Our ethics code

Preamble

As social scientists we systematically search for truth and knowledge. We seek to understand and explain the complexity of our world in the past, present, and future. In doing so, we disclose our methods and scrutinize our findings.

Social science research cannot generate eternally valid truths. However, it can confirm or refute claims about reality and thus generate verifiable knowledge. This knowledge can fulfill various functions. It may describe and explain phenomena, identify problems and suggest possible solutions, forecast developments, or provide moral direction. Ideally, this knowledge contributes to human wellbeing and the protection of the environment.

We have an obligation to society – not least because a large part of our research is funded by taxpayers. If our expertise can help to better understand current national and international developments, we should make it available to the public. The political and social sciences ought to contribute their knowledge, especially in the face of major challenges and crises.

This is why we have founded Politikon.

Politikon is a non-profit online magazine in which political scientists and other social scientists share their expertise free of charge in both English and German. The title of the magazine draws on Aristotle’s adage that humans are by nature zoon politikon – political and social creatures who should strive for the “best and highest life possible” in a community of free and equal members. [1]

Our mission: We want to make the expertise of political and social scientists accessible to society at large. In addition, we would like to promote mutual exchanges between scholars, practitioners, and the public. In order to realize this mission credibly, we have composed this Ethics Code. It defines our core values, our founding principles, our journalistic principles, and the role of our Ethics Board. The discourse ethics developed by Jürgen Habermas represents the Ethics Code’s ideational foundation. [2]

I. Our core values

Politikon is politically neutral, but we by no means lack conviction. The Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights constitute our normative framework. We protect the dignity of all human beings. We are committed to truthfulness and academic freedom. We stand up for democracy and equal rights. And we treat everyone fairly and respectfully.

II. Our ten founding principles

Politikon is based on ten irrevocable founding principles. They define how we see ourselves and guide our journalistic and editorial decisions:
 

(1) We are non-profit

As a charity recognized by the Berlin Tax Office, Politikon solely pursues non-profit goals. We have no commercial interests. Our activities are aimed at supporting society as a whole.
 

(2) We are independent

Politikon is independent of political, economic, social, and private interests.
 

(3) We are non-partisan

We do not identify with any political party, group, or perspective. This does not exclude the possibility that individual authors may express their political views. We encourage them to take a stand. We identify such individual expressions of opinion as comments in order to distinguish them from reports and analyses in the magazine. We seek to publish a wide diversity of viewpoints.
 

(4) We are free of charge

We regard our journalism as a public good. We believe that everyone has a right to free access to knowledge generated with the help of public funds. This is why we pledge to make all our content available free of charge on a permanent basis. That way, we give people with low incomes access to high-quality information.
 

(5) We are ad-free

Politikon publishes neither advertisements nor advertising disguised as editorial content.
 

(6) We are egalitarian and intergenerational

The voices of younger academics are often not heard at universities and in society at large. On the other hand, there are many retired colleagues whose knowledge we now need more urgently than ever. Politikon is an intergenerational and egalitarian project in which all participants – from students to emeritus professors – meet on an equal footing. According to Jürgen Habermas’ discourse ethics, it is not power or status that should prevail in a debate, but only “the unforced force of the better argument.” [3]
 

(7) We are both critical and open to criticism

Academic research can only ever provide preliminary answers. Over time these answers are modified, refined, or discarded in the light of new findings. At Politikon, we critically evaluate existing knowledge and established opinions. At the same time, we strive to be open to criticism of our own findings, views, and prejudices.
 

(8) We are open to other opinions

For us, scholarly inquiry means free and sometimes liberating thinking. If colleagues have new or different opinions, we invite them to express and justify them. At Politikon, any argument – whether popular or unpopular – can be discussed and, if necessary, refuted, as long as it does not violate existing laws or the fundamental rights of others. We listen to each other, and we adhere to the tolerance principle in discourse ethics. That means we respect people as fellow citizens even if we reach the conclusion that their thinking is substantively or morally flawed. [4]
 

(9) We have high ethical standards for our fundraising

We do not accept donations from questionable sources. Politikon is funded exclusively through donations from non-profit foundations, organizations for the advancement of scholarship, universities and other academic institutions, providers of political education, and individual citizens. Donations consist of voluntary monetary, material, or service contributions that are made without any expectation of a quid pro quo. We accept donations only if Politikon’s independence is ensured. Should it become apparent that donors are engaged in activities that are incompatible with this Ethics Code, we will return their contributions.
 

(10) We disclose the sources and use of our funds

We disclose the sources and use of our funds on a permanent basis. We publish the names of all our donors and the amount of their donation or the type of support on our website. That way, we create the necessary transparency to make our editorial independence verifiable. If supporters do not agree with these rules, we cannot accept their donations.

We promise to spend our funds economically and responsibly. We will use them exclusively and directly for our non-profit purposes, and we will not pay disproportionately high remuneration to anyone. To make our expenses transparent, we publish a detailed report on our activities and the associated costs on our website each year. This report also lists the salaries of our executive management and editors-in-chief.

