Former Canada 150 research chair resigns from McMaster University after alleged research misconduct
McMaster University says a high-profile researcher has resigned from his position as a professor at the Hamilton school amid an investigation and a hearing about “serious allegations about research misconduct.”
Wade Hemsworth, a McMaster spokesperson, told CBC Hamilton Jonathan Pruitt resigned on Sunday.
Pruitt, who didn’t respond to questions from CBC, joined McMaster’s faculty in July 2018 after leaving the University of California, Santa Barbara. The evolutionary ecologist, who McMaster once described as an “internationally recognized” academic, had received one of the sought-after Canada 150 Research Chair positions.
His research focused on the “collective traits of different animal societies” — including ants, wasps and spiders — and how those traits affect their survival.
Pruitt was put on paid administrative leave in November 2021 after a series of concerns raised within and outside of McMaster University. Federal funding agencies also suspended payments related to the research chair role.
“The allegations of misconduct involved external complaints of research conducted by Pruitt between 2011 and 2015,” Hemsworth said this week.
“Although Pruitt didn’t join McMaster until 2018 and the allegations involved work done at other institutions prior to his arrival, McMaster enacted an investigation under its Research Integrity Policy.”
The Hamilton Spectator previously reported some scientific journals and academic colleagues raised issues with some of his data, which led to academic articles being retracted.
Hemsworth said the panel investigating Pruitt is still underway and includes an ongoing hearing. He said “it would be inappropriate to comment further until the process is formally concluded.”
He didn’t say what prompted the formal resignation this week, for instance if the university reached a settlement or agreement with Pruitt, only saying any agreement reached would be confidential.
McMaster probe doesn’t go far enough: former colleague
Nicholas DiRienzo was one of the academics who worked with Pruitt and later saw their research retracted.
He previously said he and other academics found issues related to Pruitt’s use of data and he had a stressful time spending “hundreds of hours exploring data, writing reports, working with editors,” in an effort to do what “we could to correct the record on papers we were directly involved in and access to data on.”
He said in a phone interview Tuesday it’s a “good thing” Pruitt resigned.
He also said McMaster’s probe doesn’t go far enough and the university should be more open about its findings.
“That’s really problematic, there’s a number of my colleagues who still have reputational harm,” he said, referring to a lack of transparency.
“I’m disappointed there’s not a clear, more defined report from an independent investigation.”