Educating Young Researchers in Environment Ethics

Lead PI: Dr. Robert Newton , Margie Turrin , , Cassie Xu

Unit Affiliation: Geochemistry, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

August 2016 - July 2019
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: In the 21st century, scientific research will have even more significant and immediate human impacts. Decisions about what, where, how to measure, and how to structure the engagement between scientists and the public, including policy professionals, will entail important and often nuanced ethical dimensions. This study seeks a deeper understanding of structures and interventions that can facilitate ethical maturity in young investigators. The project and its investigators will bring together research scientists, educators, and ethicists to work over three years, in 3 phases, to: (1) develop a framework to discuss and understand ethics in science education; (2) create a method to measure the ethical maturity of young investigators and (3) conduct a pilot study in formal and non-formal science learning settings. The investigators hypothesize that ethical behavior in science is substantially impacted by the affective, emotional, and interpersonal aspects of scientists' connections to their communities of practice. Therefore, educational programs that emphasize team- and project-based learning in the context of rigorous scientific protocols will do a better job of encouraging ethical practice than those that rely heavily, let alone exclusively, on text-based learning.  The framework and its associated methods will, if successful, link science education with emotional maturity, affective reaction, and interpersonal connections appropriate to best ethical practices. It will do so in a network of urban public schools and summer programming for city teens, settings that can have very broad application. Hopefully the lessons learned will improve the ways that scientists think about their own professional activities. There is also potential for improved ethical depth among learners who will primarily be science consumers. The capacity to define and measure ethical maturity in the context of science learning would be a valuable tool for educators, especially those working with young researchers in their formative years. If the central hypothesis of the project (that team-oriented, research-based pedagogy is advantageous for affective and emotional growth and leads to more ethical choices), then this study will support these highly effective, but logistically difficult, educational strategies. In addition, a better understanding of the links between earth and environmental science subject matter, ethical choices, and the ethical practice of science, will prepare those headed into STEM careers for the types of technically-complex choices that citizen will face in the 21st century.