practitioner’s responsibility to assure employers and clients that an analytical approach is suitable to their needs and resources, and include presenting the capabilities and limitations of analytical methods in addressing their problem.
  • Analytics professionals should clearly state their qualifications and relevant experience.
  • It is imperative to fulfill all commitments to employers and clients, guard any privileged information they provide unless required to disclose, and accept full responsibility for your performance.
  • Where appropriate, present a client or employer with choices among valid alternative approaches that may vary in scope, cost, or precision.
  • Apply analytical methods and procedures scientifically, without predetermining the outcome.
  • Resist any pressure from employers and clients to produce a particular “result,” regardless of its validity.

Colleagues

  • Analytics professionals have a responsibility to promote the effective and efficient use of analytical methods by all members of research teams and to respect the ethical obligations of members of other disciplines.
  • When possible, professionals share nonproprietary data and methods with others; participate in peer review, focusing on the assessment of methods not individuals.
  • Respect differing professional opinions while acknowledging the contributions and intellectual property of others.
  • Those professionals involved in teaching or training students or junior analysts have a responsibility to instill in them an appreciation for the practical value of the concept and methods they are learning.
  • Those in leadership and decision-making roles should use professional qualifications with regard to analytic professionals’ hiring, firing, promotion, work assignments, and other professional matters.
  • Avoid harassment of or discrimination based on professionally irrelevant bases such as race, color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, age, religion, nationality, or disability.

Research Subjects

  • If a project involves research subjects, including census or survey respondents, an analytics professional will know and adhere to the appropriate rules for the protection of those human subjects.
  • Be particularly aware of situations involving vulnerable populations that may be subject to special risks and may not be able to protect their own interests.
  • This responsibility includes protecting the privacy and confidentiality of research subjects and data concerning them.

INFORMS and the Profession

  • Analytics professionals will strive for relevance in all analyses.
  • Each study or project should be based on a competent understanding of the subject-matter issues, appropriate analytical methods, and technical criteria to justify both the practical relevance of the study and the data to be used.
  • Guard against the possibility that a predisposition by investigators or data providers might predetermine the analytical result.
  • Remain current in constantly changing analytical methodology, as preferred methods from yesterday may be barely acceptable today and totally obsolete tomorrow.
  • Disclose conflicts of interest, financial and otherwise, and resolve them.
  • Provide only such expert testimony as you would be willing to have peer reviewed.
  • Maintain personal responsibility for all work bearing your name; avoid undertaking work or coauthoring publications for which you would not want to acknowledge responsibility.

Alleged Misconduct

  • Certified Analytics Professionals will strive to avoid condoning or appearing to condone careless, incompetent, or unethical practices. Misconduct broadly includes all professional dishonesty, by commission or omission, and, within the realm of professional activities and expression, all harmful disrespect for people, unauthorized or illegal use of their intellectual and physical property, and unjustified detraction from the reputation of others.
  • Recognize that differences of opinion and honest error do not constitute misconduct; they warrant discussion, but not accusation.
  • Questionable scientific practices may or may not constitute misconduct, depending on their nature and the definition of misconduct used.
  • Do not condone retaliation against or damage to the employability or those who responsibly call attention to possible scientific error or misconduct.

Lamont Wood is a freelance writer based in San Antonio. Reach him via email at lwood@texas.net.








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