Hauser update: Report done since JANUARY

An excellent Times story from Nicholas Wade brings us up to date on the Hauser inquiry. The story seems to confirm some of the grimmer online reports.

Other experimental problems have come to light with three articles investigated by the Harvard committee. In two, the supporting data did not exist. Dr. Hauser and a colleague repeated the experiments, and say they got the same results as published. In a third case, Dr. Hauser retracted an article published in the journal Cognition in 2002 but gave the editor no explanation of his reason for doing so.

Whatever the problems in Dr. Hauser’s lab, they eventually led to an insurrection among his staff, said Michael Tomasello, a psychologist who is co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and shares Dr. Hauser’s interest in cognition and language.

“Three years ago,” Dr. Tomasello said, “when Marc was in Australia, the university came in and seized his hard drives and videos because some students in his lab said, ‘Enough is enough.’ They said this was a pattern and they had specific evidence.”

The story also notes one of the biggest problems here, which is the paucity of information Harvard is releasing. Even as the smell of this thing gets worse, Harvard is keeping key issues very much in the dark.

Researchers have been calling for Harvard to provide some explanation of whatever problems were found in Dr. Hauser’s lab. If his fault was merely keeping bad records, his reputation may suffer no lasting damage. But if any data has been fabricated, a cloud will be cast over all or much of his work, and that of his many collaborators, leaving other researchers unsure as to which of his experiments can be relied on.

And it seems rather amazing that, according to Wade’s sources, Harvard completed the investigation in January but took no apparent action — and let know one in the outside science or publishing world know — until this week, when it announced the retraction. If there are good reasons for this, Harvard should explain them.

Wade’s story — both solid and artful — ends with a painful quote from Hauser, who was reflecting in 2007 on a mentor he had:

“Only once can I recall Peter giving me an explicit bit of advice, and this is when my impulsivity was getting the best of me,” Dr. Hauser wrote. “Peter kindly told me to slow down, reflect more, and publish less.”

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