Update on Hauser case: some exoneration?

October 26, 2010 • 6:00 am

In today’s New York Times, Nicholas Wade continues his analysis of Harvard’s fraud case against primatologist Marc Hauser.  Hauser, you will recall, was found guilty by Harvard of eight charges of scientific misconduct, which may have included data fabrication, and was put on leave without pay for a year.  Hauser apologized (an excerpt follows):

I am deeply sorry for the problems this case has caused to my students, my colleagues, and my university..

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 I also feel terrible about the concerns regarding the other five cases, which involved either unpublished work or studies in which the record was corrected before submission for publication.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 hope that the scientific community will now wait for the federal investigative agencies to make their final conclusions based on the material that they have available.

The Times reports that some colleagues are now coming to Hauser’s defense, a journal editor who accused him of fraud is backing off, and a critical experiment, whose results seemed fraudulent, may show nothing more than carelessness in setting up the protocol.

The article contains a good deal of special pleading about the experiments by Hauser, and I suppose that this may all be some sort of ghastly misunderstanding.  It’s a mess, and the investigation by the government’s Office of Research Integrity could take years.

15 thoughts on “Update on Hauser case: some exoneration?

  1. I’m sure that anti=scientists, anti-Darwinists and so on will gleefully seize upon this as if it ‘proves them right’. It does nothing of the sort, of course. What it shows is, although painful in this case, science is self-correcting. Scientists make mistakes like anyone and yes, self-deception and even fraud can occur. The scientific community is, however, zealous about correcting mistakes and weeding out deception. While this ‘might be’ a desirable state of affairs in some other communities, for science, the drive to get to the bottom of things is fundamental and the driving force behind it. What other institution can make that claim?

  2. The classic non-apology.

    I am deeply sorry for the problems this case has caused to my students, my colleagues, and my university..

    Yeah I’m sorry for that, too. Are you sorry for doing anything?

    I acknowledge that I made some significant mistakes

    You mean you’re sorry that you made those mistakes!

    and I am deeply disappointed that this has led to a retraction and two corrections.

    Wait, you’re disappointed?? In who?! You’re the one people should be disappointed in!

    Is this guy a scientist or a politician?

    1. That’s pretty much what I thought.

      I think that if I were ever in his position (which I am unlikely to ever be in), I would be writing much much more about the circumstances and details of the errors involved.

      If it’s not fraud or misrepresentation of the data, it shouldn’t take years to ferret that out. More like minutes.

      Honest mistakes are easy to rectify. One comes clean as soon as possible, spells out precisely what happened and when, and details the downstream consequences of that error/s. Mitigation of harm to the scientific research is the goal.

      This appears to be an attempt to mitigate the harm to his reputation.

      Sad. Very sad.

  3. In reply to Kevin’s comment: “If I were ever in his position (which I am unlikely to ever be in), I would be writing much much more about the circumstances and details of the errors involved.”

    In fact, the NYT article says that he is legally not allowed to to comment until the federal investigation is complete.

    I was actually convinced by the NYT article that a wait-and-see attitude is appropriate, and was shocked at some of the details – like the fact that after his lab was raided, 18 months went by before he was even told why.

      1. Seems to me that if your lab were raided and you were innocent, you’d be raising holy hell, not waiting silently for 18 months for the outcome…

        1. Well the article says he waited 18 months to learn what the charges were, not the outcome. That took another 2 1/2 years. During this time he might have been raising holy hell and we wouldn’t know about it. Or his contract with Harvard or lawyer’s advice might have prevented it. That’s the impression the article gives, anyway.

    1. Though I’ve read much the same info elsewhere, that was a very well written summary, and made me want to look into Stanovich’s book. The linked quiz was also fun, though one benefits from having seen similar questions before, not to mention having just read Kleiner’s article!

      Thanks for posting the link.

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