Initial Publication Date: February 19, 2018

Principles of Professionalism

Collegiality. Civility. Citizenship. Comity. Consensus. Whatever you call it, we all have to get along in the workplace and in life. In this module we look at the Responsible Conduct of Scientists: the professional behaviors, attitudes and interpersonal relations of scientists at work. Principles of professionalism have their foundations in concepts related to power, trust, respect, responsibility, freedom, and justice. These are topics that are typically not directly addressed in day-to-day workplace communications or in classrooms, but they are essential in providing a safe, inclusive and productive work environment. These principles ultimately impact the quality of our Science, and the well-being of scientists. This section provides background information on underlying principles that contribute to "workplace climate": trust, responsibility, respect, freedom and justice. Resources and readings from this section provide rich materials for group discussion and personal reflection.

Power in Social Structures

Any time there is an asymmetry of power in social structures, there is the potential for engaging unethical behaviors to influence or control the behaviors of others. Power may be either enabling or disabling, and must be applied judiciously. Darker aspects of the use of power over others include behaviors that employ coercion, control (physical and emotional), manipulation, intimidation, retribution, and devaluation or denigration of personal attributes. A Hobbesian (Leviathan, 1651, chapter 12) view of humanity is, "No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." Power literacy can be taught. In your work/study environment, it is worth reflecting on where power resides, and how it is adjudicated. In your personal interactions with peers and subordinates, are you aware of your power over others, and is this power used to enhance and enable or erect barriers (whether deliberate or not) to the work of others?

For an overview of the nature of power in social structures, view the slideshow by Dr. Willem Lammers on Power, Essence and the Organization. Key points of this presentation include:

"No organizationcan work on its primary task without the use of power by its members. If people work together on a complex task, they have to work in different groups on different hierarchical levels. That means that there are differences in status, resources, expertise, access to information, and that these differences are used to influence others: Power. "

  • Definition of power from Max Weber: "...the probability that one actor in a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rests."
  • Six Bases of Social Power from French and Raven (1959), The bases of social power. In D. Cartwright( Ed). Studies in Social Power p. 150-167. Ann arbor MI, Institute of Social Research:
    • Reward Power--based on the perceived ability to give positive consequences or remove negative ones.
    • Coercive Power--the perceived ability to punish those who do not conform with our ideas or demands
    • Legitimate Power--organizational authority, ased on the perception that someone has the right to prescribe behaviour due to election or appointment to a position of responsibility
    • Referent Power--through association with others who possess power
    • Expert Power--based on having distinctive knowledge, expertise, ability or skills
    • Information Power--based on controlling the information needed by others in order to reach an important goal.
  • Power-Over--Survival: people and organizations must be controlled; the hierarchy serves to control; motivates through fear; sees world as an object, made up of many separate, isolated parts without intrinsic life, awareness or value; human being have no inherent worth; value must be earned or granted. People go into survival mode if a) their needs for physical survival are not met, b) if their needs for stability and variation are not met, and c) if they're not taken seriously.
  • Power-With--Competence in Cooperation: "Power grows if people work together" (Mary Parker Follett, 1868-1933); true power means power-with, not power-over; power is not a zero sum game where one person can force another to do their will, power is the capability or agency to do things, that is shared between people, every individual's ideas contribute to the creation of a constantly evolving whole; if those with power-over step back, they can create a common orientation towards the goals of the organizations; power-with focuses on the interests of all parties--their needs concerns, fears and hopes; people go into competence mode if their bodily needs are fulfilled, if their situation is stable, if they feel safe, if they experience social support; organizations must learn to shift power relations from power-over to power-with.
  • The Power of Creative Intention--Refers to inner strength associated with courage, conviction, creativity and self-discipline.

Power used judiciously can bring out the best in people and our institutions!

Additional insights on power can be found:

  • Status, power, and intergroup relations: the personal is the societal-- Susan T. Fiske, Cydney H. Dupree, Gandalf Nicolas, Jillian K. Swenionis, 2016, Current Opinion in Psychology, vol 11 October 2016 p. 44-48. "Highlights: Hierarchy, a human constant, comprises power (resources) and status (prestige). Rank, temporary or chronic, creates distance, agency, and deference. Individual and societal relations mutually reinforce status-competence beliefs. Race, class, and gender dynamics further illustrate status. Although resilient, status systems can shift, a future research direction."
  • An interesting TED talk by Eric Liu addresses Why Ordinary People Need to Understand Power--"we don't like to talk about power" as "we find it scary" and "somehow evil" with it having a "negative moral valence" and states that the pervasiveness of power illiteracy causes a concentration of knowledge, understanding and clout.
  • An example of power abused (more on sexual harassment in following sections): A Field Test for Identifying Appropriate Sexual Partners in Academia--posted by Jon F. Wilkins, February 16, 2016 on Lost in Transcription; contains some interesting reflections on the nature of power in hierarchical academic settings. "Here's the rule: When you have substantial power over someone, don't hit on them."
  • Sexual Harassment in a Culture of Exploitation--Tara Dorje, from Inside Higher Education, posted May 5, 2017; "...examines how the power dynamics between faculty members and grad students make it especially difficult to deal effectively with sexual assault and harassment."


