Initial Publication Date: November 3, 2014

GeoEthics, Geoscience, Geoscientists, and the Geoscience Professions

David Mogk, Montana State University

As students prepare to enter the geoscience community of practice, part of their pre-professional training must be targeted to engage the accepted practices and values of the discipline. Personal values and behaviors must be aligned with the expectations of the profession. The actions of individuals reflect on the integrity of the discipline, the advancement of Science requires trust that individual scientists act responsibly, and Society must have confidence in the work of individual geoscientists and the geosciences as a profession.

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.

Geoethics and the Geoscience Professions

Geoscientists have responsibilities as Scientists and to the progress of science. These are codified in the codes of ethics of professional societies, and also in statutory regulations regarding the responsible conduct of research.

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)

Ethics Policies Developed for U. S. Governmental Agencies

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 Teaching

Reflections on Responsible Conduct of Teaching--we do not accept anything but best practices in our research mission; why would we accept anything but use of the best, evidence-based practices in instruction? Faculty have a responsibility to students, institutions, and the advancement of science to commit to using best practices in instruction and mentoring of students.

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

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. See also:

  • AIPG White Paper on Responsible Mining (Acrobat (PDF) 755kB Mar1 18)--"Responsible mining demonstrably respects and protects the interests of all stakeholders, human health and the environment, and contributes discernibly and fairly to broad economic development of the producing country and to benefit local communities, while embracing best international practices and upholding the rule of law"

Expectations for Ethical Behavior in the Workforce