I’ve noted a few times that the Hauser misconduct case at Harvard would ripple through science for quite some time. Today the Boston Globe’s Carolyn Johnson, who has done a nice job on this case all along, has a story on how the department at Harvard is trying to deal with the fallout.
In the Harvard Psychology Department, faculty have been meeting to discuss how to remove the cloud created by the scientific misconduct case of one of their most prominent colleagues, Marc Hauser.
Elsewhere, a scientist is considering repeating a key experiment Hauser conducted on the behavior of monkeys.
A month after Harvard said it found Hauser guilty of eight infractions involving three published papers and other unpublished work, scholars in and out of the university are struggling with how to respond, and particularly with how to establish the reliability of the rest of Hauser’s large and influential body of research.
The uncertainty is not just an academic concern. In popular books, news stories, and television programs, Hauser drew people into deep scientific questions that spark the imagination. Can nonhuman animals tell what others’ intentions are? What cognitive abilities make us uniquely human?
Now, many scientists fear that because Hauser contributed so much to the public perception of not only his own work, but of a field that looks for the evolutionary underpinnings of human cognitive abilities, the questions about him will also cast a broader shadow.
Johnson describes how people in and out of the department are trying to double-check some of Hauser’s work. Some of what they’re finding doesn’t sweeten the picture. Among the studies people are looking at again is
an experiment that Hauser reported on in a 1995 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper, which looked at the ability of cottontop tamarin monkeys to recognize themselves in a mirror. That paper was criticized by some scientists when it was published, but is not part of the current misconduct findings.
In the experiment, multiple observers coded the data, and one observer did not know the experimental condition. In a videotape of the experiment, which was provided to the Globe by Gordon G. Gallup Jr., a psychology professor at State University of New York at Albany who requested the raw data from Hauser, monkeys sometimes look in the mirror. When this happens, Hauser can be heard saying “stare.’’
Lengthy bouts of a monkey staring into the mirror calmly, instead of acting aggressively toward its reflected image, were one piece of evidence Hauser used to show the monkeys passed the mirror test. But Gallup said he saw no evidence on the tapes of mirror-guided behavior.
Rather tough work, this. I don’t think anyone really likes doing all this due diligence. It must be like looking through a crime scene.
Hat-tip to Razib Khan for drawing my attention to this.