Josch13 via Pixabay/Tag Hartman-Simkins
Web of Lies

Scientist Who Said Spiders Have Personalities May Have Faked Data

Seven of his papers have already been retracted.

Scientist Jonathan Pruitt become a notable figure in the field of behavioral ecology for reporting evidence that spiders have personalities.

But he may now be making the transition from “notable” to “notorious.” As part of a growing academic scandal, peer-reviewed journals have retracted seven papers co-authored by Pruitt.

That’s not all. His collaborators have requested retractions for five additional papers, and they’re considering asking journals to retract five others, including the personality one — all because Pruitt allegedly fabricated the data he collected for the papers.

The wave of retractions began when a colleague alerted behavioral ecologist Kate Laskowski about unexpected duplications in data used for a paper she co-authored with Pruitt.

Once Laskowski dug into the data, she discovered that only 27 percent of the recorded observations didn’t appear to be duplicated elsewhere in the data set. Essentially, it looked like Pruitt had repeatedly taken the data he gathered for one spider and used it for multiple other spiders.

When Laskowski was unable to explain the suspicious pattern, she called for the paper’s retraction — and then the retraction of another paper she co-wrote with Pruitt following the discovery of similar anomalies.

Pruitt currently conducts research at McMaster University, supported by a $350,000 annual grant from the Canadian government. On Friday, Nature reported that the school had confirmed the launch of a formal investigation into the allegations that Pruitt fabricated data.

Pruitt hasn’t commented on that, but he did speak with Science Magazine in late January.

“Each morning when I woke up, there was a different anonymous email taking issue with a different dataset and a different paper,” he said at the time, adding, “Do they think I was just copying and pasting a spreadsheet? I don’t think I would do that.”

READ MORE: “Avalanche” of spider-paper retractions shakes behavioural-ecology community [Nature]

More on retractions: Gene-Hacked Mosquito Researchers Are Battling Amongst Themselves

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