GeoEthics, Geoscience, Geoscientists, and the Geoscience Professions
David Mogk, Montana State University
The National Science Foundation requires training programs for undergraduate, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR).
The Nature of the Geosciences
The geosciences encompass the study of the history, materials, and processes of the complex Earth system, and play a central role in contributing to the safety, health, and welfare of humanity. The Earth system is open, heterogeneous, dynamic and complex. Geoscientists must be equipped to address the concepts of "deep time", work on spatial scales from atomic to planetary, make inferences from an incomplete geologic record, and deal with ambiguity and uncertainty in their professional work. The realities of work in the geosciences presents many challenges that confront issues of GeoEthics: how we do our Science, how we interact with other scientists, how we communicate our results to the public. A more comprehensive presentation of the nature of the geosciences can be found in the InTeGrate module on Teaching the Methods of Geoscience.
- Geoscience and Geoscientists: Uniquely equipped to study the Earth
by Manduca, C. A., and Kastens, K. A., in Special Paper 486, Geological Society of America, p. 1-12, 2012
- The Method of Multiple Working Hypotheses by Chamberlin, T. C., Science, 1890
- How Geoscientists Think and Learn
by Kastens, K., Manduca, C., Cervato, C., Frodeman, R., Goodwin, C., Liben, L., Mogk, D., Spangler, T., Stillings, N., and Titus, S., Eos Trans. AGU, v. 90, p. 31, 2009
- Geological reasoning; geology as an interpretive and historical science by Frodeman, R., Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 107, no. 8, p. 960-968, 1995
- Methodological and Epistemic Differences between Historical Science and Experimental Science by Cleland, C.E., Philosophy of Science, v. 69, no. 3, p. 447-451, 2002
- Historical science, experimental science, and the scientific method by Cleland, C. E., Geology, v. 29, no. 11, p. 987-990, 2001
- Charles R. Jr. Ault 1998,Criteria of Excellence for Geological Inquiry: The Necessity of Ambiguity, Journal of Research in Science Teaching v. 35, no. 2, p. 189-212
- Arthur Hill's criteria for uncertainty - Causation and Hill's Criteria)–posted by Mark Crislip in Science Based Medicine, Exploring Issues and Controversies in Science and Medicine
Geoethics and the Geoscience Professions
Codes of Ethics of Professional Societies
Codes of Ethics of Professional Societies–a compilation from many professional societies that serve the geosciences.
The American Geosciences Institute has recently developed a Guidelines for Ethical Professional Conduct–these recommendations have been endorsed by over 30 AGI member societies. A companion document provides information on Development of the American Geosciences Institute Guidelines for Ethical Professional Conduct: History, Context, and Intended Use (Acrobat (PDF) 85kB Nov4 14)
Responsible Conduct of Research
Compilation of Resources on the Responsible Conduct of Research–authorship, plagiarism, conflicts of interest, laboratory safety and much more....
Responsible Conduct of Scientists
Geoethics and Professionalism–principles of professionalism (power, respect, responsibility, justice), unprofessional behaviors (sexual harassment/assault, bullying), factors that determine workplace "climate" (implicit bias, empowering bystanders), diversity, professional relations built on trust (collaborations, client-consultant, editor-author, faculty-student), expert witness), and much more....
Ethics Education for Geospatial Professionals
- Ethics Education for Geospatial Professionals Products–"The National Science Foundation provided support needed to develop and institute graduate seminars at Penn State, Oregon State, and the University of Minnesota that rigorously explore ethical implications of geographic information science and technology (GIS&T)." This site contains case studies, course syllabi, and much more.
- The GIS Professional Ethics Project: Practical ethics Eduation for GIS Pros–DiBiase, D, C. Goranson, F. Harvey, and D. Wright (2009). The GIS Professional Ethics Project: Practical Ethics Education for GIS Pros. Proceedings of the 24th International Cartography Conference. Santiago, Chile, 15-21 November.
- GIS Code of Ethics–GIS Certification Institute
- Code of Ethics of the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
Responsible Conduct of Teaching
"Do no harm" (and optimize benefits). The geoscience professions do not tolerate use of inappropriate methods or tools in our technical work, why would we accept use of outdated and discredited instructional practices in our educational mission? The evidence is clear, based on Discipline-Based Education Research (NRC, 2012), that students learn best through active-learning methods. In an article published in PNAS (2014), Freeman et al. clearly demonstrate that Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering and Mathematics (Acrobat (PDF) 769kB Oct10 14).
