More spiders! But only trustworthy spiders, please

There has been a pleasant change to my in-box. I’m used to getting hate-mail and gay porn, but nowadays I get a flood of spider mail. People are taking photos of the spiders they’re noticing around their house and sending them to me! Some of you might think that’s worse, but I’m thrilled! It means I’m getting through to people and helping them appreciate biology more, which is exactly what I want to do. The only problem right now is that I’m getting so many photos that I can’t acknowledge them all — sorry, but I do like them.

Although I do have to mention one problem. I was sent a link to this article about an interesting spider phenomenon, which reports that “climate change is making spiders more aggressive.” As someone getting more interested in spider behavior, and planning some potential student projects around that kind of stuff I’ll be able to do over the winter. However, the article is about a paper by Jonathan Pruitt, and I have to remind you all — Jonathan Pruitt has been under suspicion of having fabricated data, and multiple papers have been retracted.

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for behavioral ecologist Jonathan Pruitt—the holder of one of the prestigious Canada 150 Research Chairs—and it may get a lot worse. What began with questions about data in one of Pruitt’s papers has flared into a social media–fueled scandal in the small field of animal personality research, with dozens of papers on spiders and other invertebrates being scrutinized by scores of students, postdocs, and other co-authors for problematic data.

Already, two papers co-authored by Pruitt, now at McMaster University, have been retracted for data anomalies; Biology Letters is expected to expunge a third within days. And the more Pruitt’s co-authors look, the more potential data problems they find. All papers using data collected or curated by Pruitt, a highly productive researcher who specialized in social spiders, are coming under scrutiny and those in his field predict there will be many retractions. The furor has even earned a Twitter hashtag—#PruittData.

That guy is going to be tainting the field for years, and I can’t trust his work until it’s been replicated.


  1. mailliw says

    I read Randolf Menzel’s book Die Intelligenz der Bienen (The intelligence of Bees) recently. His neurobiology team at the Free University in Berlin study bees both bee behaviour and neurology.

    I’d be interested to know if anyone is doing anything similar with spiders? I take it there must be someone more reputable than Pruitt involved.

  2. nomdeplume says

    “climate change is making spiders more aggressive.” Clearly a nonsense statement. A journalist might come up with a statement like that, but anyone with knowledge of the complexities of ecology and behaviour couldn’t possibly. Unless of course they were hoping to attract the attention of a journalist…