"The scientific enterprise is built on a foundation of trust. Society trusts that scientific research results are an honest and accurate reflection of a researcher's work. Researchers equally trust that their colleagues have gathered data carefully, have used appropriate analytic and statistical techniques, have reported their results accurately, and have treated the work of other researchers with respect. From On Being a Scientist-- National Academy of Sciences 3rd Edition (Contributed by Linda Gundersen)

The following are some reflections on trust from: David Resnik, Scientific Research and the Public Trust, Sci Eng Ethics. 2011 Sep; 17(3): 399–409, doi: 10.1007/s11948-010-9210-x

What is trust?

  • Relationship between or among people
  • Between individuals (e.g., doctor-patient) or Groups/Profession
  • To facilitate cooperative social interactions
  • Business, family relations....shared expectations of behavior
  • To enable risk taking
  • Expectation to use skills and sound judgment
  • Does not know with certainty something will happen
  • Judged to be trustworthy
  • Competence, experience, good will
  • Ethical and legal duties
  • Obligation to do what is expected

Trust in Scientific Research

  • Promotes cooperative relationships and activities among researchers, such as collaborative work, publication, peer review, sharing data, replication of research results, teaching, and mentoring
  • Important in research with human subjects
  • Important in facilitating interactions between scientists and granting agencies, journals, universities, human research or animal research review boards, and other organizations or institutions involved in funding, supporting, and overseeing science.
  • A Troubled Tradition It's time to rebuild trust among authors, editors and peer reviewers by David Resnik, American Scientist, 2011 Volume 99, Number 1
  • Current pressures on funding sources can produce a hyper-competitive environment that can lead to unethical behaviors: Academic Research in the 21st Century: Maintaining Scientific Integrity in a Climate of Perverse Incentives and Hyper-competition -- Edwards, Marc A. and Roy Siddhartha. Environmental Engineering Science. January 2017, 34(1): 51-61. doi:10.1089/ees.2016.0223. "If a critical mass of scientists become untrustworthy, a tipping point is possible in which the scientific enterprise itself becomes inherently corrupt and public trust is lost, risking a new dark age with devastating consequences to humanity. Academia and federal agencies should better support science as a public good, and incentivize altruistic and ethical outcomes, while de-emphasizing output."

What is Public Trust in Scientific Research

  • Society trusts that scientific research results are an honest and accurate reflection of a researcher's work Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy 2009: ix).
  • The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions (Obama 2009).
  • The mission of the NIH Public Trust Initiative (PTI) is to enable the public to understand and to have full confidence in the research that NIH conducts and supports across the country and throughout the world (National Institutes of Health 2010).
  • Academic medicine is entrusted by society with the responsibility to undertake several important social missions toward improving the health of the public, including education, patient care, and research. This trust is given implicit authority by generous public funding and considerable autonomy (Schroeder et al 1989: 803).
  • Society trusts researchers with public resources To maintain society's trust, scientists must exhibit good stewardship of research resources, adhere to ethical standards, and generate knowledge that has useful applications.
  • Society trusts researchers to provide knowledge and expertise that can inform public policy.
  • Policy debates concerning public health, pollution, climate change, economic development, substance abuse, energy utilization.
  • Scientists serve on government advisory bodies and regulatory boards, and give expert testimony to legislative committees.
  • Scientific testimony is often a major factor in criminal cases, products liability litigation, and medical malpractice lawsuits.
  • Society trusts scientists to provide knowledge that will yield beneficial applications in medicine, industry, engineering, technology, agriculture, transportation, communication, and other domains.
  • Important in gaining public acceptance of new technologies (nuclear power, nanotechnology.
  • Essential when the risks and benefits of new technologies are not well understood, because the public must rely on scientists to make informed judgments about those new technologies.
  • Paving the Way to More Reliable Research--Stephanie Wykstra explores issues related to lack of reproducible Science and possible remedies. From Inside Higher Education, July 10 , 2017.


