Friday, October 3, 2014

Navigating the ethical domains of a professional applied geoscientist

by Vincent S. Cronin
(Geology Department, Baylor University; IAPG-USA co-responsible)

A talk for the Texas Section of the 
Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists

4 October 2014 
Fort Worth (Texas, USA)

An applied geoscientist works in a complex environment involving science, business, interpersonal relationships and professional obligations.
Virtually all professional geoscientists are trained as geoscientists rather than as moral philosophers. Yet the imperative to act as a positive moral agent is recognized throughout the geosciences, in our professional organizations, and in laws that provide for the licensure of geoscientists.
As a community, we must engage in the development of a practical understanding of ethics applied to the professional practice of geoscience.
One distinguished engineering geologist stated that the key to ethical practice is simple: just do a good job. 
While it is clearly imperative to "do a good job," applied ethics cannot be reduced to one or a few memorable aphorisms. 
As a practical matter, we need to know about techniques that can be used when we are confronted with an ethical dilemma, in which two or more "goods" are in conflict with one another. 
How should we act when confronted with unethical behavior by a colleague, by a company, by your boss, by a client?
What can modern moral philosophers teach us about making moral decisions?
In a recent questionnaire, ASBOG identified 13 ethical issues they believe constitute potential problems for licensed geoscientists, ranging from "conflict of interest" to "retaliation against whistle-blowers." Some issues are related to the conduct of science, while others concerned such matters as the ethical conduct of scientific research, adherence to laws, client interactions, and business practices.
Ethical codes promulgated by geoscience societies can provide additional insights about ethical problems that have arisen in the past.
We will review some basic information gleaned from relevant work by moral philosophers, explore some ethical issues associated with the life of a professional geoscientist, learn about some intellectual tools for meeting ethical challenges, and share some of our own experiences in which we encountered (what we perceived to be) ethically questionable practices, behaviors or actions.