Journal: Hauser fabricated data

August 27, 2010 • 12:07 pm

The Boston Globe reports today that, according to the editor of the journal Cognition, Professor Marc Hauser of Harvard fabricated data.

Gerry Altmann, the editor of the journal Cognition, which is retracting a 2002 article in which Hauser is the lead author, said that he had been given access to information from an internal Harvard investigation related to that paper. That investigation found that the paper reported data that was not present in the videotape record that researchers make of the experiment.

“The paper reports data … but there was no such data existing on the videotape. These data are depicted in the paper in a graph,” Altmann said. “The graph is effectively a fiction and the statistic that is supplied in the main text is effectively a fiction.”

. . . “If it’s the case the data have in fact been fabricated, which is what I as the editor infer, that is as serious as it gets,” Altmann said.

It’s absolutely unbelievable that, as a sanction for this kind of crime against science, Hauser was given just a year’s suspension without pay. (There may also have been sanctions about his future ability to mentor graduate students and postdocs.)  Although funding agencies like the NIH and NSF may impose further sanctions, he’ll nevertheless get to keep his job—forever.  I’m deeply ashamed of my alma mater.

68 thoughts on “Journal: Hauser fabricated data

  1. one thing we’ve learned the past few years is that there’s a standard for the might, and a standard for the rest of us. academia is no different.

  2. Wow.

    It’s also shaming, I think, that Harvard kept it quiet all this time. Hauser is very widely read, including by non-experts; it seems to me it’s important to get the word out that he’s not reliable once that has been shown.

  3. Stealing the work of other scientist is bad, but fabrication of data is worse, much worse. For the first “merely” reallocates merit in an unjustified manner. The second, however, poisons the very tools colleagues need to rely on. Shame.

  4. A year without pay – blah – barely a slap on the wrist.

    You would think that an institution like Harvard would hold itself to a higher standard!


      1. key in that:

        I note that the investigation found no explanation for the discrepancy between what was found on the videotapes and what was reported in the paper.

        again, why this has been so unclear is also not known, but STILL, it is entirely UNCLEAR as to whether Hauser actually fabricated data or not!

        I really wish Harvard would just be fucking clear as to exactly what happened, step by step, rather than leaving this damn cloud hanging around.

        Frankly, I’m just as pissed at Harvard as I am at anything else associated with this.

        1. As in the case of the participating assistant, this is a very elaborate way of simply faking data. But it is the exact way that a pathological science study would go about it, eliminate controls until you get the result *you know* is there.

          (Whether you do it consciously or not – likewise *you know* the experiment is correctly set up and a success if it gives you the result you expect.)

          This is the web (well :-o) so Hanlon’s razor gives me “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

          [To be precise, Heinlein’s razor: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don’t rule out malice.”]

        2. The problem comes down to this: it has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that data were fabricated.
          Who fabricated the data? This is not necessarily provable. Coauthors point to Hauser’s lab as the source; Hauser refuses comment but his lawyer points out that N students were in and out of the lab during the semester in question.

          now what?

  5. That is the same type of allegation as in the first Globe article:

    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.

    And a Chronicle article on a rhesus experiment may tell us what has been the MO:

    According to the document that was provided to The Chronicle, the experiment in question was coded by Mr. Hauser and a research assistant in his laboratory. A second research assistant was asked by Mr. Hauser to analyze the results. When the second research assistant analyzed the first research assistant’s codes, he found that the monkeys didn’t seem to notice the change in pattern. In fact, they looked at the speaker more often when the pattern was the same. In other words, the experiment was a bust.

    But Mr. Hauser’s coding showed something else entirely: He found that the monkeys did notice the change in pattern—and, according to his numbers, the results were statistically significant. If his coding was right, the experiment was a big success. […]

    A graduate student agreed with the research assistant and joined him in pressing Mr. Hauser to allow the results to be checked, the document given to The Chronicle indicates. But Mr. Hauser resisted, repeatedly arguing against having a third researcher code the videotapes and writing that they should simply go with the data as he had already coded it. After several back-and-forths, it became plain that the professor was annoyed.

    It may be that in Hauser’s “world” there was no fabrication to deceive. But the result was pathological science.

