Sign on Rudder Center at Texas A&M University

Sign over a door at Rudder Center, Texas A&M University. Photo by Vince Cronin.

Steps to improve awareness of geoethics in your department

How do novice geoscientists develop as ethical scientists and professionals? We who are privileged to be geoscience educators have a responsibility to be part of the answer to that question.

To paraphrase Stephanie Bird (2014), it has become apparent that the practice of simply hoping students will learn about responsible research conduct and ethical behavior by observing exemplary behavior in their department is inadequate and does not serve the needs of the student, the department, the geoscience community, or society as a whole.

I have a few suggestions, and a request. The request is that you read through the materials I have posted here, and think about how you can help us move this work forward.

Post your ideas, suggestions, and links to the geoethics resources developed by/for your department to the AGU Heads and Chairs Community. This should be a shared effort to facilitate the ethical development of our geoscience community.

Here are a few steps we can take in our departments that are likely to help improve awareness of geoethics.

Step 1: Begin and sustain a genuine, ongoing conversation about ethics and integrity in your department

Involve every member of your geoscience department in the conversation. Learn about geoethics together. Learn about geoethics from each other, and from the broader geoscience community.

Applied ethics education in your department is not a "one and done" matter, but rather is something that needs to be touched on early in every term/semester because there are new members joining your department all the time.

These conversations should explore the full range of topics that are relevant in the context of your department. Whatever else might be included, emphasize ethical issues your students will likely confront as they move into the geoscience workforce, so that they will emerge from your department better prepared to thrive in an ethically challenging environment.

Step 2: Create a departmental web portal for ethics that is accessed through an obvious link on your department home page

This portal can be designed to link students with international, national, institutional, departmental, and personal resources needed to explore the ethical standards of the geoscience community.

AGU maintains an ethics portal (, and a draft example of a departmental ethics portal is available at

Step 3: Use the ethics portal to expose department members to ethics resources from the broader science/geoscience community

This will facilitate access to the ethical codes, standards, values, and statements of national and international geoscience organizations, such as AGU, GSA, AGI, USGS, AAPG, AIPG, and IAPG among others. The reason for doing this is to promote a heightened awareness of "the sense of the geoscience community" concerning ethical issues.

Geoscience ethics codes: the sense of the broader geoscience community

Organizations with a special focus on geoscience ethics

Other important applied-ethics documents

Step 4: Develop statements of ethical norms for the department

Begin a process of developing written public documents that describe the ethical norms, statements, values, or expectations that are relevant to your department. I will use the broad term "ethical resources" here to encompass whatever sets of statements, value statements, norms, guidelines, or rules/policies might be developed to promote ethics within your department. As these ethical resources are created, make them accessible through the department's ethics portal, along with links to the relevant policies of your college/university.

I hope that a heightened awareness of ethical considerations within the department will lead to discussion of relevant ethical issues in geoscience courses (e.g., the Teaching Geoethics page at SERC), as well as making ethics apparent as an important consideration in geoscience research.

A functional set of ethical norms and expectations relevant to your department can form an important part of the fabric that binds a department together.

Step 5: Provide every geoscience major (and grad student) with authoritative information about applied ethics in science or geoscience

Provide them with a copy of a brief overview of science/geoscience ethics, such as On Being a Scientist -- A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research by the National Academies (2009) or Honor in Science (Jackson, 2000). These brief texts are of an appropriate scope and scale to be required reading for any undergraduate science major.

Consider making a more extensive text with significant ethical content a required reference text in an early core course for undergraduate geoscience majors. Hugh Gauch's book Scientific Method in Brief (2012) would be an excellent choice.

Step 6: Encourage each member of the department to develop their own personal commitment to integrity and geoethics

Ethics affects how we interact with each other, but it begins with each of us individually. Ideally, people who spend time as members of your department should emerge from that experience with a greater commitment to personal and professional integrity.

Suggest that they read the IAPG's "GeoEthical Promise" (, and perhaps build upon that promise in articulating their personal commitment.

Other Suggestions

1. Develop departmental ethics resources in a very visible and transparent process, with the authentic and meaningful involvement of all stakeholders. Ethical statements compiled by 18-to-25-year-old novice/student geoscientists (with guidance and support from more experienced geoscientists) are more likely to be relevant, understandable, and useful to them that ethical statements imposed on them from older geoscientists.

2. Consider departmental ethics resources to be flexible works in progress, always subject to revision and improvement.

Facilitating the development of ethical geoscientists is a never-ending process. This is much more like an ultra-marathon than a sprint. Either way, the starting pistol has already been fired, and we need to get moving.

Presentation files


Bird, S.J., 2014, Social Responsibility and Research Ethics: Not Either/Or but Both, Professional Ethics Report, v. 27(2), research-ethics-not-eitheror-both

Gauch, H.G., Jr., 2012, Scientific Method in Brief: Cambridge University Press, 288 p., ISBN: 9781107666726

Gunderson, L.C., editor, 2017, Scientific Integrity and Ethics in the Geosciences: John Wiley & Sons, AGU Special Publications Series, 344 p., ISBN: 9781119067788

Mogk, D., 2014-17, Teaching GeoEthics Across the Geoscience Curriculum:

ICSSU (International Council for Science), 2011, The Principle of Universality (freedom and responsibility) of Science: ICSU Statute 5, accessible via or

Jackson, C.I., 2000, Honor in Science: Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, Sigma Xi, 41 p., available at no cost as a pdf through Sigma Xi

National Academies, 2009, On Being a Scientist -- A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research [3rd edition]: Washington, D.C., National Academies Press, 63 p., available at no cost as a pdf through National Academies Press

Other GeoEthics references:

Other resources are described in Facilitating a geoscience student's ethical development by Cronin in Gunderson (2017, Scientific Integrity and Ethics in the Geosciences), chapter 14.

Vince Cronin's GeoEthics page:

This is not a static resource, so please send your suggestions for additional resources to Vince Cronin via

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