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Alan Cooper

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Bullying allegations lead to firing of prominent ancient DNA expert

Prominent evolutionary biologist Alan Cooper has been fired as director of the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD), the university announced today. Cooper’s ouster followed multiple allegations of bullying, which led the university to launch a probe and suspend him in August. The university said in a statement that it terminated Cooper “for reasons of serious misconduct.”

Cooper rejects the charge of bullying. “I’ve occasionally been too blunt in my language and actions, and regret this—but it was never bullying,” he told Nature in this article published today. In an investigation published in August, Nature interviewed nine current and former co-workers of Cooper’s; four alleged that he bullied them and four more said they saw him bullying colleagues.

Nic Rawlence, a former Cooper graduate student and postdoc who now directs the Paleogenetics Laboratory at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, (Cooper’s native country) left ACAD with “literally no confidence,” he wrote in a statement reported in The New Zealand Herald. Rawlence added: “In many ways it has taken me six years to recover from ACAD, while in some I still haven’t.”

The university said Associate Professor Jeremy Austin, another ancient DNA researcher, would continue as ACAD director, a role in which he has already been serving.