    1. I’m amazed by the lack of double blinding going on in these areas.

      Just a few minutes ago I saw a video alleging that sharks may “feel magnets”. Sure, the juvenile shark didn’t see the magnet behind the blind. But the assistant holding on to the shark did nothing but look at the approaching researcher over the barrier… Eek!

    2. The results were not merely pathological – they were fraudulent. That is precisely what the Harvard investigation has found. The FAS procedures clearly state that “research misconduct does not include honest error or differences of opinion.” If there were evidence that Hauser had merely engaged in lots of wishful thinking or poor experimental design, he wouldn’t have been found guilty of eight counts of misconduct.

      1. Thank you, I’ve searched (and asked) for the FAS contents!

        Those rules allow (in fact gives) exact definitions of the fabrication discussed. So that could have been declared, as per the annoyance of people here.

        Moreover, they attribute more than fabrication as misconduct. The very exact falsification of pathological science is among them (“manipulating … such that the research is not accurately represented”). The scope of manipulation is not defined.

        As in the case of the participating assistant, the video-taping of an exclusive data set is a very elaborate way of simply faking data. But it is the exact way that a pathological science study would go about it, eliminate controls until you get the result *you know* is there.

        (Whether you do it consciously or not – likewise *you know* the experiment is correctly set up and a success if it gives you the result you expect.)

        This is the web (well 😮 ) so Hanlon’s razor gives me “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

        [To be precise, Heinlein’s razor: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don’t rule out malice.”]

        Then again, it wouldn’t explain why Harvard would sort pathological science as misconduct. It could be for the sake of the assistants involved. Or one could apply Hanlon’s razor yet again, at which point it strains credulity.

        As other’s here I wish the evidence and investigation was presented, so one could know either way. If it isn’t, I have to do as in the rest of society, without evidence no conviction, strained credulity of not.

  6. I’ve got “Moral Minds” on my night stand waiting to be read. Guess I won’t bother. I wonder if I can get my money back.

    1. If you have it you may as well read it, just keep in mind that any claims to be based on his own experiments would be tenuous (until proved or disproved by someone else).

  7. Bizarre focus here, but is there going to be any organized effort to contain the damage? In the form of a book/series of blogs, so we can know how to selectively re-read our books that have been tainted by this fraud?

    1. I’ve asked the same thing here. Maybe I missed the answer, or maybe it’s too early to tell.

  8. I purchased Moral Minds a little while ago, too. Hopefully it’s getting pulled from bookstores. Can we trust this kind of “research”? I may still read it, but with a more skeptical eye than I might have.

  9. I am an engineer in product development. I rely on the research of scientists and more scientific engineers in developing designs. I feel betrayed when I see those I rely on lying. But I am realist and know it will happen. At least those of you in science self correct. I am glad I am not developing medical equipment by relying on ancient, inerrent wisdom.

  10. I don’t get it.

    The mantra is, “Publish or perish,” right? And, after this, I can’t imagine any respectable journal publishing anything with Hauser’s name on it.

    So, either Harvard expects Hauser to somehow manage to keep publishing or they plan on keeping him on the faculty despite an inability to get published.

    Neither makes any sense at all to me.

    Can anybody set me straight?



    1. Well, ideally, the reviewers of peer-reviewed journals are blind to who submitted the article, and in some cases the editor is too. So if Hauser keeps his position and his lab, I think he’s got a fairly good shot of continuing to publish.

      1. But surely the publisher would reject the submission before submitting it to the peers for review, no? Or, at the very least, before sending the journal to the printer?

        I just can’t imagine any journal would touch him with a ten-foot pole after this — and, if they would, then that severely damages my trust in the peer-reviewed journal process.

        I mean, surely Andrew Wakefield can’t get published any more, no? And, if not, how are Hauser’s sins different in anything other than magnitude? But if so…doesn’t that scare the living daylights out of you?



        1. I don’t know how science journals typically work, because I’m a philosopher. One of the professors here (at my institution) runs a prestigious philosophy journal and here’s how it works: the publisher does NOT see the articles beforehand, and I suspect doesn’t care about their quality one way or another (it’s Elsevier). Instead, papers are received by a graduate student journal assistant, who has no power to accept or reject them, but merely has the job of blinding them for the editor’s review. Then, if the editor thinks the paper worthy of peer review, he contacts (or more likely has the grad student assistant contact) reviewers for the submission. At no point before a verdict is reached on the paper does anyone who has the authority to reject it know who the author is. This is sort of the whole point of peer review: it’s not who you are but the quality of your work as judged by independent experts that matter.

