Sandbrook 2015 – Filling the big gap in ethical discussions

The Sandbrook article discusses drone use in conservation and its possible negative social consequences. I really appreciated the general direction the article takes, as well as some of the more specific aspects of the article; for example, the author’s attentiveness to language. Sandbrook addresses the fact that there are many negative connotations with the word “drone” and also chooses to avoid use of the gendered word “unmanned.”

For the future of drone use for conservation, Sandbrook sees a need for self-regulation by the conservation industry until the legal status of drones is more solidified. I am a bit skeptical about this, and the ability and desire of the conservation industry to do this. Sandbrook mentions that other technologies have used self-regulation, but doesn’t mention whether it has been effective. This section left me wondering how regulations will be agreed on and enforced.

Sandbrook presents a conflict between using drones for conservation efforts, and the negative potential social effects of drones. This presents one of the biggest ethical questions in GIScience and critical GIS: can technologies that are rooted in violent applications be separated enough from those purposes to be used positively? There is no obvious answer, but I think writing articles like this one and acknowledging these conflicts is a step in the right direction. Merely spending a section of an article on social or ethical implications might seem insignificant, but I have come to realize the lengths that some people in GIScience go to avoid addressing ethical conflicts (for example, the keynote speaker at GIS day!). Now, I feel I am less apt to take for granted the people in the field who actually acknowledge issues of ethics. As the author points out, there are only three papers which address social implications of using drones for conservation, and one of them discusses it from the perspective of eco-tourists rather than local people. It might seem obvious to us to address social implications because we’ve been doing it in class all semester, but clearly the literature is lacking in this aspect.


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