#pruittdata latest: another one bites the dust

Earlier this winter, former leading behavioral ecologist Jonathan Pruitt was placed on paid administrative leave by McMaster University, with no access to grant funds or students, and was suspended from his Canada 150 Chair. Now he’s lost yet another paper. Pruitt & Krauel 2010 J Evol Biol has been retracted. The retraction is due in large part to outstanding data forensics by Erik Postma. You should click through and read the whole thing.

I’m pretty sure this is the oldest paper of Pruitt’s to be retracted so far. According to Wikipedia, Pruitt now has 17 retractions (the 16 listed on Wikipedia as of this writing, plus the new one that was just announced) and 6 Expressions of Concern. Protip: don’t do science in a way that eventually results in your Wikipedia page looking like his…

See also Am Nat EiC Dan Bolnick’s brief but interesting remarks on the important role that journals continue to play in enforcing scientific integrity. Of course, some journals play that role more effectively than others. Not sure what some of the journals that put placeholder EoCs on Pruitt’s papers are waiting for. Looking at you, Nature and PNAS…

The Dead of Winter

I link to this every year. Key quote:

A society—a civilization, if you like—is a hard thing to hold together. If you live in an agrarian society, and you have only stone, wood, and bone for tools, and you are on the western edge of Europe, few times are harder than the dead of Winter. The days are at their shortest, the sun is far away, and the Malthusian edge is right in front of you. It’s no wonder so many religious festivals take place around the solstice. Here were a people, more than five millennia ago, able not only to pull through the Winter successfully, but able also to build something like a huge timepiece to remind themselves that they were going to make it.

Last minute Zoom seminar/discussion announcement: Tim Parker on reliability of ecological knowledge, today at noon Mountain Time!

Should’ve posted this earlier, but hopefully better late than never: I’m hosting a Zoom seminar at noon today from Tim Parker on the reliability of ecological knowledge and how we can improve it. Tim’s thought a lot about the “replication crisis”, whether it might apply to ecology, and what could be done about it. And also about openness, transparency, and best practices in scientific research. Tim’s going to talk for about 45 minutes, and there will be an extended discussion afterwards. All are welcome, hope you can join us. Zoom link and a brief advert below.

Speaker: Tim Parker from Whitman College in Washington State

Title: What undermines reliability in ecology and evolutionary biology and how can we improve?

Join Zoom Meeting: https://ucalgary.zoom.us/j/98959651766

Meeting ID: 989 5965 1766
Passcode: 919471

Context: In a variety of empirical disciplines, the last decade has seen a growing awareness that results may be less reliable than we might hope for or expect. Although we lack precise estimates of the reliability of results in ecology and evolutionary biology, there is evidence from these disciplines of a variety of practices that undermine empirical reliability. This presentation will review this evidence and discuss proposals to increase the reliability of research in ecology and evolutionary biology.

Background: Tim Parker is a behavioral ecologist with a long standing interest in the reliability of results in ecology and evolutionary biology. He began investigating this issue more than 10 years ago, and has co-authored multiple reviews, opinion pieces, and empirical papers on this topic. He is a professor of biology and environmental studies at Whitman College in Washington State, and he is a founding member of SORTEE – the Society for Open, Reliable, and Transparent Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Two openings for ecology grad students in Jeremy Fox’s lab at the University of Calgary for Sept. 2022 or Jan. 2023

I am seeking two graduate students (MSc or PhD) to start in Sept. 2022 or Jan. 2023.

For background on my lab, visit my lab website. Briefly, my own work mostly involves modeling and experiments on population and community dynamics using laboratory-based microbial model systems. But some of my students have worked in other systems, including alpine plants, plant-pollinator interactions, bean beetles, fossil bivalves, and meta-analysis of data from the literature. So whether you want to join one of the ongoing lines of research in my lab, or have your own ideas, please do get in touch.

See my research page for more on ongoing research in my lab. Current lines of research include:

  • Spatial synchrony of population cycles. Why do population cycles and spatial synchrony often (but not always!) seem to go hand-in-hand?
  • Higher order interactions and species coexistence. Are communities more than just the sum of their parts, and if so, what implications does that have for species coexistence?
  • Studying ecologists, not just ecology. Using a huge database of effect sizes from 466 ecological meta-analyses to quantify what ecologists know about ecology (all of ecology!), and how fast they’re learning it.

The Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary has a strong group of over a dozen ecologists and evolutionary biologists, with strength in depth in evolutionary ecology, population ecology, aquatic ecology, and other areas. The department has two field stations in the mountains, next-generation sequencing facilities, access to various high-performance computing clusters, and everything else you’d expect from a big, well-equipped research university.

Grad students in the department are guaranteed a minimum of $23,000/year through a mixture of TAships, RAships, and other sources like fellowships. In practice, students in my lab make more than the departmentally-guaranteed minimum.

Calgary is a city of about 1.3 million people, 45 minutes drive from the Canadian Rockies with all the opportunities for field work and recreation that implies. I mean, look at these mountains!

If you’re interested, please email me ASAP (jefox@ucalgary.ca). Doesn’t have to be a super-long email. Just tell me a bit about your background, interests, and long-term goals, and about what specifically attracts you to my lab, and/or Calgary more broadly. Please also include a cv, transcripts (unofficial is fine), and contact details for three references.

#pruittdata latest: Did Jonathan Pruitt just quietly lose his Canada 150 Chair? (UPDATE: yes he has–temporarily, pending “further notice” from McMaster University)

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?

/end update

I’m giving an online seminar on higher order interactions on Tue. Nov. 23 at 5 pm UTC. Please come!

Here are the details:

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

A bit of #pruittdata news: Jonathan Pruitt’s doctoral dissertation has been withdrawn from Tennessee’s institutional repository; he still holds his PhD (post title updated x2, post updated x3)

Nick DiRienzo has the news:

Nick’s screenshot is of this page of the University of Tennessee doctoral dissertation repository, known as TRACE. Note that you can’t find that page by searching the repository. A repository search on Pruitt’s name doesn’t find his dissertation, though it does find numerous others from the same lab. I found it by following the link from the EBSCO listing for Pruitt’s dissertation.

It’s not clear when the dissertation was withdrawn from the repository. The linked page doesn’t say, and I got no joy when I tried to figure out when the page was last modified.

I’m also not clear on the implications of this. I kind of doubt it means that Tennessee has officially rescinded Pruitt’s PhD, though I’m just guessing on that. On the other hand, it’s certainly not a vote of confidence from Tennessee in the integrity and validity of Pruitt’s dissertation research, is it? It sure would be nice to have some transparency from Tennessee on exactly what action they’ve taken and why, and whether there are any further actions pending.

UPDATE: Here’s the Tennessee repository’s official policies. The policy on withdrawal of materials says:

TRACE is meant to be a permanent scholarly record (working papers may be an exception). Once an item is deposited, a citation to it will always remain. Removing content is discouraged. However, authors may request the community manager to remove an item, except for peer-review series and journals, where removal is not allowed. No files will be removed by the TRACE administrator or community managers without author notification. If a contributor leaves the University, the material will remain in TRACE; upon request, new contact information will be added to the files.

So I guess it’s possible that the dissertation was removed from the depository at Pruitt’s request? Or that it was removed at the request of someone else and that Pruitt was notified?

/end update

UPDATE #2: Retraction Watch has a story on this. No new info, except for one small tidbit of questionable relevance: Pruitt’s Twitter bio now says he’s based in rural Florida, even though his department webpage at McMaster University is still live and he’s still listed in the department faculty listing. Not sure what to make of this, but it probably doesn’t mean anything. He’s listed as the instructor for Comparative Social Evolution during the F 2021 term, and the course is being taught virtually rather than in person, so it might just mean that he’s teaching remotely? (go here, open a search, search on subject “PSYCH” and the exact course number 3SE3) Or maybe he’s not even in rural Florida, who knows. I don’t really see how it’s relevant in any case. /end update #2

UPDATE #3: CBC News reports that, according to a UTennessee spokesperson, Pruitt still holds his PhD. /end update #3

p.s. In the unlikely event that you’re just joining us and have no idea what I’m talking about, start here and say goodbye to your day!

Was the 2020-21 N. American ecology faculty job market different from the pre-pandemic job market? Yes and no. (updatedx2)

As most of you know, I compiled a lot of data on the pre-pandemic job market for tenure-track (TT) ecologists in the US and Canada. Obviously, the pandemic changed things. #understatement But what exactly did it change?

Some changes are obvious–no on-campus interviews during a pandemic, for instance. But it’s not so obvious if other things changed. In particular, did the pandemic make the TT ecology faculty job market more competitive?

Yes and no. The answer depends on how you define “competitive”. For the details, read on.

Continue reading