I take no joy in seeing a career disintegrate

But whoa, this one needs to die. There was a time when Jonathan Pruitt’s work on spider behavior was exactly my cup of tea, and there was so much of it — so many papers, so many coauthors, it was a rich vein of information. And now it’s all gone swirling down the drain.

Almost 2 years after a Twitter storm erupted over data problems, including the possibility of fabrication, in more than a dozen scientific papers co-authored by behavioral ecologist Jonathan Pruitt, the saga may be nearing a climax. A spokesperson for Pruitt’s current employer, McMaster University, told ScienceInsider on 12 November that the school’s “investigation has now concluded and Pruitt has been placed on a paid administrative leave until the process is complete.”

McMaster’s actions last week include denying Pruitt access to students and research funds. Also, last week researchers learned that the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), withdrew Pruitt’s dissertation from its library system, although it remains unclear whether his Ph.D. has been revoked. Both institutions made their moves quietly, and some of Pruitt’s former colleagues have expressed frustration at the lack of transparency in McMaster’s long-running probe into Pruitt.

Twelve of the ecologist’s papers have been retracted so far and expressions of concern have been posted for 10 others, according to the Retraction Watch database. Nicholas DiRienzo, a data scientist now working in private industry, has been trying to retract several more papers he co-authored with Pruitt. But he says he has been stymied because journals want to wait for McMaster’s findings. “This is a correct and necessary step and one that should have been done much earlier,” DiRienzo says about placing Pruitt on leave. “Letting it take so long when there was a clear signal there was a problem has arguably harmed [his] students.”

Pruitt keeps lingering on. He needs to do everyone a favor and just give up — there is no way his scientific career can be rescued. The integrity of the data has to be paramount, and violating that trust is the kiss of death. Would I ever trust a paper with his name on it? No. I’m not going to be alone in that, either.

I don’t know where he can move on to from this disaster. He’s in Florida; maybe one of those cheap roadside attractions? Or maybe a pest control company could hire him. Anything but science.


  1. R. L. Foster says

    He’s in Florida, you say? His future is assured. All he needs to do is say he’s a conservative, god fearing scientist who has been unfairly smeared by woke, liberal academia. In Canada, no less. Then give ranting OAN or Fox News interviews about how conservative scientists are being censored, catch Trump’s eye and presto! he’ll be taken on as one of Trump’s scientific advisors.