From the ‘truth is stranger than fiction department’, reporting from San Francisco at the AGU Fall Meeting
ED11D-02 Professional Ethics for Climate Scientists
Monday, December 15, 201408:15 AM – 08:30 AM Moscone South 102
Several authors have warned that climate scientists sometimes exhibit a tendency to “err on the side of least drama” in reporting the risks associated with fossil fuel emissions. Scientists are often reluctant to comment on the implications of their work for public policy, despite the fact that because of their expertise they may be among those best placed to make recommendations about such matters as mitigation and preparedness. Scientists often have little or no training in ethics or philosophy, and consequently they may feel that they lack clear guidelines for balancing the imperative to avoid error against the need to speak out when it may be ethically required to do so. This dilemma becomes acute in cases such as abrupt ice sheet collapse where it is easier to identify a risk than to assess its probability. We will argue that long-established codes of ethics in the learned professions such as medicine and engineering offer a model that can guide research scientists in cases like this, and we suggest that ethical training could be regularly incorporated into graduate curricula in fields such as climate science and geology. We recognize that there are disanalogies between professional and scientific ethics, the most important of which is that codes of ethics are typically written into the laws that govern licensed professions such as engineering. Presently, no one can legally compel a research scientist to be ethical, although legal precedent may evolve such that scientists are increasingly expected to communicate their knowledge of risks. We will show that the principles of professional ethics can be readily adapted to define an ethical code that could be voluntarily adopted by scientists who seek clearer guidelines in an era of rapid climate change.
h/t to Steve Milloy