A paper by Marc Hauser retracted — Harvard Magazine

By Ken Perrott 11/08/2010

Well, this could be embarrassing. But I hope not.

Marc Hauser, who was one of the participants in the “New Science of Morality” seminar (see The new science of morality and Is and ought) is under a cloud. His Harvard laboratory has been investigated for the last three years because of charges of scientific misconduct. (See Psychologist and author Marc Hauser takes leave of absence as paper is retracted.)

Information is still rather vague and there is no indication yet of his own degree of culpability. However, as research leader he has had to take responsibility and one of the papers he is a joint author of is being retracted (Rule learning by cotton-top tamarins). Two other papers are also being questioned- one because of incomplete video records and field note taking by a co-author of Hauser.
Retraction Watch has some details, inclkuding an email response from Gerry Altmann, the editor of the journal concerned, Cognition. (See Monkey business? 2002 Cognition paper retracted as prominent psychologist Marc Hauser takes leave from Harvard). The play on the word monkey abviously relates to Hausers work with monkeys and other primates.

Science self-correcting

On the surface this news looks bad for science. However, we should hold our judgment until there is clearer information. Particularly on what specific role Hauser played in the misconduct and the degree of awareness he had of it at the time. There is no indication at this stage that Hauser’s leave from Harvard should be interpreted as a disciplinary action.

More importantly, we should recognise that we are seeing one of the methods science has for self correction. The science community treats deliberate distortion of evidence, poor record keeping and biased interpretation of results very seriously.

There are going to be people who use this news to attack science. But we should ask them if they are prepared to submit their beliefs, ideology or claims to such scrutiny? And are they willing to be disciplined if an investigation finds that they have made distorted or false claims?

Human morality research

My interest in Hauser relates to his ground breaking work on human morality. He is author of the book Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong. There is no suggestion at all that this current issue discredits the book in any way. Particularly as it is largely a description of research performed by large numbers of different people.

Edge has videos from the New Science of Morality seminar. One of these is of Hauser’s presentation. Go and have a look. There are also a number of other videos of his presentations on line. The three below are to a lecture he gave last November.

Human Morality Part 1

Human Morality Part 2

Human Morality Part 3:

See also: Reading the Coverage of a Retraction: Failure to replicate is not evidence of fraud

Thanks to HENRY (Marc Hauser on leave — investigation uncovers scientific misconduct).

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