GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 38-5
Presentation Time: 3:05 PM


FOSS, Scott E., Bureau of Land Management, National Paleontologist, 20 M St. SE, Suite 2134, Washington, DC 20003 and LIGGETT, Gregory A., Bureau of Land Management, Acting National Curator, 20 M St. SE, Suite 2134, Washington, DC 20003,

As professional field scientists we have an ethical responsibility not only to use appropriate scientific methodology, but also to behave as good stewards of public lands and resources. As geoscience educators we also have a responsibility to teach students, colleagues, and the general public how to conduct themselves ethically with respect to accessing field sites, collecting samples, and performing research. There are many competing interests in public land, with geoscience research being just one. Other interests include recreation, historic preservation, endangered species management, respect of tribal sacred sites, visual resource preservation, protection of wild places for solitude, agriculture use, energy corridors, and mineral extraction, all putting sometimes conflicting pressure on the landscape. In this study we have collected case studies of unlawful and unethical behavior by geoscience professionals while in the field. Some examples include: 1) collecting rock samples by drilling holes in archaeological petroglyphs; 2) encouraging students to collect vertebrate fossils without a permit; 3) pouring chemicals into trace fossils that damages their original context; and 4) misrepresenting the actual nature of research activity to public land management staff. These thoughtless, unethical, and sometimes illegal actions have resulted in the loss of scientific resources, desecrated archaeological resources, destroyed historic properties, and impeded the public’s ability to enjoy public lands. We urge this society to take a leadership role in outlining the best practices for ethical field science for its membership. Ethical field study concerns all the uses and values of the nation’s public lands, not only their value as a geoscience field laboratory.