Paleontological Society – Ethics Committee Blog
Report as of January, 2020
The Paleontological Society Ethics Committee is pleased to initiate this blog, which we will update periodically to inform Society members about our activities and investigations into allegations of violations of the PS Policy on Non-Discrimination and Member Code of Conduct. While we will broadly summarize cases and their outcomes, we will not convey extensive details of cases, nor will we convey the identities of any of the parties involved in these allegations.
Following formal ratification in Spring 2019 of the new PS Code of Conduct and in advance of the June 2019 North American Paleontological Convention (NAPC) in Riverside CA, members of the Ethics Committee and This IS PS liaisons participated in two orientation workshops facilitated by Dena Samuels, a consultant who specializes in mindfulness-based diversity, equity, and inclusion training. The first workshop was convened electronically; the second was held face-to-face in Riverside, immediately preceding NAPC. All workshop participants were also able to partake in a unique, avatar-based, virtual-reality training simulation on microaggression, custom-designed by Mursion.
In advance of the September 2019 GSA meeting in Phoenix AZ, This IS PS liaisons also engaged in training to participate as on-site liaisons for GSA’s Respectful Inclusive Scientific Events (RISE) program.
Three cases arose in June 2019, during NAPC:
Case Number 1:
The Ethics Committee received two allegations of misconduct regarding an incident alleged to have taken place at an evening social event. All members of the Ethics Committee were present at NAPC, and were able to convene for an initial discussion of the allegations, which involved possible violations of subsections 1 (sexual harassment), 3 (verbal intimidation), 4 (violating the previously communicated…boundaries of others), and 7 (intentional, unwelcome physical behaviors) of PS Code Section 4. Based on this on-site review of the allegations, the Ethics Committee decided that it was necessary to take the remedial step of ejecting the accused violator from the meeting, which was accomplished with the assistance of the meeting organizers.
Subsequently, the Ethics Committee conducted an investigation of the allegations, in which the accused violator was informed fully of the allegations and was given an opportunity to respond. The Committee also reached out to a person who was not a party to the allegations, but was a witness to the events that precipitated them. That person corroborated the central elements of the misconduct allegations.
The Ethics Committee concluded that the accused individual had, indeed, violated subsections 1 and 3 of of PS Code Section 4, and may have violated subsections 4 and 7. The PS Council reviewed the Committee’s findings and its recommended sanctions, and approved them.
President MacFadden wrote to the violator to inform them of the outcome of the case, and to convey a series of sanctions, including an official reprimand; a one-year prohibition from attending any PS-sponsored events, including those taking place at the Geological Society of America (GSA) Meeting in Phoenix; an admonishment to avoid any contact with the individuals who filed the allegations; a warning that any future violations of the PS Code would result in elevated sanctions; and notification of the appropriate officer at the violator’s home institution.
The individuals who submitted the allegations were also informed about the outcome of the investigation and the sanctions.
Case Number 2:
During NAPC, a meeting participant conveyed concern regarding possible bullying behavior to Ethics Committee members. The Ethics Committee met and determined that it would be important to convey the need to all This IS PS liaisons at the meeting to be vigilant and be prepared to practice bystander intervention techniques if needed. No bullying behavior occurred and an allegation report was not filed.
The PS member conveyed their appreciation for PS’ support, and the Ethics Committee subsequently conveyed its gratitude to the liaisons for carefully monitoring NAPC events.
Case Number 3:
Shortly after the conclusion of NAPC, the PS received an allegation form from a This IS PS liaison, who was concerned about behavior witnessed during a poster session: a man who did not have a meeting badge appeared to be making unwanted physical contact with a woman who was presenting a poster. When the liaison walked over to the poster, the presenter seemed appreciative of the liaison’s presence, and the man retreated and eventually left the room. The liaison walked away for a few minutes, but then walked back with the intention of talking with the student about the incident, but the student was gone by that time, and the liaison was unable to find the student thereafter.
Subsequently, a member of the Ethics Committee was able to speak with the student about the incident and learned that the man in question was the student’s father, and had been holding her arm to help stabilize her, as she was experiencing a migraine headache and vertigo at the time.
The student conveyed her appreciation for PS’ support, and the Ethics Committee subsequently conveyed its gratitude to the liaison for carefully monitoring the poster session and for reporting on the concerning behavior.
Two cases arose in relation to the GSA Annual Meeting held in Phoenix, Arizona in September 2019
Case Number 1:
Prior to the GSA Annual meeting, members conveyed concerns to Ethics Committee members regarding possible inappropriate comments in presentations. The Ethics committee met and determined that it would be important to have a conversation with the individual to review expectations under the PS Code of Conduct and to review consequences of violations of the code. In addition, Ethics Committee members attended the presentation, prepared to practice bystander intervention techniques if needed. No inappropriate comments were made and an allegation report was not filed.
Case Number 2:
The Ethics Committee received information about an incident alleged to have taken place at an evening social event. Details of the incident were included in a printed document that was written by a PS member and was handed out to event attendees, including a This IS PS liaison. The document contained information about possible violations of subsections 1 (sexual harassment), 3 (verbal intimidation), 4 (violating the previously communicated…boundaries of others), and 7 (intentional, unwelcome physical behaviors) of PS Code Section 4. The liaison reported the incident and sent the document to both the Ethics committee and Nan Stout, GSA’s Ethics & Compliance Officer, following the procedures that were outlined by GSA leadership for the annual meeting. GSA determined that they would handle all on-site incidents during the meeting.
Shortly after GSA, the Ethics Committee discussed the incident and reviewed the received materials. Although GSA was presumed to be doing their own investigation, the Ethics Committee determined that they should also reach out to the person who was involved in the events and see if they would like to speak with a member of the Ethics Committee and/or provide an allegation report. The person did not respond to inquiries and a formal allegation report was not filed with the Paleontological Society. The PS Ethics Committee assumed that this incident was being investigated by Nan Stout and the GSA RISE program.