Tuesday, December 2, 2014

This book is only a start

Max Wyss and Silvia Peppoloni

A positive aspect of promoting Geoethics is that one begins to scrutinize one's own actions a bit closer. We hope this is true for the 48 authors who wrote the 33 chapters with 417 pages on Geoethics (http://store.elsevier.com/Geoethics/isbn-9780127999357/). The spirit in which we assembled this book was to make ourselves, the authors, and the readers think a bit more about the hidden and overt ways in which we geoscientists fail to fulfill our duty to Earth and its population.

In case you should read this book on Geoethics, think about what is missing in it and make a plan on how to bring it to the community's attention. This book should be a start for many, hopefully more sophisticated and polished ones, to follow.

To openly discuss the heavy transgressions that experts sometimes commit in what should be a service to the public is not easy. First of all, one must stick to facts and use neutral language. Second, one has to be careful in wording that might seem like personal criticism so that one does not end up in court proceedings. We think that the authors of some of the more daring chapters were successful in avoiding personal confrontation and avoiding moralizing.

Silvia Peppoloni
The foundation for the discussion is laid by a section on Philosophical Reflections consisting of six chapters, by philosophers as well as geoscientists. In the section on Geoscience Community, three chapters outline how professional organizations are dealing with ethical problems and how plagiarism is on the rise. Some serious distortions of facts by experts are exposed in six chapters in the section on Ethics of Practice, which also contains one chapter advising first responders how to avoid offending religious feelings in the heat of coming to the rescue in disasters.

Communicating results, especially those relating to geo-hazards, implies many ethical and social aspects, as it was evident in the L'Aquila earthquake case, where an ongoing earthquake swarm led to a main shock that killed 309 people. The court trial that followed is discussed in one chapter and the distribution of responsibilities in the face of natural threats in Italy in another.

This section on Communicating contains four chapters critical of practices in seismology, and the potential of maps for misleading the consumer and the incomprehensibility of scientific jargon are discussed in a chapter each.

Max Wyss
In the section on Natural and Anthropogenic Hazards, four chapters address volcanic threats, earthquake prediction and the danger of tsunamis. Two chapters are devoted to the seemingly unsolvable problem of nuclear waste disposal. The demonstration by Nature how dangerous the generation of nuclear power is, has lead to an awakening of mankind, who is beginning to realize the immeasurable foolishness of saddling our descendants with growing volumes of everlasting poison. It seems that there is still much waking up to be done concerning this problem and geoscientists ought to be able to contribute.

The disadvantage of Low Income and Indigenous Communities is discussed in the last section in three chapters on mining and one on earthquake risk. It is probably fair to say that more than 90% of geoscientists have never in their careers considered the needs and predicaments of these communities. The funding of research also suffers from the same bias: Sophisticated problems of intellectual interest, but no practical use, are funded, while those people who need help most and could benefit from geo-research are forgotten.

Many other aspects should be addressed: this book is only a start. We hope that many geoethical problems will be flushed out in more detail in future volumes.

Max Wyss and Silvia Peppoloni (Eds)
Geoethics, Ethical Challenges and Case Studies in Earth Sciences
2015, p. 450, Elsevier, ISBN 978-0127999357

Other information: http://www.iapg.geoethics.org/evidence/book

(picture from: https://mariodomina.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/germoglio.jpg)