Marc Hauser and research ethics
An email sent by Michael D. Smith on 20th August 2010 to members of Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences confirmed that Marc Hauser had been found responsible for eight counts of scientific misconduct. Smith, who at the time was Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, revealed that overall egregious issues were found with Hauser’s conduct as regards the acquisition, analysis, and retention of research data in addition to issues concerning Hauser’s reporting of research methodologies and results. The issue was reported in the Boston Globe on 10th August 2010.
Investigation into the Hauser matter began in the Autumn of 2007 following allegations of academic misconduct that were brought to the attentions of Harvard’s officials by Hauser’s research assistants. The committee commissioned to probe into the matter completed its investigation in 2010. The investigating committee’s report is yet to be publicly released. Smith’s official reason for enshrouding the report in secrecy was to conceal the identity of those who provided evidence during the investigation. However, paraphrasing from the report Smith indicated that at least three of Hauser’s publications be corrected or retracted. The paper “Rule learning by cotton-top tamarins”  was retracted and a correction made to the paper “Rhesus monkeys correctly read the goal-relevant gestures of a human agent” . As of this writing, the fate of the paper “The perception of rational, goal-directed action in nonhuman primates”  was under discussion between the paper’s authors and publisher, Science. As early as 1995 scepticism was cast over the paper “Self-recognition in primates: phylogeny and the salience of species-typical features”  by Gordon Gallup, an evolutionary psychologist at the State University of New York at Albany. Gallup’s review of the evidence upon which the paper was purportedly based contradicted the paper’s reported findings.
Smith reminded us that sanctions levied by Harvard on those found guilty of academic misconduct include: involuntary leave; additional oversight on the trangressor’s research lab; and “appropriately severe restrictions on a faculty member’s ability to apply for research grants, to admit graduate students, and to supervise undergraduate research”. Based on Bartlett’s article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, David Dobbs provided an assessment of the research procotol that Hauser used in gathering data. Michael Ruse, in an opinion piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education on 18th August 2010, reflected on Hauser’s work and the Harvard investigation. In a statement published by The New York Times on 20th August 2010, Hauser said that “I acknowledge that I made some significant mistakes” and that he was “deeply sorry for the problems this case had caused to my students, my colleagues and my university.” Hauser also said:
I acknowledge that I made some significant mistakes and I am deeply disappointed that this has led to a retraction and two corrections. I also feel terrible about the concerns regarding the other five cases, which involved either unpublished work or studies in which the record was corrected before submission for publication. … I have learned a great deal from this process and have made many changes in my own approach to research and in my lab’s research practices.
- M. D. Hauser, J. Kralik, C. Botto-Mahan, M. Garrett, and J. Oser. Self-recognition in primates: Phylogeny and the salience of species-typical features. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 92(23):10811–10814, 1995.
- M. D. Hauser, D. Weiss, and G. Marcus. Rule learning by cotton-top tamarins. Cognition, 86(1):B15–22, 2002.
- M. D. Hauser, D. Glynn, and J. Wood. Rhesus monkeys correctly read the goal-relevant gestures of a human agent. Proceedings of The Royal Society B, 274(1620):1913–1918, 2007.
- J. N. Wood, D. D. Glynn, B. C. Phillips, and M. D Hauser. The perception of rational, goal-directed action in nonhuman primates. Science, 317(5843):1402–1405, 2007.