Policy Statements

Statement from the Executive Committee about Dr. John Rensberger and the ethics of collecting vertebrate fossils 

The SVP Executive Committee has received the report and recommendations of the Ethics Education Committee regarding allegations concerning Dr. John Rensberger, formerly at the Burke Museum, University of Washington. 

Three items of concern were raised regarding Dr. John Rensberger (now retired) and his relationship with the fossil collections at the Burke Museum: improper curation of collections, inaccurate recording of locality data, and failure to obtain proper collecting permits for fieldwork on public lands. Three investigative reports were supplied to the Ethics Education Committee. There was some divergence of professional opinion in the reports regarding the first two allegations, but the SVP Ethics Education Committee concluded that the fossil collections resulting from Dr. Rensberger's fieldwork are properly deposited in a public institution (the Burke Museum) and have been well curated by Dr. Rensberger and the current curatorial staff of the Burke Museum. Regarding the third allegation, it is clear that on a number of occasions, Dr. Rensberger neglected to obtain proper authorization to conduct paleontological fieldwork on public lands. Failure to obtain proper collecting permits was in violation of both the SVP Ethics Bylaw and the regulations of the public land-management agencies. This omission was inappropriate and undermines the reputation of our profession. If Dr. Rensberger continues to conduct paleontological fieldwork in this manner, the Executive Committee will recommend termination of his membership from the society, following the procedures outlined in the SVP Bylaws, Article 1, Section 6. 

In response to this matter, the Ethics Education Committee has prepared guidelines, consistent with the SVP Bylaws, for collecting, documenting, and curating fossils. These are explained in a separate document.