Ethics and Professionalism in Nanotechnology

David Mogk, Dept. of Earth Sciences, Montana State University, based on content originally developed for the Teaching GeoEthics Across the Geosceince Curriculum Project.

Professionalism in the geosciences refers to the behaviors and attitudes of geoscientists as they interact with colleagues in the work environment and with the public in serving a wide variety of societal needs. The following topics address numerous issues of professionalism that impact the ability of scientists to do their work and for Science to progress. Please use this module as a guide for self-assessment of your classes, lab, department or program. Are there issues that you should be aware of? The goal is to help identify instances of unprofessional conduct, to prevent these from becoming major issues, and to provide the support to encourage scientists to act to mitigate and resolve these issues.

Start the conversation: in your classes, in the coffee room, in departmental meetings and seminars. These issues cannot remain an "open secret" and demand to be explicitly addressed. Consider the following topics, use the following resources to discuss with colleagues/students and for personal reflection. Are you doing all you can to ensure that your work environment ascribes to the highest standards of professionalism?

Principles of Professionalism

Collegiality. Citizenship. Comity. Consensus. Whatever you call it, we all have to get along in the workplace and life. In this module we look at the Responsible Conduct of Scientists: the professional behaviors, attitudes and interpersonal relations of scientists at work. It's a simple matter of RESPECT and RESPONSIBILITY: for people and for our Science. This section provides background information on underlying principles that contribute to "workplace climate": trust, responsibility, justice, freedom. Resources and readings from this section provide rich materials for group discussion and personal reflection.

Workplace "Climate"

Is your department/workplace welcoming and inclusive for ALL people? The geosciences have the lowest rate of participation among the STEM disciplines for people from underrepresented groups. What is being done in your department, what can you do personally, to make your work environment inclusive and welcoming to ALL people? "Political correctness" is about respect for human dignity for ALL people. "Locker room banter" is hurtful to many people whether directed towards individuals or not.

Building an Inclusive Department/Program/Profession

  • Of Rocks and Social Justice--Editorial, NATURE GEOSCIENCE, VOL 9, NOVEMBER 2016. "Despite much emphasis on diversity in the US, geoscience remains one of the least diverse scientific disciplines. If we want to achieve and maintain diversity, we need to make our work environments welcoming to a broad spectrum of voices."
  • Inclusive Astronomy--2015 recommendations from the American Astronomical Society; what lessons can be learned for the rest of the geosciences? --Contributed by Carolyn Brinkworth.
  • Building an Inclusive AAS - The Critical Role of Diversity and Inclusion Training for AAS Council and Astronomy Leadership--Carolyn Brinkworth, Allison Byrd Skaer, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Johanna Teske, Sarah Tuttle (2016). White Paper submitted to the AAS Education Task Force.
  • CSWA Survey Workplace Climate and Uncomfortable Conversation About Harassment--AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy report
  • Gender Bias in the Workplace--from UCAR, numerous examples are documented. (Contributed by Carolyn Brinkworth).
  • Values for the Trump Era--by Colleen Flaherty, November 30, 2016 from Inside Higher Education. Philosopher proposes a code of conduct for academics in a time of political uncertainty. MIT faculty members affirm their commitment to shared values.
  • Gendered Skepticism--Colleen Flaherty, January 8, 2015 from Inside Higher Education; New study on online comments suggests big gap in the way men and women perceive evidence of gender bias in sciences.
  • Inclusive Teaching Resources and Strategies--University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching;
  • An international perspective: Science in Australia Gender Equity Athena SWAN Principles
  • Consider making an affirmative statement about inclusiveness on your department webpage. Here is an example from the Department of Geosciences, Boise State University ID USA
  • Here is the MIT Statement of Shared Values
  • The University of California system issued this statement of UC's Principles Against Intolerance--President Janet Napolitano and Chancellors.

Be Prepared

Administrators, faculty, staff, students, managers and co-workers may encounter all manner of interpersonal conflicts that may affect the safety and productivity of the work environment. Know how to recognize the signs of potential trouble, intervene early to prevent a bad situation, know the rules, and have a plan in place about how you can respond to mitigate impacts. Here are some thoughts on how to prepare:

  • Be Prepared blog post on Earth and Mind and presentation (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 5.8MB Dec11 16) made to the 2017 AGU Heads and Chairs meeting session on Addressing Harassment and Improving Workplace Climate by David Mogk.

Power in Social Structures


"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 inteactions
  • 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 hypercompetitive environment that can lead to unethical behaviors: Academic Research in the 21st Century: Maintaining Scientific Integrity in a Climate of Perverse Incentives and Hypercompetition -- 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


The International Science Council (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.
  • 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 Governmentt and Federal Government-sponsored research; (3) facilitate the free flow of scientific and technical informatio 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."