          It’s not worth subverting the peer review system to punish Hauser. It’s up to Harvard to fire him and other academics to shun him/ not collaborate with him/ not cite him, etc.

  11. Ever since this story broke, I’ve been cynically thinking that his publisher will have him tack on a mea culpa chapter (a “What I’ve learned from my own moral failings…” sort of thing) to Evilicious, publicize the crap out of it, and end up with a bigger seller than would have otherwise been the case. People love trainwrecks. There’s more than one way to be a celebrity.

    1. Obviously, Harvard does not use the word “Extension” in the same sense land grant schools do. But what does it mean?

      Couldn’t agree more about the “mistake” phrasing. What crap. Also the part about “what I have learned in this case.” One would not think Harvard faculty would have to “learn” not to make the “mistake” of fabricating data.

      1. The Extension School is a part of the Continuing Education division, along with the university’s other cash cow, the Summer School. It offers evening classes which are often, but not exclusively, taught by regular Harvard faculty.

        1. (Note to self–read link first, then comment.)

          Thank you!

          I don’t suppose Harvard Extension is informing prospective Hauser students of their professor’s current ticklish status…

    1. Oh noes, there is enough of scammers claiming “climatologist” there! (Cue Monckton.)

      No, that is the very area that needs the very best scientists at the time the area has confirmed AGW to their satisfaction, but some groups of society goes against. Public outreach, not more taint, is needed.

  12. Okay, Hauser tried to support an a priori conclusion through his research, that does not make him ipso facto a bad man.

    His flaw lay in interpreting data, seeing things in a way that supported a previously determined conclusion. That is not science and we can hope Mr. Hauser has realized that. That he acted in such a manner once does not mean he is necessarily going to act in such a way again. We can hope he has learned from this and will avoid such behavior in the future.

    The mistake many in this thread have made is assuming that a person who has done wrong is going to continue to do wrong. As if the miscreant is incapable of learning from his experience and doing better. I disagree, for I have seen others correct their behavior and go on to better things. I hope Marc Hauser has learned from what he went through and goes on to do productive research. I understand that many will distrust what he does, but will do my best to take his work on its own merit.

    The desire to be right is a strong one and leads to some of our worst mistakes. Doctor Hauser wanted to be right and this desire lead him to make a serious mistake. Let the man atone for his error and let him continue his work. Be alert to further error on his part, but assess his work on its own merits, instead of prejudging it because of a previous mistake. For an earlier wrong is no sign of future sins.

    1. It’s highly misleading to call Hauser’s scientific misconduct a “flaw” or a “mistake” – as Hauser himself has done when talking to the media. Harvard guidelines clearly state that “research misconduct does not include honest error or differences of opinion.” Rather, it has to include intentional fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism (to my knowledge, Hauser hasn’t been accused of the last one, though).

      The issue at hand is therefore not whether Hauser’s future work should be assessed on its merits. It is whether he has been sufficiently punished for the fraud he has committed. I happen to agree with Jerry that he has not. He ought to have been fired.

      1. It’s only misleading if you assume mistakes are benign things, of little import. Dr. Hauser made a mistake, a serious mistake when he interpreted the data in a way that supported his conclusions. When you say that someone has erred you have not excused his error.

        As for his punishment, keep in mind that his contemporaries are apt to distrust him now that they’ve seen his ego in action. He’s going to have to prove himself, and he’s going to be ostracized in many areas. I would not be surprised if he’s driven to resign his position because of the pressure placed on his employer. That would be worse than being fired outright, because those who get fired are often found rationalizing their termination.

        Mistakes are worse than you think, especially the sort of mistakes Professor Hauser committed, don’t think otherwise.

    2. His flaw lay in interpreting data, seeing things in a way that supported a previously determined conclusion.

      Not if I’m correctly reading the blog post of Cognition editor Gerry Altmann, linked to in the reply to comment #7 above. He states that nonexistent data were reported and analyzed:

      Given that there is no evidence that the data, as reported, were in fact collected (it is not plausible to suppose, for example, that each of the two test trials were recorded onto different videotapes, or that somehow all the videotapes from the same condition were lost or mislaid), and given that the reported data were subjected to statistical analyses to show how they supported the paper’s conclusions, I am forced to conclude that there was most likely an intention here, using data that appear to have been fabricated, to deceive the field into believing something for which there was in fact no evidence at all. This is, to my mind, the worst form of academic misconduct.

