Earth Scientists Need a “Hippocratic” Code of Ethics

Geography Professor Erle Ellis

(The following is excerpted from the blog Human Landscapes, by Erle Ellis)

Now that we’ve pushed Earth systems out of the comfort zone, Earth and environmental scientists are increasingly being called on to address the big questions that affect all of us, like “How can we keep the planet habitable for humans?”.

“Doctoring the planet” is not our regular work.  Our usual scientific questions, like “how do Earth systems work?” and “how have humans changed Earth systems?” are one thing; getting involved in intentionally altering earth systems is an altogether different matter.   Even without such involvement, Earth and environmental science are no longer just regular academic disciplines, as the global and political implications of our work and even our words are now very much in the public eye.  This was made painfully clear recently when climate change deniers hacked into the archives of CRU, selectively quoted some private scientific communications, and attempted to gain new political ground with the claim that scientists had “cooked the data” in support of the human role in changing climate (closer inspection reveals no foul play, merely poor choice of words).

In discussing this new role, Duke Earth scientist Peter Haff and I came to believe that our scientific disciplines, decision makers, and the public would benefit from a more formal code of ethics that recognizes our new societal responsibilities in the Anthropocene.

Today, we published our thoughts on this, including our proposal for a voluntary “Oath for Earth and Environmental Scientists”, in EOS, the weekly newspaper of the American Geophysical Union (<link> sorry- AGU members only).

Click here to read the “Oath for Earth and Environmental Scientists” on Erle Ellis’ blog Human Landscapes.


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