The dignity of all people must be respected. Attacks on "political correctness" does not give license to denigrate, humiliate, marginalize and abuse. Ad hominem attacks on an individual cannot be tolerated. "Locker room banter" is not OK. It is hurtful and has real consequences. Be civil. Or in the words of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure: "Be excellent to each other!" (with apologies to So-Crates). Enough said.


Scientists have responsibilities at many levels, to: Science, the profession, colleagues, students, employers and employees, clients and end users, the public and humanity. Responsibility entails a personal duty or obligation to satisfactorily perform according to personal commitment or professional/social standards. A failure to act responsibly can lead to loss of personal or professional credibility, and possibly even legal actions. Examples of these responsibilities are specifically identified in the

Singapore Statement (Acrobat (PDF) 336kB Feb16 18): "Preamble. The value and benefits of research are vitally dependent on the integrity of research. While there can be and are national and disciplinary differences in the way research is organized and conducted, there are also principles and professional responsibilities that are fundamental to the
integrity of research wherever it is undertaken."

And in the geosciences, the Geological Society of America Code of Conduct articulates numerous professional responsibilities:

AGU has developed a policy on Responsibilities and Rights of Scientists and their Scientific Integrity and Professional Ethics policy, Scientific Code of Conduct and Professional Ethics, also defines Responsibilities (p. 2-4):

AGU is also developing a Position Statement: Responsibilities and Rights of Scientists (Position Statement Draft 9/12/2016).

Here's a reflection on Accountability (my father spent a lifetime involved with baseball, and this is a sports parable that applies):

Responsibility of Science To Society

The AAAS Board of Directors (1998) asserted: "...that, if the U.S. is to respond effectively to the challenges of the 21st century, we must find ways to reorganize our science and technology enterprise to

  • address tomorrow's needs and aspirations
  • maintaining global sustainability,
  • improving human health,
  • addressing economic disparities,
  • understanding our place in the universe,
  • promoting peace and security, and
  • directing the products of technology toward the betterment of society, nationally and worldwide".

In 2015 AAAS conducted a survey in 2015 that produced the report, (see Social Responsibility: A Preliminary Inquiry into the Perspectives of Scientists, Engineers and Health Professionals). From the Executive Summary: "The notion that scientists have a responsibility to society that goes beyond their responsibilities to the profession is long-standing. Yet, there is no consensus on what the content and scope of social responsibilities are or ought to be. While there is a growing literature concerning the issues encapsulated by the phrase "social responsibility of scientists," a review of that literature reveals many and sometimes competing views, and the lack of data to inform the discussion." (Citation:Wyndham J. (et al.), Social Responsibilities: A Preliminary Inquiry into the Perspectives of Scientists, Engineers and Health Professionals " (Report prepared under the auspices of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition and AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program), March 2015. doi:10.1126/srhrl.aaa9798

Other useful resources can be found:

AIPG White Paper on Responsible Mining

  • 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."

Responsibility to Report, Self-Police


The International Council for Science (ICSU) has defined The Principle of Universality (freedom and responsibility) of Science. ICSU Statue 5 states: "The free and responsible practice of science is fundamental to scientific advancement and human and environmental well-being. Such practice, in all its aspects, requires freedom of movement, association, expression and communication for scientists, as well as equitable access to data, information, and other resources for research. It requires responsibility at all levels to carry out and communicate scientific work with integrity, respect, fairness, trustworthiness, and transparency, recognizing its benefits and possible harms.

In advocating the free and responsible practice of science, ICSU promotes equitable opportunities for access to science and its benefits, and opposes discrimination based on such factors as ethnic origin, religion, citizenship, language, political or other opinion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or age." (Contributed by Linda Gundersen)

A large concern of Scientific Freedom, is the expectation that scientific research should be done without fear of overt political pressure.

