Marc Hauser misconduct findings

1 minute read

Maybe by now everybody has seen the story about Harvard psychologist Marc Hauser:

Harvard University psychologist Marc Hauser a well-known scientist and author of the book Moral Minds is taking a year-long leave after a lengthy internal investigation found evidence of scientific misconduct in his laboratory. The findings have resulted in the retraction of an influential study that he led. MH accepts responsibility for the error, says the retraction of the study on whether monkeys learn rules, which was published in 2002 in the journal Cognition.

The issue seems to revolve around interpreting subjective data on animal cognition. The article does not make clear whether Hauser or someone in his lab skewed data deliberately; no one has yet gone on record to specify the actual misconduct.

The problem of subjective data is not unique to Hauser’s work but is systemic in the field of primate cognition. It reminds me of some discussion in Jeremy Taylor’s recent book Not a Chimp: The Hunt to Find the Genes that Make Us Human. There’s the issue of whether experiments are designed clearly enough to yield conclusions. Then there’s the second issue of whether observations are replicable, or whether they result only from somewhat “wishful” researchers. Such experiments often get heightened scrutiny, but rarely is there clear misconduct. That makes this a really shocking case.

(via Gene Expression, and A Replicated Typo)

UPDATE (2010-08-11): More from DrugMonkey. And a very nice post from Melody Dye who puts the issue in the context of other problems pervading psychology research.