To not use the best, demonstrably effective, instructional practices has been equated with medical malpractice (comparing this evidence to the 1964 Surgeon General's report on the health effects of smoking, as reported in Inside Higher Education. "If doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers and other professionals are charged with a duty owing to the public whom they serve, it could not be said that nothing in the law precludes similar treatment of professional educators" (Donohue v. Copiague Union Free School District, as cited in TA DeMitchell, 2003, Statutes and Standards: Has the Door to Education Malpractice Been Opened? BYU Educ. & LJ). The Educational Malpractice Doctrine identifies ".... three general categories: (1) a student or a claimant injured by the student alleges that the school negligently failed to provide the student with adequate skills; (2) the student or the claimant alleges that the school negligently diagnosed or failed to diagnose the student's learning or mental disabilities; or (3) the student or claimant alleges that the school negligently supervised the student's training".
- Statement on Professional Ethics–American Association of University Professors "...has recognized that membership in the academic profession carries with it special responsibilities. The Association has consistently affirmed these responsibilities in major policy statements, providing guidance to professors in such matters as their utterances as citizens, the exercise of their responsibilities to students and colleagues, and their conduct when resigning from an institution or when undertaking sponsored research".
In an interview in Wired, Freeman relates another important dimension of the results of his study: "...there is a strong ethical component. There is a growing body of evidence (Haak et al.Science 3 June 2011: Vol. 332 no. 6034 pp. 1213-1216) showing that active learning differentially benefits students of color and/or students from disadvantaged backgrounds and/or women in male-dominated fields. It's not a stretch to claim that lecturing actively discriminates against underrepresented students." Recruitment and retention has been a long standing issue in the STEM disciplines, and another key factor is making classes student-centered (see, for example, Sheila Tobias' classic They're Not Dumb, They're Different: Stalking the Second Tier (2006) from the Online Ethics Center for Engineering; National Academy of Engineering). Tobias recommends:
- "A less intense pace for classes.
- A reduction in the competitive pressure caused by curve grading.
- A student's motivation and interest should affect performance, not the opposite discouraging effect curve grading tends to inspire.
- Teachers such as Harvard's Dudley Herschbach are trying methods such as "resurrection points" instead of curve grading and emphasizing to students that it is more important to be "ardent" and "persistent" than "brilliant." His efforts have yielded record success in terms of students, enrolling, and completing the class and outperforming previous years' classes.
- The use of exit interviews when students do decide to leave a math/science class or major.
- This provides feedback to the department about potential problem areas.
- It gives the department a chance to redirect the student's science interest instead of letting the student give up science entirely.
- It gives the student a sense that his/her departure was not desired or unnoticed."
What can be done to ensure ethical practices in our educational mission?
- Faculty have a responsibility to keep up to date with the most effective methods of instruction and assessment, and to create a positive learning environment where all students can succeed;
- Students have an expectation that they will be treated with respect, that assessments are fair and provide feedback to improve their learning, and that instruction will lead to personal development as preparation for continued study or to enter the workforce.
Think about it.
American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG)
AIPG publishes The Professional Geologist, which has a monthly column on Professional Ethics and Practices written by David Abbott (149 columns as of January 2014). These essays provide good insights into many aspects of GeoEthics, and could serve as reading assignments to initiate discussions of GeoEthics in geoscience coursework.
Expectations for Ethical Behavior in the Workforce
- Perspectives from an employer of geoscientists: presentation at the 2014 Teaching GeoEthics Workshop by John F. Childs, Childs Geoscience, Inc.: Our Sense of the Ethical Environment (Acrobat (PDF) 2.4MB Jun17 14)
- A comparison of the geoscientific, nontechnical and soft skills needed by service-industry geoscientists with those required by oil-company geoscientists, C.P.M. Heatah, AAPG Bulletin, v. 89 #10, p. 1275-1292. "The key nontechnical and soft skills are critical thinking, ethics, and commitment."
- Summit on the Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education; see the report from the 2015 Geoscience Employers Workshop that identifies technical skills and professional skills (including ethics) that are required to prepare for a sucessful career in the geosciences.
Dealing with Unethical or Illegal Conduct in Higher Education– Investigations into cases of wrongdoing by professors are increasingly in the public eye. But are colleges and universities doing enough to deal with the problem? By Anna Azvolinsky, The Scientist, posted November 1, 2017