Science journalist Leonid Schneider has gotten hold of a redacted copy of the letter that embattled behavioral ecologist Jonathan Pruitt’s lawyers have been sending to journals in which he published, and to his former collaborators. The letter tries to keep them from talking publicly about the many data anomalies underpinning Pruitt’s papers. Anomalies for which the most obvious explanation, in many cases, is intentional fabrication. Pruitt himself insists that there are entirely innocent explanations for the anomalies. But so far he has yet to provide innocent explanations that convince anyone who’s looked closely at his data and papers, at least as far as I’m aware. But we’ll see; investigation is ongoing.
The link includes a copy of the letter, Schneider’s forceful comments on it, quotes from some recipients of the letter, and examples of some of the data anomalies in question. Stick around to the end for a quote from Pruitt that directly contradicts the letter, claiming that he’s “happy for folks to engage in public discourse about my data integrity”.
I was most interested in the letter because it reveals how Pruitt will defend himself against allegations of misconduct, at least in one case. He claims that, in at least one case, the data anomalies are not in the data file on which his paper was based, but are only in a different data file that was provided to investigators by mistake.
If you’re new to this story and need background, see here.
UPDATE: Niels Dingemanse comments to say that the letters haven’t changed how journal editors are proceeding with their investigations into Pruitt’s papers.
It seems to me that this lawyer, and apparently some editors, has missed the way that retractions work. Pruitt’s employers and funders have the authority and responsibility of investigating him for misconduct, and the authority to impose penalties if they find it. Retractions by journals are different; they happen because the research reported in a paper is found to be incorrect or unreliable. That could happen because of innocent errors, and such papers do get retracted (correct me if I’m wrong). The point of retraction is not to judge guilt of an individual, but to correct the scientific record as published by the journal in question.
In case anyone needed confirmation that Pruitt’s former collaborators have not been dissuaded from discussing the integrity of his data in public, detailed descriptions of the anomalies underpinning two more of Pruitt’s papers have just been added to PubPeer by former collaborator Nicholas DiRienzo:
I just posted two more as well.
Well done! I can’t stop bragging to my students that this whole mess is actually proof that science works. But it all depends on the bravery and hardwork of people such as yourself. You deserve a great deal of credit.
I am just surprised at how much the lawyers seem to (or pretend to) be ignorant of the “normative practices of the field” they themselves invoke in their letter… Either that’s quite unprofessional to not get more information before acting on behalf of your client, or they are just betting this will frighten people enough to gain time. I would not be confident in the latter though…