Ethics Committee and Process for Investigations

SSA Ethics Committee*

The Ethics Committee is formed to ensure that there is an appropriate level of conduct in regards to human and scientific ethical issues for Society activities.

The chair of the Ethics Committee coordinates SSA’s investigations of scientific misconduct. A former president of SSA shall serve as the chair. When the chairs’s term is over, the individual will remain on the committee for at least one year for continuity. The term for the Chair of the Ethics Committee is at least two years and a maximum of four consecutive years. The current president would select/confirm the Chair of the Ethics Committee.

The Ethics Committee reports to the Board of Directors and is responsible for investigating allegations that are deemed by the chair of the Ethics Committee to be substantial, cannot be resolved at the program level (e.g. within a journal’s processes) and thereby require investigation for the Board. This is not a standing committee. It will be convened only as needed and will consist of members from these committees: membership, publications, honors and meetings. At least four members of the committee will be current officers or members of the Board. Additional members may be added to a specific investigation to provide subject matter expertise pursuant to the allegation. The Chair will name one of the Committee members as the vice chair to assist and serve as chair in the event of conflict of interest or if the Chair cannot serve.

Members will serve for two years. The SSA president will work with the chair of the Ethics Committee to identify and finalize the membership of the Ethics Committee.

The Board of Directors has the final authority to determine what actions will be taken if an allegation of scientific misconduct is found to be substantiated. Suspension or termination of membership shall be carried out in compliance with the Society’s bylaws.

SSA Process for Investigation of Misconduct Allegations*

  • Complaints of misconduct that are not directly connected to SSA programs (publications, meetings, workshops and events) should be reported first to the home institution or workplace where the misconduct took place. SSA does not have the means to investigate activities not directly connected to its programs.
  • Complaints must include the following information:
    • the name and affiliation of the person(s) submitting the allegation and the name and identifying information of the person(s) alleged to have committed the misconduct;
    • a description of the allegation that includes the date and circumstances of the alleged misconduct;
    • any documents or other relevant items with annotation showing specifically how the item relates to the allegation;
    • an explanation of how the allegation relates to misconduct as defined in the SSA Ethics Policy; and
    • a statement explaining any conflict(s) of interest that the person making the allegation has with the subject(s), entity(ies), or situation(s) named in the allegation. A conflict of interest does not preclude the filing of an allegation.
  • Anonymous complaints are not accepted or acted on by SSA – there has to be verification of complainant identity to allow for proper review and follow-up of any allegation.
  • A third-party complaint must identify the target of the alleged misconduct, if applicable, and the matter will be discussed confidentially with the alleged target. To the extent reasonably possible, SSA will protect the identity of the parties involved in an ethics complaint. However, certain disclosures may be necessary in order to conduct an adequate investigation and to the extent required by
  • The SSA executive director initially reviews complaints to determine whether the alleged misconduct is covered by the Ethics Policy and whether the complaint contains all of the information that is required under the Ethics Policy.
  • The Ethics Committee Chair reviews completed complaints to determine whether an investigating ethics committee should be appointed to conduct a full ethics investigation.
  • The investigating Ethics Committee conducts an investigation and provides findings and recommendations to the SSA Board of Directors. The Board of Directors has the final authority to determine what action(s) will be taken based on the findings of the Ethics Committee.
  • The investigating Ethics Committee has up to 90 days to complete its investigation (and may request an extension of time, if needed), so a typical timeline for handling a complaint may take several months, including time for SSA Board of Directors involvement in the review and appeals process.
  • An opportunity to appeal the Board’s decision is part of the process, but must be based on new evidence or reconsideration of evidence and include a narrative justification for the appeal.
  • Sanctions, when issued by the Board of Directors, may or may not be made public. The Complainant and the Respondent are notified of the Board’s decision.
  • The names of the Ethics Committee members are made known to the Complainant and the Respondent as part of the ethics process, but the names are not publicly disclosed.
  • The Ethics Committee will consider a formal request to appeal a decision relating to the meetings Code of Conduct and/or a recommendation to revoke membership. The final decision to revoke membership is made only by the Board of Directors.
  • A three-person committee, Code of Conduct Committee, would handle complaints that arise at the Annual Meeting and require immediate attention. The committee consists of the Executive Director, Chair of the Ethics Committee and the current President. If an immediate decision is required, the committee of three would decide and take action, reporting to the Board in a reasonable time period. The report to the Board would be void of any identifying information, unless required based by the circumstances.

* SSA acknowledges relying on AGU established procedures when developing this policy, and we are grateful for their work.