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Prominent palaeontologist loses £1-million grant following bullying investigation

Nicholas Longrich has been disciplined by the University of Bath, UK, for breaching its anti-harassment policy.

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A research-funding foundation has revoked a £1-million (US$1.3-million) grant from prominent palaeontologist Nicholas Longrich, who was disciplined by his institution, the University of Bath, UK, after an investigation found he had breached its anti-harassment policy.

Longrich was part of a team that in 2015 reported the first four-legged fossil snake, a high-profile discovery published in Science1; in 2010, he grabbed the media spotlight with his discovery2 of the whimsically named Mojoceratops perifania dinosaur.

The Leverhulme Trust awarded the £998,185 grant — at least three-quarters of which was dedicated to paying research assistants and postgraduate students — to Longrich in 2016 for research on a mass-extinction event that marks the end of the Cretaceous era 66 million years ago.

“We can confirm that Dr Longrich’s grant has been withdrawn but his doctoral students will not be disadvantaged by this,” said a spokesperson for the foundation, which distributes £80 million of research funding each year. Leverhulme declined to add further details, and referred further queries to the University of Bath.

Formal complaint

On 23 August, the university told Nature in a statement that it received a formal complaint about Longrich in late May 2018 relating to a “potential breach” of the university’s dignity and respect policy, which aims to prevent bullying, harassment and victimization of students and staff.

In early June, it began a formal investigation, which concluded in July. “The investigation panel considered written and oral statements, taking evidence from the complainant, the subject of the complaint and a number of others,” said the university. “The conclusion reached was that though there had been no malicious intent, the formal complaint should be upheld.”

The university issued Longrich with an oral warning and made changes to Longrich’s “supervisory arrangements” with current students, which it said will apply to future students, too.

The university declined to give more details of the findings of the investigation. In its statement, it said: “We are providing further information only where we are satisfied that the privacy of individual students and staff would not be compromised and the necessary consents have been obtained.”

On 19 September, following Leverhulme’s decision to revoke Longrich’s grant, a university spokesperson told Nature: “We respect this decision by the Leverhulme Trust and appreciate the fact they will continue to support the existing PhD students.”

The spokesperson added: “All staff and students have a right to be treated, and have an obligation to treat others, with dignity and respect. The University has previously issued a statement about the result of a disciplinary hearing. We have been supporting students and staff throughout this period.”

Nature has contacted Longrich for comment on the revocation of his grant and the investigation conducted by his university, and is awaiting his response.

A string of allegations

The news of his grant revocation and the investigation into him follows two investigations into bullying at top UK research institutions in the past month, one of which also resulted in the revocation of a grant.

On 17 August, the Wellcome Trust, one of the world’s largest research-funding charities, announced it would revoke a £3.5-million (US$4.5-million) grant from top cancer geneticist, Nazneen Rahman, following allegations that she bullied scientists and other staff members when she worked at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London. The ICR concluded that there was sufficient evidence for some of the allegations to be considered at a disciplinary hearing, but Rahman resigned and the disciplinary hearing did not take place.

And at the end of August, the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Hinxton, UK, confirmed that it was investigating allegations of bullying.

Nature 561, 442-443 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-06764-9
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Updates & Corrections

  • Update 19 September 2018: This story has been updated with comments from the University of Bath on the grant revocation.

References

  1. 1.

    Martill, D. M., Tischlinger, H. & Longrich, N. R. Science 349, 416–419 (2015).

  2. 2.

    Longrich, N. R. J. Paleontol. 84, 681–694 (2010).

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