Day By Day

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Continuing Collapse of Scientific Authority -- Fraud at Harvard

Even in the most illustrious institutions, the quest for fame and fortune corrupts scientific inquiry.

Harvard's media-friendly evolutionary psychologist Marc Hauser, famous for his 2006 book Moral Minds, is under investigation for misrepresenting research on morality in primates. Students asked Harvard officials to raid Hauser's lab three years ago; they didn't like what they found.

Like his colleague Steven Pinker, Hauser believes that primates (including humans) possess psychological traits - like morality - which go back quite far in our evolution. In other words, humans possess an innate sense of right and wrong that they share with their evolutionary cousins, the monkeys and apes. He's written extensively about the moral and cognitive traits of tamarin monkeys, as well as human babies. But, according to the New York Times' Nicolas Wade, who has been following this unfolding academic melodrama, Hauser's students got so fed up with wrongdoings in his lab that they reported him to Harvard authorities three years ago. They claimed he was misrepresenting his research, an accusation which was mirrored by other colleagues.
Read it here. Original NYT report here.

So the scientist wanted to become a media star and in the process of doing so sold his integrity and threatens that of the entire field. And how did Harvard react to the problem? The Times quotes a colleague:

“The people who really know what’s happened are students, current and former,” said a scientist who asked to remain anonymous because of Dr. Hauser’s continuing power in the field. “They are very unhappy about how Harvard has handled this, and they feel things are being swept under the rug.”

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