Intrinsic ethics regarding integrated assessment models for climate management

An argument for teaching ethical issues found within the content of research, and an example of how to teach this based on climate management research.

Erich W. Schienke, Seth D. Baum, Nancy Tuana, Ken J. Davis, and Klaus Keller, 2011. Intrinsic ethics regarding integrated assessment models for climate management. Science and Engineering Ethics, vol. 17, no. 3 (September), pages 503-523.

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In this essay we develop and argue for the adoption of a more comprehensive model of research ethics than is included within current conceptions of responsible conduct of research (RCR). We argue that our model, which we label the Ethical Dimensions of Scientific Research (EDSR), is a more comprehensive approach to encouraging ethically responsible scientific research compared to the currently typically adopted approach in RCR training. This essay focuses on developing a pedagogical approach that enables scientists to better understand and appreciate one important component of this model, what we call intrinsic ethics. Intrinsic ethical issues arise when values and ethical assumptions are embedded within scientific findings and analytical methods. Through a close examination of a case study and its application in teaching, namely, evaluation of climate change integrated assessment models, this paper develops a method and case for including intrinsic ethics within research ethics training to provide scientists with a comprehensive understanding and appreciation of the critical role of values and ethical choices in the production of research outcomes.

Non-Technical Summary: pdf version

Background: Traditional Research Ethics
Research ethics concerns such questions as what research should be conducted, how it should be conducted, who should conduct it, and what should be done with the results. Traditional university research ethics initiatives, such as in Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) training, focus on ethical issues in the process of conducting research, such as plagiarism, data falsification, care for research subjects, responsible authorship issues, and conflicts of interests. However, RCR does not cover the full scope of research ethics.

The Ethical Dimensions of Scientific Research Paradigm
In response to the limitations of RCR, this paper introduces a new research ethics paradigm: Ethical Dimensions of Scientific Research Proposal (EDSR). The EDSR paradigm, developed predominantly at the Rock Ethics Institute at Pennsylvania State University, recognizes three types of research ethics. Procedural ethics concerns ethics in the process of conducting research, as in RCR. Extrinsic ethics concerns ethics in the broader impacts of the research on society, and is discussed in a separate paper (see This paper discusses intrinsic ethics, which concerns ethics in the content of research itself, such as the use of certain equations or the representation of uncertainty.

An Intrinsic Ethics Case Study: Climate Change Integrated Assessment Models
This paper develops a case study of climate change integrated assessment models. The case demonstrates the nature of intrinsic ethics, its significance as a component of research ethics, and an approach for teaching intrinsic ethics to graduate students. Climate change integrated assessment models are models which integrate the physical climate system with human society, showing how the climate and society are interrelated. These models are often used to identify "optimal" climate change strategies. How the models define "optimal" is a clear case of intrinsic ethics. The models contain several other instances of intrinsic ethics as well. This intrinsic ethics case was used successfully in a graduate course on the global carbon cycle.

Teaching the Ethical Dimensions of Scientific Research
Traditional research ethics education focuses almost exclusively on RCR or procedural ethics issues. Adequately treating all ethical dimensions of scientific research thus requires a substantially different research ethics education program. The paper proposes building intrinsic ethics into research ethics education across all disciplines. A module-based approach to EDSR education has been developed and tested at Penn State (see These ethics education modules help instructors build all dimensions research ethics into existing instructional activities.

Created 25 May 2010 * Updated 29 Jul 2013