Sunday, September 05, 2010

The Marc Hauser Saga: Some Commentary

Three links:

  1. Janet Stemwedel at Adventures in Science and Ethics: Punishment, redemption, and celebrity status: still more on the Hauser case: Should there be different standards -- when it comes to our perceptions about misconducting researchers -- for elites and the newbies?

    What should we make of the case where the superstar is caught cheating? How should we weigh the violation of trust against the positive contribution this researcher has made to the body of scientific knowledge? Can we continue to trust that his or her positive contribution to that body of knowledge was an actual contribution, or ought we to subject it to extra scrutiny on account of the cheating for which we have evidence? Are we forced to reexamine the extra credence we may have been granting the superstar’s research on account of that superstar status?

    And, in a field of endeavor that strives for objectivity, are we really OK with the suggestion that members of the tribe of science who achieve a certain status should be held to different rules than those by which everyone else in the tribe is expected to play?

  2. David Dobbs in Slate: A Rush to Moral Judgment - What went wrong with Marc Hauser's search for moral foundations. Dobbs blames it on Hauser's impatience -- aka the "Man In A Hurry" syndrome:

    The ironies lie thick. One rap on Chomsky, for instance, holds that he didn't much bother with experimental evidence; he simply said an innate grammar had to be there for kids to learn language so fast. It fell to others to poke around for those modules in the lab and produce some real data. People who study language, cognition, and evolution can and do argue over what those data mean. But at least they have something concrete to fight about. That's what makes it science.

    So give Hauser this: When it came to his theory of the moral grammar, at least the man wanted evidence. Problem was he wanted it bad. [Bold emphasis added]

  3. Chris Kelty at Savage Minds: Marc Hauser's Trolley Problem:

    ... One might think of this as Hauser’s trolley problem, a tool he’s fond of using himself in order to supposedly get at the basic biological modules or organs of morality. In this case, the person on the track, about to be flattened by a runaway trolley, is Hauser himself. One can imagine a number of scenarios: should one pull a lever to save Hauser? Should one push an unnamed (fat) graduate student or post-doc onto the track to save Hauser? Should one divert the trolley onto a track containing five other researchers who work on moral cognition, or leave it on the track towards Hauser to save those five? Should one derail the trolley and risk destroying a building (cognitive science at Harvard) that might contain sleeping researchers, etc. etc. etc.