More Retractions, More Misconduct

this time at Harvard, which has put Marc Hauser on leave for “misconduct” following 3 years of investigation (Duke watchers take note). At least one and possibly a passel of papers are likely to be retracted, but no one is quite sure why.

According to the Boston Globe, the editor of one of the journals does not know the nature of the misconduct:

The editor of Cognition, Gerry Altmann, said in an interview that he had not been told what specific errors had been made in the paper, which is unusual.

[from the retraction: “An internal examination at Harvard University . . . found that the data do not support the reported findings. We therefore are retracting this article.” and “MH accepts responsibility for the error.”]

Neither does at least one co-author:

Gary Marcus, a psychology professor at New York University and one of the co-authors of the paper, said he drafted the introduction and conclusions of the paper, based on data that Hauser collected and analyzed. … “I never actually saw the raw data, just his summaries, so I can’t speak to the exact nature of what went wrong.’’

However, everyone seems to have been “troubled”:

Colleagues of Hauser’s at Harvard and other universities have been aware for some time that questions had been raised about some of his research, and they say they are troubled by the investigation and forthcoming retraction in Cognition.

Two other papers co-authored by Hauser, one in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B and one in Science, are also under review.

The work had been funded by the NIH, the NSF, and Harvard’s Mind, Brain, and Behavior program, so perhaps a future ORI report will be more enlightening.

The Globe article goes on to summarize a prior incident:

In 1995, he was the lead author of a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that looked at whether cotton-top tamarins are able to recognize themselves in a mirror. Self-recognition was something that set humans and other primates, such as chimpanzees and orangutans, apart from other animals, and no one had shown that monkeys had this ability.

Gordon G. Gallup Jr., a professor of psychology at State University of New York at Albany, questioned the results and requested videotapes that Hauser had made of the experiment.

“When I played the videotapes, there was not a thread of compelling evidence — scientific or otherwise — that any of the tamarins had learned to correctly decipher mirrored information about themselves,’’ Gallup said in an interview.

In 1997, he co-authored a critique of the original paper, and Hauser and a co-author responded with a defense of the work.

In 2001, in a study in the American Journal of Primatology, Hauser and colleagues reported that they had failed to replicate the results of the previous study. The original paper has never been retracted or corrected.

Well, now everyone will be watching to see what PNAS does.

A quote by Michael Tomasello toward the end of an article sums up why this (and other reports of misconduct) are important:

“If scientists can’t trust published papers, the whole process breaks down.’’

Author of the “Moral Mind”, Hauser is apparently currently working on another book entitled, “Evilicious: Explaining Our Evolved Taste for Being Bad.’’

Indeed.

Update: I just learned of even better blog coverage of this strange tale, including links to all the articles in question, with plenty of other items of interest to keep your eyeballs on that page.

6 Comments »

  1. SG said

    Another very strange story. Someone needs to ‘fess up about what happened.

  2. Pete said

    indeed it also happens in ivy league not to leave an impression that it can only happen in tier 2 / 3 institutions.

  3. Maurice said

    “Gary Marcus, a psychology professor at New York University and one of the co-authors of the paper, said he drafted the introduction and conclusions of the paper, based on data that Hauser collected and analyzed. … “I never actually saw the raw data, just his summaries, so I can’t speak to the exact nature of what went wrong.”

    How lame and cowardly, and yet how typical. Doesn’t matter though. He put his name on the paper, he should take full responsibility for its content. Bogus authorship is an even more serious problem that faking data.

    • mellanie said

      Amen! It amazes me when people have 20 co-authored papers per year. All is great until something like this happens.

  4. writedit said

    The NYT has also weighed in on this case, particularly the lack of transparency on what exactly was wrong with the data, who all might have been involved (an issue critical to his co-authors, assuming some were more involved than Dr. Marcus and want to keep their names in the clear), and what other papers’ validity such behavior might have affected.

  5. […] Harvard document (a statement by a former research assistant given in 2007) as part of the obscure Marc Hauser case that describes how research assistants became convinced that the professor was reporting bogus data […]

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