The activities of the life sciences are essential to provide solutions for the future, for both individuals and society. Society has demanded growing accountability from the scientific community as implications of life science research rise in influence and there are concerns about the credibility, integrity and motives of science. While the scientific community has responded to concerns about its integrity in part by initiating training in research integrity and the responsible conduct of research, this approach is minimal. The scientific community justifies itself by appealing to the ethos of science, claiming academic freedom, self-direction, and self-regulation, but no comprehensive codification of this foundational ethos has been forthcoming. A review of the professional norms of science and a prototype code of ethics for the life sciences provide a framework to spur discussions within the scientific community to define scientific professionalism. A formalization of implicit principles can provide guidance for recognizing divergence from the norms, place these norms within a context that would enhance education of trainees, and provide a framework for discussing externally and internally applied pressures that are influencing the practice of science. The prototype code articulates the goal for life sciences research and the responsibilities associated with the freedom of exploration, the principles for the practice of science, and the virtues of the scientists themselves. The time is ripe for scientific communities to reinvigorate professionalism and define the basis of their social contract. Codifying the basis of the social contract between science and society will sustain public trust in the scientific enterprise.
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