August 24, 2010

Hauser guilty of science misconduct

Man, it pains me to post this, but it's important to know: Harvard says Marc Hauser is guilty of science misconduct.

Hauser, the author of Moral minds: How nature designed a universal sense of right and wrong is a noted researcher in the field of animal cognition. He had been placed on leave following accusations by his students that he had purposely fabricated data in his research. Hauser's work relied on observing responses by tamarin monkeys to stimuli such as changes in sound patterns, claiming they possessed thinking skills often viewed as unique to humans and apes.

Hauser has posted a response to the charge:
I am deeply sorry for the problems this case has caused to my students, my colleagues, and my university..

I acknowledge that I made some significant mistakes and I am deeply disappointed that this has led to a retraction and two corrections. I also feel terrible about the concerns regarding the other five cases, which involved either unpublished work or studies in which the record was corrected before submission for publication.

I hope that the scientific community will now wait for the federal investigative agencies to make their final conclusions based on the material that they have available.

I have learned a great deal from this process and have made many changes in my own approach to research and in my lab's research practices.

Research and teaching are my passion. After taking some time off, I look forward to getting back to my work, mindful of what I have learned in this case. This has been painful for me and those who have been associated with the work.
Emory University primate researcher Frans de Waal has chimed in:
It is good that Harvard now confirms the rumors, so that there is no doubt that they found actual scientific misconduct, and that they will take appropriate action. But it leaves open whether we in the field of animal behavior should just worry about those three articles or about many more, and then there are also publications related to language and morality that include data that are now in question. From my reading of the dean's letter, it seems that all data produced by this lab over the years are potentially in question.
As has psychologist David Premack:
Dishonesty in cognitive science is somehow more disturbing than dishonesty in biology or physical science. The latter threatens the lives of people, producing a kind of harm we readily comprehend. The former puzzles us: it produces no physical harm, but threatens our standards, a kind of harm we do not readily understand. Because he caused no physical harm, we see him as discrediting everything he touched, including science itself. Hauser, a gifted writer, had no need for shortcuts.


Hiro said...

Ugh. Of all the things one can do wrong, scientific misconduct has always struck me as one of the least forgivable. Not only has Hauser compromised his own integrity, but he has compromised the integrity of science itself.

When you're in the business of finding truth, spreading falsity seems that much worse.

Unknown said...

Science is *not* the "business of finding truth", as Hiro states, but it "refers to a system of acquiring knowledge based on scientific method, and to the organized body of knowledge gained through such research" (I just took this from Wikipedia). Taking this rather down to earth definition would *not* lead to the very much over the top conclusion that the "integrity of science itself" has been compromised by Hauser. Above that science has measures built in to correct improper behavior, and this is just what happened here: science corrected itself. And, by the way, comparing, say, murder and rape to scientific misconduct -- this is *far* from being as bad as these.