Sign on Rudder Center at Texas A&M University

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

Geoethics as a common thread that binds a geoscience department together

Vince Cronin, Geosciences Department, Baylor University (
Keynote presentation at the RFG 2018 session R10 on Geoethics in Geoscience Education, Communication, and Citizen Science
4:00-4:30 PM, Wednesday, 20 June 2018, Room 119 of the Vancouver Convention Center, RFG#1812

Revised 6 June 2018

Presentation files


It is the responsibility of experienced geoscientists to facilitate the development of students and novices as ethical geoscientists. Novice geoscientists learn from mentors as they move from their initial classroom instruction toward applying their basic knowledge in the field, in the laboratory, or in the office. We learn by example. I assert that creating and maintaining an environment within a geoscience department that is characterized by ethical personal, academic, and scientific interactions is an important way to model behaviors consistent with the aspirational norms and standards of the geoscience community worldwide.

Science is a deeply ethical search for understanding. In "The Search" (1934), physicist C.P. Snow wrote that "the only thing [that] has made science possible is that the truth shall be told all the time." The education of a novice geoscientist is incomplete if it does not include a durable foundation in geoethics.

As a practical matter, a department can take several steps to ensure that this ethical environment is created and sustained (see ). Bring geoethics into the routine conversation of the department in a direct and authentic way. Make it part of decision-making processes. Create an ethics page for your departmental website, and put a link to that page in a persistent high-level navigation bar so it will be seen wherever a person goes within the departmental site. The ethics page should link to departmental, institutional, and external resources that can inform and educate department members about what the "sense of the community" is about the meaning of being an ethical geoscientist. A geoscience department should begin an open, transparent, and ongoing process of compiling its own published set of norms and expectations for ethical behavior, and should encourage individual members to make a personal commitment to geoethics (e.g.,

This abstract is published online at


I don't claim any special virtue or status related to this matter, only that I have thought about it for a long time and have made a good-faith effort to educate myself about geoscience ethics. I have also heard about, directly observed, and been the target of unethical behavior, both in professional geoscience and in various university environments in which I have worked as a geology professor for three decades.

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.

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.

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. Share your ideas, suggestions, and links to the geoethics resources developed by/for your department. For example, post your contributions to the International Association for Promoting Geoethics ( directly or through its social media outlets (facebook, linkedin, twitter, etc.) . 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.

Your role is to pose questions and facilitate discussion in an intellectually safe environment. You should accept that some department members might be reluctant to engage based on their fear of possible retaliation for articulating their perceptions and experiences.

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 a simple, obvious, and persistent 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

As noted by Sharon Mosher on 30 March 2018, the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin has developed separate web portals concerning departmental guidelines and workplace issues:
"Guidelines for Faculty, Research Scientists, Students, and Staff of the Jackson School of Geosciences, UT Austin" and

"Jackson School of Geosciences Workplace Issues"

These are excellent resources that should be studied by any department, institute, or science school/college that would like to develop their own online resources. Dean Mosher wrote "We are requiring everyone in the school to sign acknowledging that they have read [the guidelines] and understand the importance of the guidelines."

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 that Dave Mogk and his collaborators have compiled), 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 useful basic information about applied ethics in science or geoscience

Provide members of your department with 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) might 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 ethical behavior must be firmly rooted in how each of us chooses to live our lives. 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 your department members read the IAPG's "GeoEthical Promise" ( and perhaps build upon that promise in articulating their own statement of commitment to personal and professional integrity.

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.

Final Words

Facilitating the development of ethical geoscientists is our responsibility.

It is a never-ending process. This is much more like an ultra-marathon than a sprint. Ethical norms and expectations must be reaffirmed every term/semester, because of the steady influx of new members into your department.

Either way, the starting pistol has already been fired, and we need to get moving.


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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