Members Ethics

Member Bylaw on Ethics Statement

[Revised Jan. 2015]






Several goals for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology follow from its mission statement (Articles of Incorporation, Article 2, Section 1):


1.To develop new knowledge and promote greater public understanding of vertebrate paleontology throughout the world.


2.To encourage and facilitate the cooperation of all persons concerned with the evolutionary biology of vertebrate animals as well as the field occurrence, collection and study of fossil vertebrates and the stratigraphy of the beds in which they are found.


3.To support and encourage the discovery, collection, conservation and protection of vertebrate fossils and fossil sites.



4.To foster the appreciation and understanding of vertebrate fossils and fossil sites by professional paleontologists and the general public.


5.Fossil vertebrates are usually unique or rare, nonrenewable scientific and educational resources that, along with their accompanying contextual data, constitute part of our natural heritage. They provide the data from which the history of vertebrate life on earth has been reconstructed, and are one of the primary means of studying evolutionary patterns and processes as well as environmental change.


Section 1. Professional standards in collection of fossils
It is the responsibility of vertebrate paleontologists to ensure that vertebrate fossils are collected in a professional manner, which includes the detailed recording of pertinent contextual data, such as geographic, stratigraphic, sedimentologic and taphonomic information.


Section 2. Adherence to regulations and property rights
It is the responsibility of vertebrate paleontologists to assist national government agencies in the development of management policies and regulations pertinent to the collection of vertebrate fossils, and shall comply with those policies and regulations during and after collection. The necessary permits on all lands administered by federal, state, and local governments must be obtained from the appropriate agency(ies) before fossil vertebrates are collected. Collecting fossils on private lands must be done only with the landowner's explicit consent.


Section 3. Fossil preparation
Fossil vertebrate specimens should be prepared by, or under the supervision of, trained personnel.


Section 4. Deposition of fossil specimens
Scientifically significant fossil vertebrate specimens*, along with ancillary data, should be curated and accessioned in the collections of repositories charged in perpetuity with conserving fossil vertebrates for scientific study and education (e.g. accredited museums, universities, colleges and other educational institutions).


* Scientifically significant here means that the specimen has been used to generate significant new scientific knowledge through peer-reviewed publication or has the potential to generate significant new knowledge if correctly prepared and studied.


Section 5. Publication and education
Information about vertebrate fossils and their accompanying data should be disseminated expeditiously to both the scientific community and the interested general public.


Section 6. Commercial sale or trade
The barter, sale or purchase of scientifically significant vertebrate fossils is not condoned, unless it brings them into, or keeps them within, a public trust. Any other trade or commerce in scientifically significant vertebrate fossils is inconsistent with the foregoing, in that it deprives both the public and professionals of important specimens, which are part of our natural heritage.


Guidelines from the Ethics Committee


Guidelines from the Ethics Education Committee for collecting, documenting and curating fossils —The SVP Bylaws (Bylaw 12, Sections 1-6) state clearly the responsibility of vertebrate paleontologists, and specifically SVP members, to uphold professional standards in the collection, documentation and curation of vertebrate fossils.


Professional standards in collection of fossils include obtaining the proper permits and permissions to conduct fieldwork on public or private lands, whether domestic or foreign. The collection of fossils from field localities includes not only retrieving fossils with care but also documenting their provenance in terms of stratigraphic, geographic, taphonomic and paleoenvironmental information. This approach is important for both professional and amateur paleontologists to follow in collecting scientifically significant fossils, even if the fossils legally remain in private collections for some time. The scientific and educational value of the fossils depends on their contextual information as well as their morphology.


Field data, whether in the form of notebooks, electronic files or any other format, should accompany the fossils collected from public lands (and from private lands if so stipulated) to their deposition in a qualified, publicly accessible repository. This means that original field data (or a legible copy of it) must become part of the deposited fossil collection. Fossils and their contextual data must be accessioned and curated in an institution, the mission of which is scientific study and education in perpetuity. Fossils should be accessioned in a timely manner.


Curation entails the proper housing and labeling of fossils, as well as maintaining the association between the fossils and field data about their provenance. This information must be made available to the scientific community and the interested public within a reasonable period of time. Access by researchers to collections is regarded as an essential quality for all registered public collections.


If vertebrate fossils are to be deaccessioned from registered collections procedures should follow the recommended guidelines as outlined by either the American Association of Museums (AAM) and be in accord with in the International Council of Museums (ICOM) code of ethics.


Protocol for Reporting a Violation of the Bylaw on Ethics

The Vice President is charged with convening a review panel for the purpose of responding to allegations of violations of the SVP Code of Ethics, a code which became part of the Bylaws as of 1995.


All reports of a possible ethics violation should be sent in writing to the Vice President. The review panel may communicate with the accuser(s) if additional information is required, and may conduct independent research to verify information. In all situations, confidentiality will be of primary consideration for all parties.


The Vice President, on behalf of the SVP Executive Committee and review panel, will conduct all communications with the accused. Based on these communications and independent research, the panel will report to the Executive Committee their findings and a recommended course of action. The Executive Committee will discuss and decide on the final course of action and the Vice President with communicate the findings and decision to all involved.


Members found in breach of the Code could face action that includes being expelled from the Society, being prohibited from publishing in the society’s journals, and excluded from all society activities including the annual meeting.

For conduct issues related to discrimination or sexual harassment policies of the society, see 7.18 and 7.19 of the society handbook.