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A New Ethics Workshop: Addressing Racism and Colonialism in the Geosciences
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  • Valerie Sloan,
  • Blake Stoner-Osborne,
  • Elise Mason,
  • Marissa Vara,
  • Ahmyia Cacapit
Valerie Sloan
National Center for Atmospheric Research

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Blake Stoner-Osborne
University of Hawaii at Manoa
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Elise Mason
National Center for Atmospheric Research & The Coastal Society
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Marissa Vara
University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
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Ahmyia Cacapit
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
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Undergraduate research internship programs are generally expected to teach interns about research ethics and research misconduct, often using case studies on plagiarism, data falsification/fabrication, and issues around authorship and intellectual property. While these are vital topics to discuss, this approach ignores the fundamental way in which Western science developed in tandem with European imperialistic expansion, and the ethically questionable way in which science historically has been and is often still conducted. For example: 1) How was the ideal of “discovery” in pursuit of knowledge used to justify European imperial expansion, and how did that history shape the current culture of science? 2) When collecting data in the field, do researchers consistently seek permission from the indigenous/international communities that reside on the land? And 3) Do Western scientists tend to disregard Traditional Ecological Knowledge from different cultures as a result of this history? In our 2021 Geosciences REU Workshop Series, we developed an ‘Ethics in the Geosciences Workshop’ that covers the traditional ethics topics, but also shines a light on the dark history of colonialism and racism that underpin Western science. We discussed prominent historical figures such as John Wesley Powell and Captain James Cook. Both men are greatly celebrated in academic/scientific spheres as explorers, cartographers, and scientists . However, their historical contributions reveal blatant racism towards indigenous people, the dismissal of indigenous knowledge and culture as being primitive and delusional, and for Cook, involved brutal slaughters around the world. Their values were aligned with Western imperialism, military expansion, and racism. The workshop included a discussion of examples of ‘parachute’ or ‘helicopter’ science, and the colonial undertones of modern day research in the Geosciences. Examples of racism, sexism, and safety in the field were examined through both a lecture and open-dialogue on a virtual platform. We acknowledged the many identities that we bring to science (race, gender, sexual identity, ability, nationality & citizenship, etc.), the relative privilege and power that these different identities may hold, and discussed addressing slurs and slights by using bystander strategies, as well as finding support in affinity groups. In tandem with this approach of broadening the scope of ethics discussions, it is hoped that intentionally creating safe, inclusive spaces in science for people of various and intersecting identities has the potential to change the ethical framework and social atmosphere in which we do science.