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April 14, 2009 / or4green

Ethics in OR

The special issue of Omega on “Ethics in OR” (mentioned in this earlier post) is now out. It was edited by Luk N. Van Wassenhove (recently mentioned here) and Marc Le Menestrel.

One of the papers is “Ethical guidelines and codes in operations research” by Saul Gass of the Univ. of Maryland. Surveying OR societies (ORSs) world-wide he concludes:

It is clear that ORSs world-wide do not exhibit the important basic characteristic of a profession, that is, the adoption of and adherence to ethical guidelines and codes. Such adoptions by OR professional organizations are rare.

INFORMS, for instance, has no code of ethics. Interestingly, the Japanese Operations Research Society (JORS) does have a code of ethics and one of its components is responsibility:

… we should contribute to the progress and increase in safety, health and welfare of mankind.

Not quite sustainability, but not far. If the OR professional is to have a code of ethics, should sustainability be part of it? I would say so. And in fact, there have been steps in this direction. Gass discusses the Oath of Prometheus. This would be the OR version of the physicians’ Oath of Hippocrates and according to the paper, it has 75 adherents. Most relevant here are these portions of it:

As a decision-maker, I commit myself to take into account not only my own objectives but also the social, economic and ecological dimensions of the problems.

As a consultant or an analyst, I commit myself to convince the decision-makers to adopt a fair ethical behaviour and to assist them to meet their goals within the limits of sustainable development. I will feel myself free to refuse to provide information or tools, which to my opinion, could bring into danger the social welfare of mankind and the ecological future of Earth

Gass reviews ethical guidelines of some other professional societies (ACM, IEEE, etc.), finding ORSs lacking by comparison. He closes:

…we suggest that each member society of IFORS develop and adopt its country-specific code of ethics and/or guidelines for practice.

Sounds like a good idea.

The rest of the issue looks interesting as well. Note you can view all of the abstracts on one page by clicking on the “Open All” button while on the issue’s web page.

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2 Comments

  1. guzinb / Apr 15 2009 12:55 pm

    interesting post…

  2. or4green / Apr 17 2009 7:49 am

    Thank you. I forgot to add that there is an existing literature on ethics in OR. See for example, “Ethics in OR/MS: Past, Present and Future” by Jean-Pierre Brans and Giorgio Gallo in Annals of Operations Research, Vol. 153, No. 1, September 2007, pages 165-178.

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