Friday, February 03, 2012

Marc Hauser's Scientific Misconduct

Princeton psychologist Charles Gross has an excellent article: Disgrace: On Marc Hauser. In addition to the information unearthed by other people (which Gross excerpts and summarizes), there is some new reporting -- some of it is about confirming others' findings. The entire article is worth reading, especially for Gross' own take on the specific instances of Hauser's misconduct.

I want to focus on two things in the following excerpts. The first is the gratifying new piece of information in Gross' article about the three whistleblowers:

[...] For graduate students, the PI is usually the most important person in their scientific life, acting as mentor, supervisor, model, adviser, critic, editor, co-author, supporter, reference and sometimes rival.

All labs are like complicated families, but each lab is complicated in its own way. Along with sibling rivalries, there are battles for attention, praise, identity, privacy and independence. The intimate relation of a PI to his graduate students often lasts as long and as intensely as a familial one. For a graduate student to blow the whistle on his or her mentor is an extraordinary and very risky step. Aside from the emotional and psychological trauma, whistleblowing by graduate students about their PI, even if confirmed, often ruins their careers. If the PI is fired or loses grant support, members of his or her lab usually stand to lose nearly everything—their financial support, their laboratory facilities, their research project and sometimes their credibility. But in the Hauser affair things have turned out very differently: the three whistleblowers whose action prompted the Harvard investigation have gone on to successful careers in scientific research. [Bold emphasis added]

There is one part of the saga that still remains infuriatingly inaccessible: the findings of Harvard's own investigation committee. Here's Gross:

The procedures and conclusions of the investigation raise many questions. Its methods and results remain secret. Its procedures bore no relation to the due process that is the goal of our judicial system. We have no clear idea of the exact nature of the evidence, of how many studies were examined and if anyone besides the three whistleblowers and Hauser was asked to testify. I was told by one of the whistleblowers that, to this person’s surprise and relief, the committee, which included scientists, did look carefully at evidence, even going so far as to recalculate statistics.

Aside from their potential injustice to the accused and accusers, the secrecy of the investigation and the paucity of specific facts in the conclusions are deleterious to the entire field of animal cognition. Exactly what kind of irregularities existed in the “eight instances of misconduct” and what they might imply for other papers by Hauser and for the field in general remained unclear.


  1. Richard W. Symonds said...


  2. Anant said...

    I liked the following quote from the article:

    Science is driven by two powerful motivations—to discover the “truth,” while acknowledging how fleeting it can be, and to achieve recognition through publication in prominent journals, through grant support to continue and expand research, and through promotion, prizes and memberships in prestigious scientific societies. The search for scientific truth may be seriously derailed by the desire for recognition, which may result in scientific misconduct.