Update: Results so far….
Too harsh - 3.0%
About right – 15.0%
Not harsh enough, though he shouldn’t be ostracized – 26.0%
He should be ostracized from science - 56.0%
The editor of Cognition believes that Marc Hauser was guilty of fabrication in light of what he’s seen in the Harvard report on Hauser’s misconduct. Marc Hauser is on on leave, and will be supervised in his research in the future. But, he continues to teach extension courses. It doesn’t seem as if his work on human moral cognition is under a cloud. There are other researchers working in the same area who have been able to replicate his general findings. Rather, it seems that it was the work on cotton-top tamarins which is under scrutiny, in large part because Marc Hauser was the only one who was doing that sort of research on that organism.
In the end this is about a violation of trust. Alison Gopnik told Nicholas Wade that “It’s always a problem in science when we have to depend on one person.” Science is a famously a self-regulating culture. The system works because science is about something real, and scientists are constrained by the data. But, science is also a human enterprise so conscious and unconscious bias enters into the system. The question is whether the system works well enough that scientists trust their colleagues to report truthful results. If every scientist had to check in on every other scientist I suspect that the system would collapse because there aren’t enough labor hours to go around. Science is very competitive, and many people work many hours for only modest renumeration. Careers hang in the balance, and many are weeded out. People accept this because there is at least a perception of a minimal level of fairness. Finally, on a social scale the economic growth which our society depends on is driven in large part by scientific innovation. The culture of science is the engine upon whom billions depend.
My first thought about what has happened with Hauser is that he is “too big to fail.” He’s at Harvard, and, he has powerful friends. It reminds me of what a friend of mine told me about what occurred at a major tech corporation he had worked at. Apparently there had been an incompetent hire who lasted for years because no one wanted to take responsibility and fire him, because the very fact that managers actually hired him was a negative reflection on their discernment if someone eventually passed judgement on this individual. So there wasn’t an incentive to bite the bullet, and the incompetent employee was moved from department to department for years.
But I’m curious what readers think. Below is a survey asking what you think of the magnitude of Marc Hauser’s punishment in relation to his infractions. I’ll update the results at the top of this post every day for a week.
Harvard University psychologist Marc Hauser — a well-known scientist and author of the book “Moral Minds’’ — is taking a year-long leave after a lengthy internal investigation found evidence of scientific misconduct in his laboratory.
The findings have resulted in the retraction of an influential study that he led. “MH accepts responsibility for the error,’’ says the retraction of the study on whether monkeys learn rules, which was published in 2002 in the journal Cognition.
Two other journals say they have been notified of concerns in papers on which Hauser is listed as one of the main authors.
It is unusual for a scientist as prominent as Hauser — a popular professor and eloquent communicator of science whose work has often been featured on television and in newspapers — to be named in an investigation of scientific misconduct. His research focuses on the evolutionary roots of the human mind.
Hauser is a prominent public intellectual. Here’s his Edge page. Obviously problems in some aspects of his work doesn’t necessarily invalidate all his findings, but it doesn’t look good for his credibility. This sort of incident points to the importance of trust within the culture of science. Collaborators and researchers who cited his results are scrambling to make sense of it all. I’ve cited Moral Minds in past posts, but I probably won’t be doing so now.