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Spotlight on Scientific Integrity and Geoethics at the 2014 AGU Fall Meeting

Fall Meeting sessions tackle issues in geoethics.

By , John Geissman, Gretchen Goldman, David Mogk, Neesha Schnepf, Britta Voss, Max Weiss, and Randy Townsend

Do you think about the consequences of your geosciences research?

For example, how are your experiments, discoveries, models, or the uncertainty of your findings being used or misused? Do you have an ethical responsibility to support the health and well-being of Earth and its inhabitants? What are your ethical responsibilities to fellow scientists or to companies or institutions that employ geoscientists? Do you feel that you and your colleagues adhere to the highest standards of integrity and ethics when collecting data, building interpretations, providing peer review, and publishing? How do you ensure integrity and ethics in the geosciences and how can the next generation of geoscientists be imbued with these values and responsible scientific practices in a competitive and complex world?

Maintaining integrity and ethics in today’s highly competitive world, where information is often sensationalized by the media, is filled with challenges. Individual scientists and research results are coming under intense public and political scrutiny, sometimes with the efficacy of the science—or the scientists themselves—coming under attack. Scientists involved with high-profile issues of climate change, resource extraction, and risk from natural hazards are being asked to take sides and/or provide opinions and warnings or estimate risks, with significant implications for policy and social outcomes. What are the ethical responsibilities regarding these societal issues and when is it appropriate for scientists to speak out while not compromising their objectivity or neglecting to communicate the uncertainty of the data?

At the same time, geoscientists face intense internal pressure from increased competition for funding as well as pressure to publish papers that contain only positive or high-impact results. Reliance on private-sector funding, along with the prominent role that companies involved in the geosciences are now playing in the scientific community, has prompted questions about conflicts of interest. Moreover, the continuously changing digital environment for conducting, reviewing, and publishing science has raised concerns about the ease of plagiarism, fabrication, falsification, and inappropriate peer review. In the past, keeping data in a notebook or on a hard disk was acceptable; now, better accessibility to and transparency of raw data and methods are needed to verify research results and improve integrated modeling of critical Earth processes.

Integrity and ethics in the sciences have received increasingly more attention from professional societies, federal agencies, and universities within the past decade. Several notable examples include AGU’s new scientific integrity and ethics policy (, global standards formulated by the World Conference on Research Integrity (, the American Geosciences Institute Guidelines for Ethical Professional Conduct (released to member societies in October 2014), and the growing memberships of the International Association for Geoethics ( and the International Association for Promoting Geoethics (

Geoscientists possess the responsibility and extensive potential to apply their knowledge to the major challenges facing society and the planet. However, the discipline is ill equipped to confront these issues beyond the lab. Geoethics fuses scientific research on the Earth, atmosphere, and ocean with concepts of value regarding the health and well-being of the Earth and its inhabitants. In addition, geoethics deals with the ethical, social, and cultural implications of geoscience research and practice, how geoscientists educate the next generation of geoscientists, and their responsibilities to the integrity of science and social welfare in conducting these activities.

Many geoscientists and educators are beginning to tackle ethical issues through ethics education programs (Teaching Geoethics Across the Geoscience Curriculum,, public outreach and communication, interdisciplinary collaboration, and research targeting socially relevant problems. These and other creative approaches are greatly needed in this complex age of global interconnectedness, high technology, and a changing environment. The recently released publication Geoethics: Ethical Challenges and Case Studies in the Earth Science, edited by Max Wyss and Silvia Peppoloni, illustrates many of these challenges and some of the solutions being pursued.

Three sessions at the upcoming 2014 AGU Fall Meeting provide forums for discussion on the issues and questions highlighted above. Come learn and discuss new approaches to teaching geoethics on Tuesday afternoon at poster session ED23D on “Teaching Geoethics Across the Geoscience Curriculum.” On Wednesday morning, plunge into some exciting discussions on geoethics and climate change, risk assessment, uncertainty, and sustainability at poster session ED31C, “Solutions and Strategies for Fostering Geoethics and Enhancing the Geosciences.” Finally, on Thursday at 12:30 p.m., join us in Moscone 2007 for lunch and bring your issues and solutions for a lively dialog on “Ethical Challenges in the Geosciences” at Town Hall 43G. At this session you will also hear about upcoming events and resources for engaging more on this topic.

—Linda Gundersen, Ocean View, Delaware, email: [email protected]; John Geissman, University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson; Gretchen Goldman, Union of Concerned Scientists, Washington, D. C.; David Mogk, Montana State University, Bozeman; Neesha Schnepf, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge; Britta Voss, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge; Max Weiss, International Center for Earth Simulation, Geneva, Switzerland; and Randy Townsend, AGU

Citation: Gundersen, L., J. Geissman, G. Goldman, D. Mogk, N. Schnepf, B. Voss, M. Weiss, and R. Townsend (2014), Spotlight on scientific integrity and geoethics at the 2014 AGU Fall Meeting, Eos Trans. AGU, 95(49), 465, doi:10.1002/2014EO490010.

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