      1. I missed that part, my error. At the same time it does not negate my main point, which is that Marc Hauser committed error in order to support a priori reasoning. He wanted to be right, so he interpreted data in a way that would support his conclusion; and he invented data for the same reason.

        Doctor Hauser had a pet theory he needed to prove right regardless of what the data said, and for which he was ready to invent data. That is the lesson we need to take away from this.

        More so this lesson, that you will be found out; for fellow scientists are ready and eager to prove you wrong. That is what scientists do, for they are contrary creatures always on watch for people who get above themselves.

        Hauser got above himself and he’s paying for his hubris. He had a higher opinion of cotton top tamarins than other researchers and his desire to prove his thinking right led him to mistakes and subsequent correction. While he may not have made the full cost some think he should have, the matter is not over yet and I see him paying even more as time goes on.

        1. I don’t see how your “main point” is any less damning than any other framing of the story so far–or even any different.

          Nor do I agree that there is such a thing as a malicious mistake…here is what an online dictionary says:

          1. an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc.
          2. a misunderstanding or misconception.

          I’d suggest any of the following as more appropriate: transgression, wrongdoing, offense, malfeasance, misdeed, impropriety…

          If there were such a thing as a scientific crime, wouldn’t this be one of the cardinal offenses?

          1. If you really strain it, pathological science may be squeezed into “misconduct” (see my comment above). Also, Harvard labored under a social situation.

            In any case, there is a gap and they don’t present conclusive evidence, which their own rules allow. So we are left hanging.

          2. Calling this malfeasance a “mistake” is a definite attempt to diminish its seriousness through semantic manipulation. Would we say that a bank robber or someone like Bernie Madoff “made a mistake”?

            1. Jump down the shelters to get away.

              The Boys are cockin’ up their guns.

              Tell us General, is it party time?

              If it is, can we all come?

              Don’t think that we don’t know.

              Don’t think that we’re not trying.

              Don’t think we move too slow.

              It’s no use after, crying–

              Saying “It’s a mistake!”

            2. Re Madoff—Well, that’s exactly the sort of parallel I’ve been wanting to use. I only refrained out of respect for those in this discussion who had a professional and/or personal relationship with Hauser…tho if I were in that number myself, I’d feel more, not less, disgusted by the whole affair. As it seems perhaps you are, Prof. Coyne.

              Other parallels kept presenting themselves as well. Since the NCAA USC football sanctions were being revealed at about the same time: if academia were similarly policed, would Harvard now be forfeiting all the grants they received in 2002? Banned from inter-collegiate colloquia for 2 years? Then there’s the MLB PED quagmire…I envision a knock on the lab door: “Open up. It’s the AAAS. Random mandatory data test. Produce your raw data now.” Or the questions about the coziness of the deep-sea oil rig regulators…wait, we’ve already said that perhaps Harvard was too close to the Hauser situation…

              Perhaps science is not so different from other social institutions after all.

  13. Completely off topic, but you just got a very complimentary shout out from PZ Myers:

    > Q: Do you read blogs? If so, what blogs do you like best?
    > A: My faves right now are Why Evolution Is True, Sandwalk, Butterflies and Wheels, ERV, a few others—anything where the personality of the author shines through, and I do favor hard-edged godless science writers who don’t mince words.

  14. I’m disappointed in Harvard. When a similar episode happened in the physics community (Jan Hendrik Schön faking results with organic transistors), not only was he fired (by Bell Labs), his Ph.D. was revoked! (See here for details.)

    At the very least, Harvard should fire his ass — I would think that fabricating data falls under “moral turpitude”. Even more satisfying would be for UCLA to revoke his doctorate. Obviously, he didn’t learn anything of value in his studies.