The dignity of all people must be respected. Attacks on "political correctness" does not give license to denigrate, humiliate, marginalize and abuse. "Locker room banter" is not OK. It is hurtful and has real consequences. Be civil. 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. For example, these responsibilities are specifically identified in the

  • Geological Society of America Code of Conduct.
  • The AGU Scientific Integrity and Professional Ethics Scientific Code of Conduct and Professional Ethics also defines Responsibilities (p. 2-4).  
  • Here's a reflection on Accountability (my father spent a lifetime involved with baseball, and this is a sports parable that applies):
  • 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".
  • Geoethics and Society--the sister module from Teaching Geoethics Across the Geoscience Curriculum.
  • Why must scientists become more ethically sensitive than they used to be?-- Ziman, J., 1998, Science, 282, p. 1813,1814.
  • Koocher, G., and Keith-Speigel, P., 2010, Peers nip misconduct in the bud: Nature, 466, p. 438-440. Responding to Suspected Violations of Professional Standards, Whistle Blowing
  • On Being A Scientist --A Guide to Responsible Conduct of Research 3rd Ed., 2009, National Academy Press (pages 19-23)
  • Whistle Blowing--Resources for Research Ethics Education, UC San Diego
  • Ethical relationships between science and society: Understanding the social responsibility of scientists--Small, B. H. (2011). (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from
  • The December 29 article from Wired Magazine on Harassment in the Sciences provides a month recap of 2016 news stories on this topic.
  • AAU Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct--
  • Not a Fluke: That Case of Sexual Harassment or Assault is not an isolated Incident!--Julie Libarkin, Geocognition Research Laboratory at Michigan State University, has posted this compilation of documented cases of sexual harassment or assault. As of 12/20/2016 there are 485 documented cases and counting!
  • Sexual Harassment: Defining the Problem--posted by John Johnson, May 12, 2014, in Women in Astronomy.
  • How Sexual Harassment Halts Science--Vince Grzegorek published in SLATE.
  • What Happens When a Harassment Whistleblower Goes on the Science Job Market?--Sarah Scoles, 7/17/2016 from Wired.
  • How Women are Harassed Out of Science--Joan C. Williams and Kate Massinger, Atlantic Magazine, July 25, 2016
  • Coming Out of the Shadows: A Sexual Harassment Story--Joan Schmelz, posted February 17, 2011 on Blogspot.
  • From the Field: Hazed Tells Her Story of Harassment--Kate Clancy, January 30, 2012, Scientific American
  • The National Academy of Sciences Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine convened a workshop to address Impacts of Sexual Harassment in Academia on March 28, 2017. See the article in April 7, 2017 EOS that reports on this issue: Tacklng Sexual Harassment in Science: A Long Road Ahead
  • The Nationals Science Foundation Will Not Tolerate Harassment at Grantee Institutions--NSF Policy Statement, 25 January 2016
  • Should institutions explicitly address "Rape Culture" in their sexual misconduct policies? Read this article from Inside Higher Education (posted November 7, 2016)
  • Whom Does Secrecy Protect?--article from Inside Higher Education. "Colleges don't tell students that professors are being investigated -- or even had been found guilty of -- harassment. Berkeley grad students demand change in this practice."
  • Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Science, Engineering, and Medical Workplaces A Scoping Workshop Summary--National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine (CWSEM) Workshop 2016.
  • Sexual Harassment in the Sciences: A Call to Respond (9 September, 2016 Workshop) convened by AAAS, NSF, AGU, ACS, AWG; see the [link Harassment_Workshop-Recommendation.pdf 'Common Principles Recommendation']
  • Burden of Proof in the Balance--Jake New, December 16, 2016 from Inside Higher Education; "If Trump administration changes the rules on colleges' obligations in adjudicating sex assault charges, will institutions change their policies?"
  • Complaints of sexual harassment and other forms of discrimiation are addressed by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. In the 2016 OCR report Securing Equal Educational Opportunity, a record 16,720 complaints were filed in the past year according to an article in Inside Higher Education. A companion article, Campus Sexual Assault in a Trump Era (November 10, 2016, Inside Higher Education) reports: "President-elect Trump has offered few details on how his administration might deal with campus sexual assault, but his surrogates and other Republicans say they would scale back enforcement of Title IX". And Burden of Proof in the Balance--from Inside Higher Education, Jake New, December 16, 2016; "If Trump administration changes the rules on colleges' obligations in adjudicating sex assault charges, will institutions change their policies?"
  • Title IX Officers Pay a Price for Navigating a Volatile Issue--Robin Wilson, October 16, 2016, Chronicle of Higher Education.
  • Sexual Harassment in the Sciences: A Call to Respond--AGU press release for the 9 September 2016 workshop sponsored by AGU, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Chemical Society, American Geosciences Institute, Association for Women Geoscientists, and Earth Science Women's Network. Read the Draft Organizational Principles for Addressing Harassment (Acrobat (PDF) 611kB Jan8 17)
