Ethics for Geoscientists and Engineers

William H. Schramm, PO Box 4312, Baton Rouge, LA 70821-4312

Ethics has many definitions; it is a study of the rules of human behavior, the standards of right and wrong, that part of science and philosophy dealing with moral conduct, duty, and judgment, the voluntary actions specifically taken by an individual with sufficient knowledge of the options available. The development of these “rules” depends on the formative influences on the individual. They derive from the ethnic culture, predominant religion, educational philosophies and personal life experiences.

Professional ethics incorporates and expands on these societal rules for a well-defined group of specialized, highly trained and educated persons in a specific career field. The ethics for professionals are particularly developed to address issues peculiar to that field. Examples are: medical, legal, police, military, science, and business.

In general, a professional has a duty to perform in a public capacity and a private/personal capacity. Licensing of professionals mandated by law is meant to protect the safety of the public, set performance guidelines, require specific education and allows for disciplinary action. Many professions develop their guidelines/ethics to standardize the expected behavior of their members.

Geoscientists and engineers are expected to: 1) hold paramount the safety of the public, 2) undertake assignments only when qualified, 3) provide opinion only with adequate knowledge and honest conviction, 4) act faithfully with clients, maintain confidentiality, fully disclose information, respond promptly, 5) negotiate appropriate and adequate compensation, 6) maintain personal competence/education and mentor/develop/provide opportunities for associates, 7) conduct business with courtesy and in good faith, give credit where due, and give and receive professional comment graciously, 8) present consequences if professional opinions or decisions are overruled or disregarded, 9) report unprofessional, hazardous, illegal or unethical behavior, 10) provide public knowledge and appreciation of the profession and protect it from misrepresentation.

Key words: professional, ethics, duty, behavior

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