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Behavioral ecologist Jonathan Pruitt with a black widow spider in his lab at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Pruitt is known for his research on spiders, which he uses as models for exploring how evolution produces behavioural differences among individuals within a species.Kara Holsopple/The Allegheny Front

A McMaster University scientist who faces allegations of research misconduct is on paid administrative leave after an investigation by the school’s office of academic integrity.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the university confirmed that Jonathan Pruitt, an evolutionary ecologist who holds a high-profile Canada 150 Research Chair, was placed on leave last week.

The development, first reported in the journal Science, is the latest in a story that broke in January of 2020, when some of Dr. Pruitt’s academic collaborators raised concerns about irregularities in the data that he had provided them. At the time, Dr. Pruitt denied falsifying data and later sought to block retractions of some of the papers.

“McMaster has been responding to a series of concerns that were raised, both internal and external to the university,” said Wade Hemsworth, a public relations manager for the university. Calling the matter “serious,” he said concerns about Dr. Pruitt were investigated in accordance with the university’s research integrity policy and that the complexity of the case accounts for the length of the investigation, which began early last year.

Since then, more than a dozen research papers that Dr. Pruitt co-authored have been retracted by various journals. His PhD dissertation has also been marked as “withdrawn” by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he received his doctorate, although the university said in a statement that it is legally prohibited from disclosing “the presence or absence of a research integrity investigation.”

Dr. Pruitt is known for his research on spiders, which he uses as models for exploring how evolution produces behavioural differences among individuals within a species. He completed a post-doctoral position at University of California Davis and held faculty positions at the University of Pittsburgh and University of California Santa Barbara before taking up an associate professorship at McMaster in 2018.

His lab currently lists four post-doctoral researchers and five graduate students.

Mr. Hemsworth said that supervision and assistance is being provided to the lab’s junior members. In addition, he said, undergraduate students who were being taught by Dr. Pruitt this term “are being supported through the transition to a new instructor who will be in place this week.”

Although the research integrity investigation is now over, Mr. Hemsworth said that Dr. Pruitt’s administrative leave would continue until the “process is complete.”

“We don’t yet know how long that process will take,” he said.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said this story was first reported by the Hamilton Spectator. This version has been corrected.

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