  • USDA Scientific Integrity Policy Handbook -- July 2013 and updated March 8, 2016. "USDA is committed to a culture of scientific integrity.. Science, and public trust in science, thrives in an environment that shields scientific data and analyses and their use in policy making from political interference or inappropriate influcuence. Scientific and technical findings should not be suppressed or altered for political purposes."
  • A recent troubling incident: Trump transition team for Energy Department seeks names of employees involved in climate meetings--article by Steven Mufson and Juliet Eliperin, published December 9, 2016 in the Washington Post.
  • Communication Chill--Andrew Kreighbaum, from Inside Higher Education, posted January 25, 2017; "As EPA freezes grants, agencies issue internal guidance to employees on outside communications, stirring fears of political interference in science."
  • Freedom to Bully,How Laws Intended to Free Information are Used to Harass Researchers--Michael Halpern, February 2015, Union of Concerned Scientists, Center for Science and Democracy. "Open records laws are increasingly being used as a weapon against researchers whose work threatens private interests"
  • New Energy Dept. guidelines: Changing culture or political ploy?--Ellen Powell, January 12, 2017, Christian Science Monitor; "Scientists can now speak freely to the media and publish in scientific journals. The guidelines may set the course for the upcoming confirmation hearing for Energy Secretary – and the department's next four years." Access the U.S. Dept. of Energy Scientific Integrity Policy "This document sets forth a policy intended to 1) ensure a culture of scientific integrity; (2) strengthen the actual and perceived credibility of the Federal Government and Federal Government-sponsored research; (3) facilitate the free flow of scientific and technical information consistent with privacy and classification standards and applicable laws, regulations, and DOE Orders and Policies; and (4) establish principles for conveying scientific and technological information to the public."
  • Following Reports of Interference, GAO to Study Scientific Integrity at Federal Agencies--from American Institute of Physics, posted October 27, 2017. "The Government Accountability Office has agreed to evaluate the state of scientific integrity at federal agencies at the request of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who says he is concerned about reports of political interference in scientific work."
  • Perspectives of Scientists Who Become Targets: Katharine Hayhoe--Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, posted August 10, 2017.
  • The International Council for Science has developed a comprehensive statement that outlines the Rights and Responsibilities of Science.
    "Statute 5. The Principle of Universality of Science: The free and responsible practice of science is fundamental to scientific advancement and human and environmental well-being. Such practice, in all its aspects, requires freedom of movement, association, expression and communication for scientists, as well as equitable access to data, information, and other resources for research. It requires responsibility at all levels to carry out and communicate scientific work with integrity, respect, fairness, trustworthiness, and transparency, recognizing its benefits and possible harms. In advocating the free and responsible practice of science, ICSU promotes equitable opportunities for access to science and its benefits, and opposes discrimination based on such factors as ethnic origin, religion, citizenship, language, political or other opinion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or age."


In the course of their work, geoscientists may run into issues that relate to justice. As stewards of Earth and its resources, the concepts of environmental justice, generational justice, and distributional justice may pertain.

Environmental Justice

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines Environmental Justice as "....the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Environmental Justice is a complex issue involving politics, culture, race class, economics, and geoscience.

For more information on Environmental Justice, see the InTeGrate module on Teaching Environmental Justice: Interdisciplinary Approaches.

Generational Justice

Actions taken today by society or individuals may have long-term consequences. What are our responsibilities to future generations? How do we best engage stewardship of the planet and wiseuse of limited or non-renewable resources? What are the dangers of possibly irreversible events?

Distributional Justice

The resources of the world are not uniformly distributed. How can the Earth's resources be equitably distributed among those living today? How does this impact the people of different nations and populations? How does this translate to policies involving developing countries? What is fair?


Geoethics is tightly connected to issues of sustainability. Grunwald (2015,The imperative of sustainable development: elements of an ethics of using geo-resources responsibly. In: Wyss, M.; Peppoloni, S. (Hrsg.): Geoethics. Ethical challenges and case studies in earth sciences. Amsterdam, Niederlande: Elsevier 2015, S. 26-35) has outlined sustainability principles relevant to geoscience:

  • Dangers and intolerable risks for human health have to be avoided.
  • Minimum basic services (nutrition, housing, clothing...) and protection against life risks (illness , disability) have to be secured for all members of society.
  • The usage rate of renewable resources must neither exceed their replenishment rate nor endanger the efficiency and reliability of the respective ecosystem.
  • The reserves of proven nonrenewable resources have to be preserved over time.
  • The release of substances must not exceed the absorption capacity of the ecosystem.
  • Technical risks with potentially disastrous impacts must be avoided.
  • Cultural and natural landscapes... have to be conserved.
  • All members of society must have the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes.
  • All members of society have equal access to information, education, occupation, office....

See the webinar on Teaching Sustainability and Environmental Justice in the Humanities and Social Sciences--presenters Kate Darby (Western Washington University), Sarah Fortner (Wittenberg University), Ruth Hoff (Wittenberg University); from the InTeGrate program and the InTeGrate module on Environmental Justice in the Context of Sustainability

Another important contribution demonstrating the relation between ethics and sustainability is: Ellen P. Metzger and Randall R. Curren (2017) Sustainability: Why the Language and Ethics of Sustainability Matter in the Geoscience Classroom. Journal of Geoscience Education: May 2017, Vol. 65, No. 2, pp. 93-100.