Sign on Rudder Center at Texas A&M University

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

On the Fundamentals of Geoethics

Vince Cronin, Geosciences Department, Baylor University (
Presented at the AGU 2018 session on Geoethics: Taking a Stand for Ethical Geoscience Research, Education, Communication, and Practice
1:40-6:00 PM, Monday, 10 December 2018, ED13D-0776

Revised 16 December 2018

Presentation poster file


To some, geoethics involves the duty to work in accordance with ethics codes published by geoscience societies and boards of professional licensure. Some contend that fulfilling these "statutory" duties is sufficient to be an ethical geoscientist, while others understand that codes form a minimum set of expectations. Geoethics includes both scientific practice (e.g., proper application of scientific methodology, scientific integrity and the responsible conduct of research) and social responsibilities (e.g., truth-telling, beneficence, and stewardship of Earth's resources and environment). Gaining a functional understanding of geoethics involves personal commitment and a lifelong process of learning. This can be facilitated by the writing, publication, and study of geoethical texts and by public discussions that serve to express the sense of a geoscience community responding to important challenges in science and society.

Because geoscience is a social as well as a scientific enterprise, fundamental ethical concepts from the broader society are also fundamental to geoethics. I assert that the foundation of our ethical systems is acceptance that all human persons are of equal dignity by virtue of their existence -- their humanity. That idea is expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which identifies the inherent dignity and equal human rights of all persons as "the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world." The need to understand global climate change, environmental degradation, access the potable water, sustainable energy resources, and other significant social-scientific challenges arises not just from our concern for our individual selves and our descendants, but also out of our concern for all other persons -- equal in dignity to ourselves -- who share our right to a healthy and sustainable future.

The geoscience community must develop a common geoethical vocabulary and sense of shared meaning beginning with such concepts as dignity, respect, moral agency, truth, integrity, character, human rights, and the just exercise of power and authority. Given a more fully realized understanding of geoethics extending well beyond statutory responsibilities, the final challenge (and constant struggle) is to secure the freedom to practice geoscience in a fully ethical manner.

The published abstract is accessible online via the AGU Fall Meeting 2018 website at


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:

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