GeoEthics > GeoEthics and Self

GeoEthics and Self

David Mogk, Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University, based in part on material developed by participants at the 2014 Teaching GeoEthics Across the Curriculum workshop.

I know right from wrong
I know right from wrong
If I die and my soul gets lost
It's nobody's fault but mine.
–David Bromberg, Legendary Folk/Blues Artist

How do students learn right from wrong in their pre-professional training in the geosciences? Personal value systems are developed in the context of the values and expectations of the profession, but ultimately individuals are responsible for their own value systems and behaviors. Goals of training geoscientists in GeoEthics include 1) developing the ability of to recognize ethical dilemmas and their implications, and 2) providing a "toolkit" of strategies and practices to employ ethical decision-making to address these issues. Part of this essential training lies in:

  • Self-monitoring and self-regulating behavior: as in development of Metacognition (students must be aware of their own learning), GeoEthics requires that students must be aware of ethical issues that arise, and adopt behaviors to appropriately respond to these situations. This is particularly important as students prepare to conduct their Science and interact with scientists.These lessons cannot be learned in a single exposure, but must be practiced regularly throughout the curriculum from many perspectives; and
  • Addressing Controversial Issues: this is an important aspect of the Affective Domain, and addresses values in conflict that may be based upon pre-held beliefs, biases, stereotypes, judgments, and complex issues that are not easily reduced to "black or white" representations. Students need to be aware of, and comfortable with, their own value systems (e.g. clear and accurate presentation of evidence, acknowledgement of limits of understanding, addressing uncertainty) as they are called upon to address controversial issues such as evolution and climate change as they interact with the public.

There is a rich literature that his investigated the moral development of individuals. Here are a few examples:

  • Kohlberg, L. (1977). Implications of moral stages for adult education. Religious Education, 72(2), 183–201.
  • Kohlberg, L. (1984). The psychology of moral development: The nature and validity of moral stages. In Essays on moral development (Vol. 2). San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row.

There are some guiding ethical principles that can inform the development of personal value systems for young geoscientists:

  • Beneficence: the concept that scientific research should have as a goal the welfare of society; rooted in medical research, the central tenet is "do no harm" (and corollaries remove harm, prevent harm, optimize benefits, "do good"). For a more expansive introduction to beneficence, see the essay on The Principles of Beneficence in Applied Ethics from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Some simple guiding questions in applying the concept of beneficence to ethical dilemmas include:
    • Who benefits?
    • Who are the stakeholders?
    • Who are the decision-makers?
    • Who is impacted?
    • What are the risks?
  • Ethical Reasoning Can Be Taught; Ethical reasoning is a way of thinking about issues of right and wrong. Processes of
    reasoning can be taught, and school is an appropriate place to teach them. The reason is
    that, although parents and religious schools may teach ethics, they do not always teach
    ethical reasoning. See the article by:
    • Sternberg, Robert J. "Teaching for Ethical Reasoning in Liberal Education." Liberal Education 96.3 (2010): 32-37.
  • Ethical Decision Making: Shaun Taylor's presentation: Geoethics Forums (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 380kB Jun11 14), given at the 2014 Teaching GeoEthics workshop, provided a simple model to help students engage Ethical Decision-Making that includes a) the context/facts of the situation, b) the stakeholders, c) the decision-makers, d) these inform a number of alternate choices, e) that are mediated through the evaluation of impacts and negotiations among the parties, that lead to f) selection of an optimal choice. Taylor provides guidance for what makes a good ethical dilemma discussion, including:
    • Trust, respect, disagreement without personal attacks
    • Being judgmental vs. making a judgment
    • Emphasize process vs. conclusion
    • Uncertainty is OK
    • Description then prescription

Activity: GeoEthics Forums–The Grey Side of Green (a guide for ethics decision making)

Daniel Vallero also addressed ethical decision making in his presentation at the 2014 Teaching GeoEthics workshop, and defines this 6-step approach to ethical decision making:

  1. State or define the problem/issue
  2. Gather information ("facts") from all sides
  3. Delineate all possible resolutions.
  4. Apply different values, rules, principles, regulations to the different options.
  5. Resolve conflicts among values, rules, etc.
  6. Make a decision and act