BIG #pruittdata news: McMaster U investigation concluded. Jonathan Pruitt placed on paid administrative leave “until the process is complete”. Pruitt has no access to students or research funds while on leave. (UPDATED)

Science news story here.

I’m glad that the investigation has finally concluded. Finally! It’s certainly been on the long side compared to past investigations into broadly similar cases around the world. But I continue to find the lack of transparency from McMaster both strange and unjustified. What did the investigation find? (even a summary would be better than nothing…) What “process” is still ongoing? When will it conclude?

Speaking of lack of transparency (though they say they have a legal reason for it): the University of Tennessee declined to say whether the recent (?) withdrawal of Pruitt’s PhD thesis from the university’s institutional repository means that his PhD has been rescinded.

UPDATE: CBC News reports that, according to a UTennessee spokesperson, Pruitt still holds his PhD. /end update

16 thoughts on “BIG #pruittdata news: McMaster U investigation concluded. Jonathan Pruitt placed on paid administrative leave “until the process is complete”. Pruitt has no access to students or research funds while on leave. (UPDATED)

  1. Has NSERC been notified of the outcome of the investigation? I am not a lawyer, but my understanding of NSERC’s procedures is that McMaster is obliged by NSERC policies to notify NSERC of the outcome of the investigation.

    • I don’t know about this particular case, but suspect that McMaster has been following the proper procedures which does involve informing the Tri-Council (who also would have needed to grant their requests for extensions beyond 6 months from initial allegation).

      • To clarify, I’m sure McMaster is aware of their obligation to inform NSERC, and I have no reason to think they will shirk that obligation. My question was, rather, given that some sort of “process” is still ongoing, has NSERC been officially informed yet? Or will NSERC not be officially informed until the end of the “process”?

  2. I understand that there are lots of factors at play and I fully agree that it is important that Jonathan is given a full and fair investigation as much as is possible. However, there are personnel issues that can arguably stay private, and then there are issues of scientific interest that need to be made public.

    When I asked McMaster when I could expect to hear the findings of the report, given that I spoke extensively with investigators, I was told: “The Research Integrity Policy notes that only those required will received information pertaining to an investigation under the Policy. If there is a need to inform you of any possible outcome(s) I will be in touch with you. Otherwise, no information will be disclosed.”

    In my mind, the findings of the investigation, that is, whether (or not) misconduct occurred and when is of public and especially professional interest. That is, all of his co-authors, anyone who has cited his work or will cite his work and any journal editor that has handled his papers arguably all fall under the “need to inform” header as the findings of this investigation directly impacts our professional activities. Not to mention the students and postdocs in his lab! The fact that they have been able to continue to work in his lab for nearly 2 years during an active investigation is just mind-boggling to me. There certainly is a need to balance Jonathan’s right to privacy and a fair investigation against the potential damage being done to their careers but the fact that McMaster has waited 2 YEARS to do anything about this shows me exactly what they value more.

    • Sadly, we’ve been here before in Canada. History may not repeat, but it rhymes: https://www.science.org/content/article/canada-case-spurs-concern-over-misconduct-secrecy

      https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/07/12/canadian-researchers-who-commit-scientific-fraud-are-protected-by-privacy-laws.html

      https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-dozens-of-canadian-researchers-have-faced-discipline-for-integrity/

      Note that, as of 2011, there is a Canadian federal funding agency rule that requires applicants for funding to permit their names to be disclosed by the funding agency if they’ve been found to have committed misconduct. But even there, I believe the funding agency has discretion whether to release the names of funding applicants who’ve been found guilty of misconduct. My understanding (and I’m not a lawyer so I might be wrong…) is that names are only released when the funding agency judges that there is a significant public interest in doing so. As far as I know, they have only once judged that the public interest was sufficiently large to name names: the Sophie Jamal case (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophie_Jamal). I strongly disagree with their judgments about comparative lack of public interest in knowing the outcomes scientific misconduct cases. After all, in the US and other jurisdictions, institutional reports into serious scientific misconduct are published, with names named. But given that the same complaints about lack of transparency have been made over and over in Canada, to no avail, I’m not optimistic that there’s anything anyone could do, individually or collectively, to force (or shame) McMaster or NSERC into releasing more information.

      Note that Canadian institutions do have some latitude to release *summaries* of their misconduct investigations. UBC has been releasing summaries of its misconduct investigations–without names attached–since 2013. So the fact that McMaster chooses not to release even redacted summaries of its misconduct investigations means it’s choosing to be even less transparent than Canadian peer institutions.

      • All of this does not make me very optimistic. It seems to me that without McMaster transparently and publicly releasing their findings, one likely outcome is that the scientific community may decide that *any* work Jonathan was involved in is suspect – this means that many many collaborators and usually early-career researchers will suffer because their legitimate papers might be considered tainted.

  3. Pingback: #pruittdata latest: Did Jonathan Pruitt just quietly lose his Canada 150 Chair? | Dynamic Ecology

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