Tag Archives: Scientific misconduct

Scientific misconduct and skepticgate

I have been interested in scientific misconduct recently – partly as a result of the Hauser scandal. Consequently I was reading about a recent conference on the subject. The documents included plagiarism right up there with the more commonly accepted forms of misconduct like falsification of evidence.

Plagiarism is the use of text from others’ writing without attribution. Now I realised that this was a big issue for student assessment at universities but apparently it is also an issue for scientific journals. Many journals now use a computer programme to check out submitted papers for plagiarized content.

Just imagine, though, there is a whole field of scientific publishing where such things would not be routinely checked. I am referring to popular science articles, newspaper articles – and reports to clients, including governments.

Well, the proverbial seems to be hitting the fan for one such report – the Wegman report. Gareth at Hot Topic briefly reports this in his article Wegman investigated for plagiarism, “skepticgate” looms.

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Fallout from Hauser affair spreads

For background to the scientific misconduct charges circulating around Marc D Hauser have a look at A paper by Marc Hauser retracted – Harvard Magazine, A sympathetic take on Marc Hauser and the “scientific misconduct” issue, Hauser misconduct investigation – Full text of Dean’s statement, Marc Hauser replies – acknowledges mistakes and The myth of the noble scientist.

While Hauser’s acknowledgment confirms the eight misconduct charges mentioned by Harvard University’s Dean of the Faculty of Arts Sciences there is concern that the misconduct will taint the rest of Hauser’s work and publications.

It’s probably understandable that full clarity must await the final conclusions of US federal investigative agencies but inevitably there will be speculation. Gerry Altmann, the editor of the journal Cognition, posted a statement on his blog saying that his own review of information provided to him by Harvard has convinced him that fabrication is the most plausible explanation for data in a 2002 Cognition paper. This is the paper that is being retracted. (Two other published papers are being corrected and the other five incidents did not result in publications or were corrected before publication).

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The myth of the noble scientist

David Goodstein used this term to describe:

the long-discredited Baconian view of the scientist as disinterested seeker of truth who gathers facts with mind cleansed of prejudices and preconceptions. The ideal scientist, in this view, would be more honest than ordinary mortals, certainly immune to such common human failings as pride or personal ambition. When people find out, as they invariably do, that scientists are not at all like that, they may react with understandable anger or disappointment.

I think it is a useful term. But I don’t agree with Goodstein’s belief that scientists are guilty of promoting it. Certainly not in my experience.

Before Fermi Lab visit

I think of a scientist as very dedicated to his work. He is kind of crazy, talking always quickly. He constantly is getting new ideas. He is always asking questions and can be annoying. He listens to others’ ideas and questions them.

After Fermi Lab visit

I know scientists are just normal people with a not so normal job. . . . Scientists lead a normal life outside of being a scientist. They are interested in dancing, pottery, jogging and even racquetball. Being a scientist is just another job which can be much more exciting.

These are drawings and comments made by Amy, one of a group of US 7th Graders before and after their visit to the Fermi lab

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Marc Hauser replies – acknowledges mistakes

Here is Marc Hauser’s response to the charge of scientific misconduct (from USA Today Updated: Harvard says Marc Hauser guilty of science misconduct). Hopefully we are seeing an example of science correcting itself.

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.

I have learned a great deal from this process and have made many changes in my own approach to research and in my lab’s research practices.

Research and teaching are my passion. After taking some time off, I look forward to getting back to my work, mindful of what I have learned in this case. This has been painful for me and those who have been associated with the work.

See also:
Hauser misconduct investigation – Full text of Dean’s statement
Harvard Finds Scientist Guilty of Misconduct

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A sympathetic take on Marc Hauser and the “scientific misconduct” issue

Marc Hauser

Greg Laden has provided a sympathetic take on the news of the scientific misconduct investigation of Marc Hauser (see What I know about Marc Hauser, the recently ‘investigated’ Harvard primatologist). He doesn’t have any more specific information on the alleged misconduct than the rest of us, unfortunately. However, he has worked with Hauser.

Greg says: “I know Marc Hauser, and I trust him.”

But then he is forced to speculate. He discusses what he calls “The Hauser Effect.” This refers to Hauser’s ability to discover certain capacities in New World monkeys which had previously only been found in Old World primates like chimpanzees, baboons and macaques. This may result from Hauser’s acknowledged experimental skills But one also could imagine effects due to the subjects picking up cues from the experimenter.

Laden has speculated on the “Hauser effect” in the past. But, he says: “Fraud or misconduct never crossed my mind.”

“I’m like the neighbor who is interviewed after the spectacular arrest of the guy down the street for some over the top crime.

‘Marc kept to himself, in his lab. He produced his papers, got on with his job. Nobody ever thought he would carry out misconduct. He wasn’t the type. I can’t believe this is happening.’

That’s what I think.”

Harvard really should provide more information about their inquiry and its findings. Uninformed speculation could undermine the credibility of really good science.

My interest in Hauser’s work relate to the science of morality. He is author of the book Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong. And currently he is working on a new book to be published by Viking Penguin. It has the intriguing title  Evilicious: Why We Evolved a Taste for Being Bad .

See also:
The new science of morality
Is and ought
Misconduct found in Harvard animal morality prof’s lab: New Scientist
Inquiry on Harvard Lab Threatens Ripple Effect

UPDATE: Harvard has responded (see Harvard Confirms ‘Hausergate’) to reporters inquiries with “carefully worded statement to a few reporters:”

“Harvard has always taken seriously its obligation to maintain the integrity of the scientific record.  The University has rigorous systems in place to evaluate concerns about scientific work by Harvard faculty members.  Those procedures were employed in Dr. Hauser’s situation.  As a result of that process, and in accordance with standard practice, Harvard has taken steps to ensure that the scientific record is corrected in relation to three articles co-authored by Dr. Hauser.

While Dr. Hauser (or in one instance, his colleague) were directed to explain the issues with these articles to the academic journals that published those papers, the University has also welcomed specific questions from the editors involved. We will continue to assist the editors in this process.  In these types of cases, Harvard follows federal requirements for investigating alleged research misconduct and reports its findings, as required, to the appropriate federal funding agencies, which conduct their own review.   At the conclusion of the federal investigatory process, in cases where the government concludes scientific misconduct occurred, the federal agency makes those findings publicly available.”

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A paper by Marc Hauser retracted – Harvard Magazine

Well, this could be embarrassing. But I hope not.

Marc Hauser, who was one of the participants in the New Science of Morality” seminar (see The new science of morality and Is and ought) is under a cloud. His Harvard laboratory has been investigated for the last three years because of charges of scientific misconduct. (See Psychologist and author Marc Hauser takes leave of absence as paper is retracted.)

Information is still rather vague and there is no indication yet of his own degree of culpability. However, as research leader he has had to take responsibility and one of the papers he is a joint author of is being retracted (Rule learning by cotton-top tamarins). Two other papers are also being questioned- one because of incomplete video records and field note taking by a co-author of Hauser.
Retraction Watch has some details, inclkuding an email response from Gerry Altmann, the editor of the journal concerned, Cognition. (See Monkey business? 2002 Cognition paper retracted as prominent psychologist Marc Hauser takes leave from Harvard). The play on the word monkey abviously relates to Hausers work with monkeys and other primates.

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