III. Our publishing principles

Our publishing principles define our ethical standards, our mission to provide independent information, our quality standards, our measures to safeguard these standards, our culture of openness and robust civility, and our commitment to transparency and data protection.
 

Ethical standards

(1) We do our journalistic work to the best of our abilities, uninfluenced by our personal interests.

(2) We are honest with others and with ourselves.

(3) We question ideas, findings, and opinions – especially if they are close to our hearts.

(4) We abide by the rules of good academic practice of the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Press Code of the German Press Council, and the Ethics Code of the German Political Science Association (DVPW).

(5) We do not publish articles based on ethically problematic research. We expect our authors to adhere to the ethical standards of their respective professional associations (e.g. the American Sociological Association).

(6) We describe research findings truthfully and impartially, and we aim to do justice to their complexity. We do not speculate or generalize inappropriately. We do not raise unfounded hope or fear. And we do not conceal or trivialize any risks.

(7) We disclose important uncertainties, gaps in data, methodological problems, open questions, and the limits of our knowledge.

(8) In the social sciences, as in other fields, there is rarely absolute agreement on an issue. We report as objectively as possible on different viewpoints and debates in our disciplines. When we search for suitable authors, we aim to do so without bias or prejudice.

(9) We do not discriminate on the grounds of gender or sexual identity, disability, age, or affiliation or affinity to an ethnic, racial, religious, social, political, national, or regional group.

(10) We review submissions promptly, fairly, and confidentially.
 

Our mission to provide independent information

(11) Our mission is to provide independent information rather than entertainment. Our style is factual and analytical.

(12) We do not close our eyes to ambiguities and ambivalences. We make explicit any contradictions in our findings.

(13) We name our sources, as long as this does not endanger them. Whenever possible, we offer our users free access to online sources via links. We mark anything we cite as quotations and refer back to the sources.

(14) In our articles, we provide links to further readings, such as journal articles, books, and other publications. That way, users have the opportunity to obtain additional information.

(15) We write our articles in a way that non-specialists can understand them. We seek to explain complex issues as clearly and comprehensibly as possible.

(16) Politikon articles may be re-published by other media, as long as they cite Politikon as the source and link to the original article on our website.
 

Quality standards

(17) We avoid simplifications, exaggerations, and sensationalism. We refrain from efforts to induce higher click rates by using sensational headlines.

(18) We aim to report about published research that has been scrutinized in a peer review process. This increases the likelihood that the research meets scholarly standards. In exceptional cases, we may publish reports on research that has not yet been peer-reviewed, which we will point out in the article.

(19) We do not publish any contributions offered by companies.

(20) We check all contributions for possible surreptitious advertising.

(21) We do not publish any articles that have already appeared in other media. A simultaneous publication of a contribution together with other media is possible.
 

Safeguarding our quality standards

(22) At least two editors review each article published by us to ensure quality standards.

(23) Our authors have the right to give or withhold final approval. Our editorial team sends them the edited and finalized version of their text for approval before publication.

(24) We regularly hold editorial meetings in which we reflect on and critique our and each other’s work. We encourage our editorial staff and external observers to assess our contributions critically.

(25) We are aware that many of our users have a high level of expertise. We therefore ask them to alert us to any errors, inaccuracies, or omissions in our coverage and take their feedback seriously.

(26) When we make mistakes, we stand by them, correct them immediately, and aim to learn from them. In case of spelling errors or grammatical mistakes, we do not mark the corrections in the text. When we have made a substantive error, we explain the correction in an addendum underneath the article.

(27) When we make a serious error, we alert our users to this as soon as possible in a message from the editor-in-chief.

(28) We investigate any wrongdoings on our part and inform about them in our annual report.

(29) We shall publish any reprimand from the German Press Council on Politikon.
 

A culture of openness and robust civility

(30) Following Timothy Garton Ash’s recommendation, we seek to foster a culture of “openness and robust civility” at Politikon. [5] Ideas and views can be debated without any taboos as long as this does not violate existing laws.

(31) We present a range of sometimes controversial opinions and invite our users to join the discussion with their own contributions.

(32) We take our users seriously as participants in the discussion and strive for an egalitarian dialogue aimed at mutual learning.

(33) Our goal is a discussion of important substantive issues that results in mutual understanding among the participants. All participants must argue fairly and factually. We do not tolerate intimidation.

(34) We do not publish contributions that include advertising, insults, or justiciable content.
 

Transparency

(35) Our authors name anyone who has significantly contributed to the research they present in their Politikon article.

(36) Politikon editorial staff shall avoid situations that could damage the integrity of the magazine and situations that could give the impression of a conflict of interest.

(37) Politikon columnists are free to choose the topics of their articles. However, they shall also avoid situations that could damage the integrity of Politikon or give the impression of a conflict of interest.

(38) If there are potential conflicts of interest, authors must inform the editor-in-chief before publication. The editor-in-chief then decides whether to publish the article and, if so, what additional information is required to inform users about the potential conflict of interest.

(39) Our authors must mention underneath or next to their Politikon article their professional affiliations, the financial sources of their research presented in the article, and any circumstances that might cast doubt on their impartiality. This includes any roles in political parties or affiliations with relevant organizations, companies, or institutions.

