Interridge code of conduct for resposible research at hydrothermal vents

The following is a repost from the old Southern Fried Science WordPress blog. The original can be found here.

bluebreeze-fixed_logoInterRidge, a global organization of hydrothermal vent biologists, has, over the last several years, established a set of guidelines for responsible research practices at deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Along with many scientists, several nations and commercial organizations have signed onto this statement. Although tailored to deep-sea science, these guidelines are broadly applicable to any science program that requires field work.

1) Avoid, in the conduct of scientific research, activities that will have deleterious impacts on the sustainability of populations of hydrothermal vent organisms.

Obvious, really. It does no good to understand an ecosystem if, in the process of studying it, you completely destroy it. Scientists can be pretty poor conservationists, and the desire to get just one more sample, to crack open one more rock, or to dig just a little deeper, can be overwhelming.

2) Avoid, in the conduct of scientific research, activities that lead to long lasting and significant alteration and/or visual degradation of vent sites.

This goes right along with number 1. Don’t destroy the site, but also avoid permanently altering it. If you can’t sample without causing lasting damage, you may want to reconsider sampling at all.

3) Avoid collections that are not essential to the conduct of scientific research.

Again, don’t overharvest. Understand the statistics you’l be using to analyze your data and don’t sample more then you need to do robust science. If all you need is an N of 30, why collect 300? Before you even reach the site, you should discuss and decide on both your lower and upper sampling limits. Otherwise you’re wasting resources and removing a piece of the system you’re trying to understand unnecessarily.

4) Avoid, in the conduct of scientific research, transplanting biota or geological material between sites.

Another no brainer, but one we often forget. How many times do you walk from one field site to another in muddy boots? How often do we wash deitritus of the deck of the ship after sailing miles away? It just takes one transplanted species to wreck a system.

5) Familiarize yourself with the status of current and planned research in an area and avoid activities that will compromise experiments or observations of other researchers. Assure that your own research activities and plans are known to the rest of the international research community through InterRidge and other public domain data bases

Something else that can be easily overlooked. Though I don’t think this one goes far enough. You can’t assume everyone will dopcument their experiements in a public database. You have to do the legwork yourself. Make sure you know who works at the site you’re going to and what experiments are on going. This should be one of the first things you do when you settle on a research site or project. It protects their work and it makes sure you don’t go out and do something that’s already in process.

6) Facilitate the fullest possible use of all biological, chemical and geological samples collected through collaborations and cooperation amongst the global community of scientists.

This is the place for me to get on my soap box. I don’t care what you funding agency, research institution, or program directors say, nobody owns data. The data you collect is part of the collective totality of human knowledge, and if you don’t ensure that that information is made reasonably available to the public, either through publication, databasing, or access to raw samples, as far as I’m concerned, you’re stealing from the entire human race. Yes, there’s always roadblocks to total disemination, and yes, you have to work around your institution’s rules and regualtions, but you also have to make an active effort to get that data to the world.

I think a variation on these guidelines should be adopted by all scientist who do field work. At the very least it will serve to remind us that as scientist, we do have an environmental impact, and we need to do everything in our power to minimize that impact.

~Southern Fried Scientist


  1. Mike Lisieski · July 30, 2010

    Did you mean: “If you *can’t* sample without causing lasting damage, you may want to reconsider sampling at all.” ?

    Also, privately funded scientists do own their data (or their sponsors do, depending on their contract.) While it’s bad science not to hand it over to qualified individuals who are skeptical about your published results and want to verify them, it’s the case that many scientists only get a paycheck because they have some sort of intellectual property right to their data that they can use to their advantage (scientists and engineers in private industry, for example.) While I’m a big advocate of open source everything, and I agree that it is wasteful and irresponsible to collect data and then not share it with people who could use it (read: everybody who cares), it has to be (public funding contracts aside) each person’s right to do with their intellectual property as they wish. As we move into a time when many people’s main economic activity is the production of knowledge/information, intellectual property rights are essential for science to be an economically feasible enterprise that jives with the rest of our individualistic, capitalist culture. While we can say that it might be foolish to hoard data, it is the case that (again, publicly funded research aside) research do own the information that they generate.

    • Southern Fried Scientist · July 30, 2010

      While that’s technically true, and in practice most scientist are publishing their data (which, in my mind, constitutes a good faith effort to make the information publicly available), there are always a few that are sitting on data sets for decades, without making any attempt to publish, provide access to the raw data, or database their samples. An explicit code of conduct should discourage that behavior.

      I also don’t think raw physical data is someone’s intellectual property. While they may own the output of experiment or analysis, they shouldn’t also own the inputs. One of the basic tenets of the scientific method is that your results should be repeatable. If the raw data isn’t publicly available, and samples are incredibly expensive and difficult to obtain (as in the case for deep sea biology), then your results cannot be independently verified if access to your samples are restricted.

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