    As is often the case, Richard Feynman said it best:

    I would like to add something that’s not essential to the science,
    but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool
    the layman when you’re talking as a scientist. I am not trying to
    tell you what to do about cheating on your wife, or fooling your
    girlfriend, or something like that, when you’re not trying to be
    a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being. We’ll
    leave those problems up to you and your rabbi. I’m talking about
    a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending
    over backwards to show how you are maybe wrong, that you ought to
    have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as
    scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.

  15. Eh, it could happen anywhere; Harvard’s hardly a stranger to such things. I find their employing John Woo to be a bigger disaster than keeping Hauser on. It is up to the current students to demand that Hauser be removed. I wonder what the alumni can do to protest – burn their latest copy of “Who’s Who”?

    1. It is up to the current students to demand that Hauser be removed.

      Erm. No. For one simple reason.

      The students do not have the power to remove him. Harvard does.

      All the students could possibly do is beg Harvard to remove him. Yet apparently the investigation has already yielded enough evidence to justify his removal so why on Earth should they have to do that?

  16. Hauser’s silence on this issue is deafening.If the data were there and the Harvard guys just can’t see them on those videos, he could just clear it all right up, couldn’t he ?
    One less book on the to-read pile, methinks.

    1. Not necessarily one less book – it would be on the “to read” if you were thinking about writing a book about scientific fraud – but only as part of the investigations; whether or not *some* of the claims are true is yet to be determined.

  17. The thing that I’m curious about (but to the best of my knowledge hasn’t been mentioned) is the Moral Sense Test, the results I which I find far more fascinating than any work with tamarins. I remember thinking that a web-based anonymous survey was an unreliable way to collect data, since it’s open to both external and internal malfeasance. I assumed that with a large enough data set any “joke” answers would be filtered out and that academic honesty would prevent tampering with the results (or at least they could be replicated by an independent team). It appears that I was grossly mistaken on that whole “honesty” part. Have their results be replicated by outside researchers? If not, I’ll be working under the assumption that they are also fraudulant.

  18. There are more questions generated every day. Clearly there is a great deal we do not know that we do not know.
    The accomplished manner in which he fabricated data suggests that he had much practice — probably long before coming to Harvard.
    Or could he have developed his fictional techniques at Harvard? Where was the peer review? And why the deafening silence from his peers? Or was it peer pressure which led him to resort to fiction to prove his contentions?

    1. I don;t see how you can blame peer review. Reviewers get completed manuscripts and grant proposals. You always trust that the data presented are real and honest; there is no choice.
      This is even true, less defensibly in my view, of co-authors.
      The deafening silence from his peers now is presumably because they don’t know any more than you do.

      1. I agree that peers probably know little more than I do (which is not much) but my point is that they were uniquely placed to have exercised their minds and their powers to have known much more.
        Hauser’s 1995 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was challenged by Gallup for virtually the same “misconduct”. (See
        “But when Gallup reviewed the tapes, he says he found no evidence of self-recognition. He published his concerns in Animal Behaviour in 1997. Hauser published a rebuttal in the same issue, but four years later, in a paper in the American Journal of Primatology, reported that he had been unable to reproduce the results of the earlier paper.”
        So I conclude that Hauser has been at this game at least since 1995. Doubts about his data have therefore been known for at least 13 years. Apart from his University, the peers reviewing his subsequent publications should – I think – have been much more rigorous.
        The purpose of peer review originally was to ensure quality but it has degenerated – it seems – to be something quite different.
        His peers knowing that his data had been found questionable in 1995 cannot – I think – merely claim ignorance and abdicate their responsibility.

        1. From the Nature link above:

          …his research output has been diverse and prodigious, generating about one peer-reviewed paper per month for the past four years…

          Wow. Shouldn’t that in itself have set off alarm bells, or have I been out of academia too long?

          1. It does depend a lot on the area of research and the size of the lab, but it’s certainly not a number that would by itself raise eyebrows – especially if the PI is well-regarded.

  19. I’ve read the article in 19 August Nature. It appears that the one portion of the data is wrong, indeed *may* have been fabricated (as indicated by the journal editor) in *one* paper by Hauser. For one other paper some of the supporting data was not retained, but Hauser repeated that experiment successfully. For a third paper the supporting data was again missing, but new data has been submitted and is under review. Sloppy, yes. Unethical, yes, if the data from one experiment was fabricated with Hauser’s knowledge. Worthy of dismissal? Let’s see the supposed fabrication. Until then, who knows?

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