(40) If an author has a personal relationship with a person, company, organization, or institution mentioned in their article, this may raise doubts about the author’s independence. We mention any such relationships underneath the respective contribution or refrain from publishing the contribution.

(41) Our authors publish under their real names. Only in exceptional cases does the editor-in-chief permit the use of a pseudonym, which shall be identified as such.

(42) Authors of book reviews may not have a professional, personal, or hostile relationship with the author of the publication under review.

(43) If authors express an opinion, attitude, or value judgment, we identify their contribution as a comment.

(44) In order to maintain our independence, any work expenses incurred (e.g. travel expenses) by editorial staff members are covered exclusively by Politikon.

(45) We publish all pictures, graphics, and videos with a copyright notice. When we make any changes or edits to this material, we inform our users.
 

Privacy policy

(46) The protection of our users’ personal data takes the highest priority. As a non-profit organization, we have no interest in collecting information beyond what is technically necessary. We therefore limit our data collection to a minimum, such as the storage of email addresses for our newsletter service.

(47) We minimize the use of cookies and assure our users that we will not pass on or sell their data.

IV. Ethics board

Our Ethics Board monitors whether Politikon complies with this Ethics Code.

(1) The Ethics Board advises Politikon’s executive management and editorial staff about the compatibility of their activities with this Ethics Code.

(2) The Ethics Board consists of a minimum of three and a maximum of eight members. The members are appointed by the Politikon executive management after approval by the associates’ assembly. The members of the Ethics Board shall be heard before a new member is appointed.

(3) The members of the Ethics Board are appointed for three years. A renewed appointment is possible.

(4) The Ethics Board elects a chairperson from among its members for the duration of the term of office.

(5) The Ethics Board is informed by the executive management about the activities of Politikon at regular intervals – at least once per calendar year. Its members may at any time request information and reports from the executive management and the editor-in-chief on all matters concerning Politikon’s work.

(6) The Ethics Board is ready to receive reports of alleged violations of this Ethics Code and strives for a settlement.

(7) The Ethics Board’s resolutions shall be passed in meetings. Outside of meetings, resolutions may also be passed in text form by mail or email and/or in the context of telephone conferences. Meetings of the Ethics Board shall be convened and chaired by the chairperson or, in case of her/his inability to attend, by a deputy appointed by her/him in writing with a notice period of 30 days. The Ethics Board shall constitute a quorum if at least half of its members are present at the meeting. At least half of the members of the Ethics Board must participate in a vote. Voting is by simple majority. Each member of the Ethics Board has one vote.

(8) The Ethics Board shall not meet in public. Its deliberations are confidential. It reports only the results of its deliberations. It does not identify the positions of specific members of the Ethics Board.

(9) If it is alleged that a Politikon contributor or editorial staff member has violated the Ethics Code, s/he shall have the opportunity comment on the allegation to the Ethics Board.

(10) If, in the course of its deliberations, the Ethics Board finds that there has been a violation of the Ethics Code, it shall inform all parties concerned and issue a report to the Politikon executive management. The Ethics Board may pass resolutions recommending measures to the management, including suggestions as to how future violations may be prevented. If the Ethics Board concludes that there was no violation of the Ethics Code, it informs all parties concerned about its findings.

(11) If there is a risk of a conflict of interest for a member of the Ethics Board, the member notifies the chairperson of the Ethics Board and discusses the matter with this member. If this does not result in an agreement as to whether a conflict of interest exists, the Ethics Board shall decide in the absence of the member concerned whether that member can participate in the proceedings.

(12) All statements on behalf of the Ethics Board shall be made by its chairperson or the deputy.

(13) The resolutions of the Ethics Board shall be recorded in minutes. The minutes shall be sent to the members of the Ethics Board, the Politikon executive management, and the associates’ assembly within four weeks.

(14) The Ethics Board shall prepare a documentation and evaluation of all reports of alleged violations of the Ethics Code that have been received. At least once a year, it shall report to the executive management about its work and the cases it has investigated. Reports of the Ethics Board are published in Politikon’s annual report.

V. Conclusion

This Ethics Code seeks to safeguard our ethical standards and journalistic quality. All contributors and editorial staff members are obliged to comply with it. If they have any questions or doubts, they should not hesitate to get in touch with the editor-in-chief, who is responsible for ensuring compliance.

 

Endnotes

[1] Aristotle, Politics, translated by Ernest Baker, revised with an Introduction and Notes by R.F. Stalley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 269. See also pp. 10 and 20.

[2] Jürgen Habermas, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, translated by Christian Lenhardt and Shierry Weber Nicholsen, introduction by Thomas McCarthy (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990), pp. 43-115; ibid., Justification and Application: Remarks on Discourse Ethics, translated by Ciaran Cronin (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993).

[3] Jürgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, translated by William Rehg (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996), p. 306.

[4] Reinhard Wolf, “Die Selbstgefälligkeit der Intelligenz im Zeitalter des Populismus. Plädoyer für mehr Lernbereitschaft in der Demokratie,” Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 67:44-45 (2017), pp. 9-10.

[5] Timothy Garton Ash, Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press), pp. 208-214.