December 13, 2016

Geoethics: It’s for you!

Posted by Timia Crisp

Today’s post is part of a series written by student bloggers from the AGU Fall Meeting.

By: Tong Qiu, Graduate Student, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Personal and professional ethical standards are becoming more and more important for geoscientists. Geoethics covers the professional standards required for geoscientists to work and serve the society. Unethical practice within geoscience include, but are not limited to, plagiarism, deliberately falsification of data and interpretation in the results, and discrimination of other research. Since stakeholders and policy makers need the help from geoscientists to make decisions, the results and methodology of geoscience research should have fidelity. The way for geoscientists to take the responsibility of solving ethical issues and contributing to the policy making remain unclear. In the PA12B session entitled, “Geoethics and Scientific Integrity: The Keys to Advancing the Geosciences and a Healthy Planet”, I learned several useful solutions for addressing ethical concenrns in the field of geoscience.

To begin with, geoscientists need to be aware of potential ethical issues. Engaging, self-monitoring and self-regulating is a good start. Geoscientists should always be aware of the internal values of a geoscientist that can prepare them for a successful career in the geoscience. Geoscientists are always supposed to follow the ethical standards.

Secondly, it is very important to conduct pre-professional ethical training for future geoscientists, especially graduate and undergraduate students. Sometimes it is difficult to develop a curriculum for the geosciences since ethical standards are usually taught by the philosophy teachers. For example, it may be time-consuming for students in the field of geoscience to understand the material but it is essential for the students to address the ethical issues in their future career. Geoethics education and training can help build the next generation of geoscientist, allowing them to understand the personal and professional ethical context of their research work.

Thirdly, scholars in the field of geoscience should learn to write papers in such a way so that other scientists can reproducible the results. Sometimes scientists can have difficulty trying replicate published results. Some researchers provide procedures for reporting computational results that can minimize the burden on authors. The procedure is also following the computational best practices. Other researchers have developed data maturity metrics to ensure a consistent methodology for open data and scientific integrity.

Fourthly, sharing and communicating work is very important within interdisciplinary science, like geoscience, to address the ethical issues. Open collaboration with other researchers is changing the ethical standard for geoscientist in regards to data sharing and reproducibly. Last but not least, in developing proposals, researchers should effectively communicate not only the questions the project aims to answer, but the potential broader impacts on society.

Many societies have developed resources on this topic.  The American Geosciences Institute (AGI) recently revised their Guidelines for Ethical Professional Conduct. Addressing ethical issues in the field of geoscience will contribute to developing the skills for responsible practice in the profession and gaining experience for decision-making in the career.


Editor’s note: For more information on AGU’s Scientific Integrity and Professional Ethics Policy, please see our website.