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Embattled spider biologist resigns university post

With a pivotal research misconduct hearing nearing, a behavioral ecologist under fire for more than 2 years for data irregularities or possible fabrication in dozens of publications has resigned from their prestigious position at McMaster University, Science has learned. The Canadian school confirmed yesterday in a statement it has reached a “confidential” settlement with Jonathan Pruitt, whose work on social behavior in spiders had earned international acclaim and whose willingness to share data drew many eager collaborators.

Although Pruitt is no longer employed by McMaster as of 10 July, according to the statement, the university has still not revealed any conclusions from a recently completed probe into the scientist’s research. That leaves some journal editors and researchers in the field confused about what work from Pruitt remains trustworthy and whether any research misconduct occurred. “It’s appropriate that Jonathan is no longer employed—hopefully at any academic institution,” says Kate Laskowski, a behavioral ecologist at the University of California (UC), Davis. “But I won’t feel [McMaster administrators] have done enough until they make public their findings about the investigation. … I’m extremely frustrated.” Laskowski first brought concerns about Pruitt’s data to public light, via a blog post, in early 2020 after anomalies in a publication on which they were co-authors were brought to her attention.

Pruitt has not yet responded to McMaster’s statement about the resignation but yesterday, before the university confirmed the news, told Science in an email, “I am approaching a moment when I will be able to speak about #PruittGate in an open forum.” (Twitter users labeled discussions about the ecologists’ research #PruittGate in 2020, when the controversy erupted.)

Pruitt, who in 2018 was named a Canada 150 Research Chair, a position given to just 24 scientists in the country at the time, was placed on administrative leave from McMaster in November 2021, after the university concluded an initial investigation into the concerns raised by Laskowski and others. At the time, the institution released no details about its findings and both the university and Pruitt said the misconduct review process was not complete.

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