  • See AGU's webpages on Harassment and Ethics, and the more encompassing AGU Scientific Integrity and Professional Ethics Policy (2013)
  • The 2016 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting (see Events on Ethics, Response to Harassment and Work-climate) embarked on a Safe AGU (Acrobat (PDF) 141kB Jan3 17) campaign that included numerous workshops and theme sessions, and the annual AGU Heads and Chairs Meeting held a half day session on "Addressing harassment and improving workplace climate" led by Rebecca Haacker, Director SOARS Program UCAR, Carolyn Brinkworth, Director of Diversity, Education and Outreach, NCAR, David Mogk, Professor of Geology, Montana State University. (See the program for the slide sets and related resources)
  • Anti-Harassment Policy for AAS & Division Meetings and Activities--policies developed by the American Astronomical Society.
  • The 2015 AGU Meeting held a Town Hall Meeting on Forward Focused Ethics--What is the Role of Scientific Societies in Responding to Harassment and other Workplace Climate Issues?-- (watch the YouTube Recording)
  • Steps to Building a No-Tolerance Culture for Sexual Harassment--Marín-Spiotta, E., B. Schneider, and M. A. Holmes (2016), Steps to building a no-tolerance culture for sexual harassment, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO044859. Published on 28 January 2016.
  • Sexual Harassment and Scientific Community--From the Prow statement by By Margaret Leinen, President, American Geophysical Union, Eric Davidson, President-elect, American Geophysical Union, and Carol Finn, Past President, American Geophysical Union
  • Senior Scientists Must Engage in the Fight Against Harassment-- Diniega, S., J. Tan, M. S. Tiscareno, and E. Wehner (2016), Senior scientists must engage in the fight against harassment, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO058767. Published on 08 September 2016.
  • Sexual Harassment in the Sciences: A Call to Geoscience Faculty and Researchers to Respond (Acrobat (PDF) 65kB Jan3 17)-editorial by Kristin St. John, Eric Riggs, and David Mogk published in the Journal of Geoscience Education, 2016, v. 64, p. 255-257.
  • Zero Tolerance. Period.--Bernard Wood, editorial in Science Magazine, 30 Oct 2015: Vol. 350, Issue 6260, pp. 487DOI: 10.1126/science.aad6652
  • The Sexual Misconducdt Case that Rocked Anthropology--Michael Balter, February 9, 2016, Posted in Scientific Community, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf4016
  • Title IX and STEM--resources from American Women in Science (AWIS)
  • Academic Community Responds to Harassment Cases--Toni Feder, Physics Today 69(6), 30 (2016); doi: 10.1063/PT.3.3195
  • determining whether sexual conduct is "unwelcome";
  • evaluating evidence of harassment;
  • determining whether a work environment is sexually "hostile";
  • holding employers liable for sexual harassment by supervisors; and
  • evaluating preventive and remedial action taken in response to claims of sexual harassment.
  • Title IX Protects Identities But Can Complicate Justice--Podcast from NPR documenting a court case involving sexual assault case of two female students by a professor at the University of Kentucky.
  • Innocent Until Proven Guilty is Nonsense for Faculty Hiring--Jon Wilkins posted on Lost in Transcription February 5, 2015
  • Call for Due Process for Accused Berkeley Professor--by Colleen Flaherty, November 21, 2016 from Inside Higher Education
  • And an alternate response to this case 'link 'Whom Does Secrecy Protect?]-- by Colleen Flaherty, November 17, 2016 from Inside Higher Education
  • Was MSU Slow to Act on Removing Troubled Professor and (Bozeman) Chronicle challenges sealed ruling in MSU professors' investigation--articles documenting steps taken in response to complaints about sexual assault and bullying by faculty in the Dept. of Earth Sciences, Montana State University
  • Supermajority Requirement in the Monority--Jake New, posted January 6, 2017 in Inside Higher Education. "Stanford faces criticism for policies requiring a supermajority or unanimous vote when deciding responsibility in sexual misconduct cases. Few other institutions have a similar process."
  • EEOC Fact Sheet on Sexual Harassment
  • Talking About Sexual Assault--Society's Response to Survivors--Sarah Ullman, 2010, American Psychological Association, 209p.
  • Steps for Building a No-Tolerance Culture for Sexual Harassment Marín-Spiotta, E., B. Schneider, and M. A. Holmes (2016), Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO044859. Published on 28 January 2016
  • Sexual Harassment Resources--US Dept of Education
  • Holmes, M. A., S. O'Connell and K. Dutt (Eds.) (2015), Women in the Geosciences: Practical, Positive Practices Toward Parity, 192 pp., John Wiley, Hoboken, N.J.
  • AWIS Webinars On Demand: "No Means No: Respond to Harassment in the Moment" and "Spot and Stop It: How to End Harassment at Professional Meetings" (NOTE: You must be an AWIS member to access these webinars).
  • Famous Berkeley Astronomer Violated Sexual Harassment Policies Over Many Years--from Buzzfeed News documenting the Geoff March case at UC Berkeley.
  • Out Here, No one Can Hear You Scream--reported sexual harassment and assault in the National Park Service. and US Forest Service.
  • She Wanted to do her Research; He Wanted to Talk "Feelings"--N.Y. Times Opinion Article, 3 March 2016, Hope Jahren.
  • Caltech suspends professor for harassment--as reported in the January 12, 2016 issues of Science.
  • Social Behaviour: Indecent Advances--Virginia Gewin, 2015, Nature, v. 519, p. 251-253, doi:10.1038/nj7542-251a, Pu