FOR over two years, McMaster University has been at the centre of a high-profile case of academic misconduct involving now-former academic researcher Jonathan Pruitt. Alleged to have falsified data in his research across multiple journals and studies, there have been 14 retractions of studies that Dr. Pruitt has been involved in, with 11 expressions of concern and four corrections. Dr. Pruitt has since quietly resigned from his post at the university and returned to the United States to teach high school.
Institutions have a key role in the investigation and response to research misconduct. We have previously raised our view that research institutions have a serious conflict of interest when it comes to these matters. One way this can be seen is in the rush to quickly respond, without conceding any systemic failures and then abruptly return to ‘normal operation’. Such a response can leave serious research culture failures unaddressed. Even though this story is about Canada, we suspect the same criticisms could be made of many countries.
Dr. Eaton describes a cycle where these cases become known to the public, and universities do their best to manage the controversy’s effect on their reputations, but once that controversy dies down, everyone moves on. However, her observations of media reporting tell her that incidents of academic misconduct are on the rise, as she and co-editor Julia Christensen Hughes of Yorkville University outline in their recently published open access book, Academic Integrity in Canada: An Enduring and Essential Challenge. “In the research that I’ve done, we found that often journalists act as an early alert system for things like academic misconduct trends,” she says. “And if it’s investigative journalism on one incident or a couple of incidents, that may signal a larger problem.”