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ResourcesResearch IntegrityWhen Your Supervisor Is Accused of Research Misconduct – The Scientist (Katarina Zimmer | June 2020)

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

When Your Supervisor Is Accused of Research Misconduct – The Scientist (Katarina Zimmer | June 2020)

 


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Early career researchers face unique challenges when a senior collaborator becomes embroiled in allegations of scientific malpractice.

Evolutionary ecologist Kate Laskowski didn’t have a good start to her new faculty position at the University of California, Davis. She was just a few months in when, late last year, she received an email from a researcher who had some concerns about a study she had coauthored in 2016 with the prolific McMaster University spider biologist Jonathan Pruitt.

To avoid costly consequences, researchers should always carefully scrutinise data provided by collaborators – even if they are more experienced researchers.  We included links to 13 other useful reads.

As a graduate student at the University of Illinois, and later a postdoc at the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Germany, Laskowski had collaborated with Pruitt on a study of spider social behavior. The email noted that the raw data collected in Pruitt’s lab, then at the University of California, Santa Barbara, contained odd duplicate values in the columns of a spreadsheet that documented behavioral differences among individual spiders. After combing through the data herself, Laskowski ultimately came to the conclusion that the data, and the study based on them, weren’t trustworthy, and requested earlier this year that the American Naturalist retract the paper. She’d go on to retract another two, both of which she’d coauthored with Pruitt.
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These studies—which supported the hypothesis that the behaviors of individual spiders are influenced by social interactions—would be the first of several of Pruitt’s papers to come under scrutiny from scientific journals, in a series of retractions and expressions of concern that has rattled the animal behavior research community and affected numerous collaborators, including many students and early-career researchers. “I’m in my first year of . . . my dream job,” Laskowski tells The Scientist. “I’ve been so excited to set up new projects, and then I’ve had to spend the past four months dealing with all of these old papers that I thought I was over and done with.”

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