I have been both heartbroken and heartened following the news of irregularities in Jonathan Pruitt’s data in published papers on animal behaviour. Heartbroken, thinking of the students and other young scientists whose publication records will be diminished by retractions, of those whose trust in science has faltered. Heartened by the courage of the co-authors to step forward (Kate Laskowski and Ambika Kamath led the first public announcements), and by the compassion and efforts of those like Daniel Bolnick to replace clouds of suspicion with clear-headed assessments. I have been reminded that the scientific community is indeed a community.
To those injured by this collapse of trust: You are a member of a community, and this community is rallying to heal, and to support you. Your honest and sincere efforts to understand nature are appreciated; they are contributions regardless of the fate of the papers. You should not blame yourself for not having noticed the flaws in data handed to you by a respected scientist. We, the community, have a responsibility to support you as you recover your path.
I left my first scientific conference — 1977 American Arachnology — feeling as if I had just joined a family. I felt welcome, but that wasn’t what struck me. Rather, I could see the genuine happiness when old colleagues met, the pride of supervisors and their students, the excitement of new connections and ideas. Sharing was everywhere. Sharing remembered, sharing in action, sharing planned. In subsequent arachnological conferences, I wondered if arachnology is special because we are united by our quirkiness, studying creatures few people appreciate. But I’ve grown to see that many scientific communities are like this, networks of trust and cooperation.
Yes, Arachnology has its problems, just like any family, but I have been amazed, for all the decades of my career, at the quality of the people. Intelligent, sincere, cooperative, dedicated, responsible, compassionate, and honest. And, generation by generation, the newest members of the family are welcomed, nurtured, and grow into world-class scientists. They contribute even earlier in this generation, as they learn and lead through social media. Indeed, much of the healing process happening now is being led with thoughtful commitment by early-career scientists.
I’m grateful to be part of this community. I’m also grateful that arachnids have scientists such as you to study them and celebrate them.