Update: Lots of stuff has happened since I wrote this post: see here for more.
A major scandal looks to be in progress involving Harvard Professor Marc Hauser, a psychologist and popular author whose research on the minds of chimpanzees and other primates is well-known and highly respected. The Boston Globe has the scoop and it’s well worth a read (though you should avoid reading the comments if you react badly to stupid.)
Hauser’s built his career on detailed studies of the cognitive abilities of non-human primates. He’s generally argued that our closest relatives are smarter than people had previously believed, with major implications for evolutionary psychology. Now one of his papers has been retracted, another has been “corrected” and a third is under scrutiny. Hauser has also announced that he’s taking a year off from his position at Harvard.
It’s not clear what exactly is going on, but the problems seem to centre around videotapes of the monkeys that took part in Hauser’s experiments. The story begins with a 2007 paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. That paper has just been amended in a statement that appeared in the same journal last month:
In the original study by Hauser et al., we reported videotaped experiments on action perception with free ranging rhesus macaques living on the island of Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico. It has been discovered that the video records and field notes collected by the researcher who performed the experiments (D. Glynn) are incomplete for two of the conditions.
The authors of the original paper were Hauser, David Glynn and Justin Wood. In the amendment, which is authored by Hauser and Wood i.e. not Glynn, they say that upon discovering the issues with Glynn’s data, they went back to Puerto Rico, did the studies again, and confirmed that the original results were valid. Glynn left academia in 2007, to work for a Boston company, Innerscope Research, according to this online resume.
If that was the whole of the scandal it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but according to the Boston Globe, that was just the start. David Glynn was also an author on a second paper which is now under scrutiny. It was published in Science 2007, with the authors listed as Wood, Glynn, Brenda Phillips and Hauser.
However, crucially, Glynn was not an author on the only paper which has actually been retracted, “Rule learning by cotton-top tamarins”. This appeared in the journal Cognition in 2002. The three authors were Hauser, Daniel Weiss and Gary Marcus. David Glynn wasn’t mentioned in the acknowledgements section either, and according to his resume, he didn’t arrive in Hauser’s lab until 2005.
So the problem, whatever it is, is not limited to Glynn.
Not was Glynn an author on the final paper mentioned in the Boston Globe, a 1995 article by Hauser, Kralik, Botto-Mahan, Garrett, and Oser. Note that the Globe doesn’t say that this paper is formally under investigation, but rather, that it was mentioned in an interview by researcher Gordon G. Gallup who says that when he viewed the videotapes of the monkeys from that study, he didn’t observe the behaviours which Hauser et al. said were present. Gallup is famous for his paper “Does Semen Have Antidepressant Properties?” in which he examined the question of whether semen… oh, guess.
The crucial issue for scientists is whether the problems are limited to the three papers that have so far been officially investigated or whether it goes further: that’s an entirely open question right now.
In Summary: We don’t know what is going on here and it would be premature to jump to conclusions. However, the only author who appears on all of the papers known to be under scrutiny, is Marc Hauser himself.
Hauser MD, Weiss D, & Marcus G (2002). Rule learning by cotton-top tamarins. Cognition, 86 (1) PMID: 12208654
Hauser MD, Glynn D, & Wood J (2007). Rhesus monkeys correctly read the goal-relevant gestures of a human agent. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 274 (1620), 1913-8 PMID: 17540661
Wood JN, Glynn DD, Phillips BC, & Hauser MD (2007). The perception of rational, goal-directed action in nonhuman primates. Science (New York, N.Y.), 317 (5843), 1402-5 PMID: 17823353
Hauser MD, Kralik J, Botto-Mahan C, Garrett M, & Oser J (1995). Self-recognition in primates: phylogeny and the salience of species-typical features. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 92 (23), 10811-14 PMID: 7479889