McMaster University recently completed its investigation into serious accusations of scientific misconduct against prominent behavioral ecologist Jonathan Pruitt. My understanding is that Canadian universities have to notify federal scientific funding agencies of the outcomes of completed misconduct investigation, so that the funding agencies can take appropriate action. It looks like action may have been taken last week? Specifically, it looks like Pruitt may have lost his Canada 150 research chair:
Canada 150 Research Chairs are a small number of very prestigious (and well-funded) research chairs that the Canadian government funded to mark 150 years since Canadian federation. I just checked myself, and can confirm that Pruitt is no longer listed on the Canadian government’s webpage listing the Chairholders.
To which, if Pruitt has indeed lost his Canada 150 Research Chair, why has there been no public announcement? What useful purpose could possibly be served by lack of transparency around actions taken in response to a completed investigation? Conversely, is there not a public interest not only in institutions taking appropriate remedial and disciplinary actions when such actions are required, but in their being seen to do so?
UPDATE: Science’s news team followed up Nick’s tweet and got NSERC (the Canadian federal funding agency that administers the Canada 150 Chairs program) to issue a brief statement:
Click through for the full statement (it was short enough to quote in two tweets…), but the key points are that (i) McMaster did indeed inform NSERC that Pruitt has been placed on administrative leave, and (ii) NSERC has accordingly “temporarily suspended” Canada 150 Chair payments to Pruitt pending further notice from McMaster.
To which, I’m glad we now have at least a brief statement from NSERC. But why did we only get it in response to a question from a reporter from the world’s leading scientific journal? Obviously it would be silly for institutions to issue press releases about every little action they take. But personally I feel like the public interest and newsworthiness of this case rises to the level where it would be appropriate for the institutions concerned to issue public statements, without reporters having to ask for them. After all, that’s why there’ve been news stories about this case in Science that then got picked up in general media outlets like the Toronto Star and the CBC. Am I just being naive here?
And I remain mystified why McMaster still needs to provide “further notice” to NSERC. McMaster’s been investigating for 22 months. How can the investigation possibly still be at some sort of interim stage?