Initial Publication Date: February 16, 2018

Professionalism in the Geosciences in Service to Society

The International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) Task Group on Global Geoscience Professionalism states:

"Geoscientists in all areas of the geoscience profession are called upon to provide expert services and opinions. These services and opinions are relied upon by employers and the public to make key decisions; decisions which affect business, the general public good, and the environment. It is essential that those geoscientists providing the services and opinions are providing them at a professional level; incorporating:

  • Sound geoscience knowledge and application of theory;
  • Exceptional ethics; and
  • good judgement; providing services and opinions only in the areas of geoscience in which they are competent."

The Cape Town Statement on Geoethics further explicates the expectations for professional behavior of geoscientists.

Contractor/Client Relations

Professionalism in relations between contractors and clients may be dictated to some extent by licensure and certification requirements, although these requirements may vary according to national or state jurisdictions. Practicioners need to be aware of issues related to

  • Competence
  • Confidentiality
  • Negligence
  • Accurate representation of abilities,knowledge and expertise, and
  • Reporting standards regarding uncertainty.

Geoscience Canada has produced Competency Profile for Professional Geoscientists at Entry to Practice and defines competence as "...the ability to perform a practice task with a specified level of proficiency." In the context of this module, competencies defined for geoscientists related to professionalism and ethics include: 1.6 Professionalism

  • 1.6.1 Comply with relevant legislation, regulations and statutory reporting requirements.
  • 1.6.2 Practice within the bounds of one's expertise and limitations.
  • 1.6.3 Maintain awareness of best practices and guidelines.
  • 1.6.4 Seek advice or assistance where necessary.
  • 1.6.5 Act with flexibility in dealing with new and changing situations.
  • 1.6.6 Treat others with respect and fairness.
  • 1.6.7 Apply basic conflict resolution strategies.
  • 1.6.8 Share geoscience information to assist the learning of others.
  • 1.6.9 Work in a multidisciplinary team environment.
  • 1.6.10 Represent the profession in a responsible manner.
  • 1.6.11 Recognize the impact of geoscience practice on clients, society and the natural environment.

1.8 Ethics

  • 1.8.1 Comply with relevant codes of ethics.
  • 1.8.2 Recognize obligations and responsibilities to society, to clients and to employers.
  • 1.8.3 Practice in a manner that is non-prejudicial.
  • 1.8.4 Respect confidentiality of information.
  • 1.8.5 Recognize potential, perceived and real conflicts of interest.
  • 1.8.6 Act with concern for the natural environment.
  • 1.8.7 Identify and address health and safety concerns encountered in practice.
  • 1.8.8 Accept accountability for decisions and actions.

Standards: Chain of Evidence, QA/QC

Serving as an Expert Witness

Geoscientists may be called upon to serve as expert witnesses in civil or criminal cases. The role of the expert witness is to provide state-of-the-art information pertaining to the issue, not to be an advocate for one side or the other. Guidelines of how to prepare to be an expert witness were presented by Dr. Ruth Allington at the 35th IGC meeting in Cape Town South Africa (The roles and responsibilities of geoscientists providing expertise in civil and criminal proceedings-- a practical guide to the requirements and avoiding the pitfalls.). AAAS Court Appointed Scientific Experts (CASE) has provided guidelines for scientific testimony in the legal system. Download the Handbook for Experts, vol 3Some additional considerations regarding the role of expert witness include:

  • The witness is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education;
  • Such knowledge will assist the court or jury to understand the evidence and decide disputed facts. That is, the knowledge is relevant to the matter under dispute.
  • Serves as trial witness, advisor to court
  • Mediates settlement discussions
  • Facilitates comprehension of the evidence
  • Avoid COI; Impeachment of evidence (credibility).