Rudeness versus Unethical Behavior: Where’s the Line?

Supposedly Walt Disney said, “I don’t know if it is art, but I know I like it.”

I am reminded of this quote and feel the need to paraphrase it: “I don’t know if it is rude (or worse), but I know I don’t like it.”

I think we’d all agree that we live in an amazing time – the Digital Age. With a few keystrokes we can communicate, almost instantly, with friends and colleagues next door or halfway around the world. The Digital Age allows for communication through numerous means, text, emails, social media, online videos and chats, and likely a couple new things around the corner that I cannot envision at this time. I think we’d also agree that sometimes non-face-to-face discussions can lead to communication that is not always well thought out, complete and properly tempered. Also, non-face-to-face communications sometimes loses the nuances of facial and physical gestures. This is not a problem for just geologists or AAPG members specifically. This is an issue we see throughout society in general. Social media and immediate communications have permitted the first thought that pops into our heads to be typed and broadcast across the world.

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Supposedly Walt Disney said, “I don’t know if it is art, but I know I like it.”

I am reminded of this quote and feel the need to paraphrase it: “I don’t know if it is rude (or worse), but I know I don’t like it.”

I think we’d all agree that we live in an amazing time – the Digital Age. With a few keystrokes we can communicate, almost instantly, with friends and colleagues next door or halfway around the world. The Digital Age allows for communication through numerous means, text, emails, social media, online videos and chats, and likely a couple new things around the corner that I cannot envision at this time. I think we’d also agree that sometimes non-face-to-face discussions can lead to communication that is not always well thought out, complete and properly tempered. Also, non-face-to-face communications sometimes loses the nuances of facial and physical gestures. This is not a problem for just geologists or AAPG members specifically. This is an issue we see throughout society in general. Social media and immediate communications have permitted the first thought that pops into our heads to be typed and broadcast across the world.

Defining ‘Unethical’

A great discussion of ethical and unethical behavior can be found at YourDictionary.com under the “Example” field in an article entitled “Examples of Unethical Behavior.” Unethical behavior typically comes with a purpose. Examples include pilfering another’s ideas or property, lying to better one’s status or position or attempting to discredit or “bully” someone.

But when does rudeness cross the line of unethical behavior?

From the article: “one’s definition of ‘unethical’ depends on their own ethical standards and the standards of their society.”

So, your personal ethics might be a little different than mine. How ethics are viewed between cultures/countries can be very complex. The ethics of your boss, golf foursome, school board or company may be different than that of AAPG and that sometimes makes it very difficult to determine where the line is.

To further muddy the waters, when is an ethical line crossed in a heated debate?

If someone’s interpretation of data, positions or potential outcomes is different from another person’s “correct” opinion, that does not make them unethical. Writing an opinion-editorial is, by definition, based on opinion. Having an unpopular, incomplete, or poorly stated opinion is not automatically unethical; although, censoring contrary opinions could be. Using information you believe to be true in the moment is not unethical. In science we give a lot of latitude to arguments made with speculative or incomplete data, as debate and acquisition of knowledge is vital to best-practice scientific discourse. If both sides of a controversy debate in good faith and are willing to modify and exchange informed ideas, even under duress, then ethics need not be invoked just to make a saltier argument. Responses made by impulse, anger and/or ego can take one rapidly from a level of civil discourse into ethically questionable behavior.

My advice, before hitting send, reread that email, tweet, post or text. How would you feel if it was said about you? All our days are difficult enough, let’s attempt, as a society, the AAPG society, to be a little more civil. Let’s remember that, as scientists, there are few absolutes. We often hear it said, “The science is not settled.” We seem to be able to discuss (even argue) geologic concepts without upsetting each other, too much. Let’s have the same decorum and candor when discussing the governance and future of AAPG.

Comments (2)

Public Accusations of Unethical Conduct are Unethical
In this day of webpages, I think AAPG members would benefit from knowing the bright line AAPG members are prohibited from crossing, but your column did not explicitly address: It is unethical to make public accusations of unethical conduct against another member. I have consulted a former DPA and AAPG president. "Professionalism" and "ethics" were the hallmark of his service. His opinion is firm: it is an unethical to publicly accuse, suggest, or broadly imply that another member is unethical, or acted unethically. If an AAPG member feels someone has acted unethically, they have a right to make a decorous and confidential complaint to the ethics committee. I was also Exploration Vice President for past AAPG president Marlan Downey who wrote extensively on ethics for AAPG. He said the same thing: it is unethical to make public suggestions or accusations of unethical conduct against another AAPG member. AAPG members would benefit from this clarification when blogging. Some falsely believing they hold the "ethical high-ground" that legitimized their publicly calling other AAPG members unethical or publicly suggesting others are acting unethically, when in truth, the accusers themselves have violated AAPG's Code of Ethics.
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5/24/2022 10:18:37 AM
Rudeness versus Unethical Behavior: Where’s the Line?
Very well said Dan! I really think that people are often afraid to state their views or disagree with a popular opinion because they may be labeled as too conservative or too liberal (the impact of human activities on climate change is a good example). I also agree that social media has made it easier to fire off emotional responses without thinking through how your response may be taken by the person or by others monitoring the conversation. More R-E-S-P-E-C-T please (Aretha Franklin - Respect [1967]).
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5/19/2022 12:56:23 PM

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