Marc Hauser, whose work on moral psychology from an evolutionary perspective is well known, is going on leave from Harvard after evidence of scientific misconduct has come to light through an internal investigation:
The findings have resulted in the retraction of an influential study that he led. “MH accepts responsibility for the error,’’ says the retraction of the study on whether monkeys learn rules, which was published in 2002 in the journal Cognition.
Two other journals say they have been notified of concerns in papers on which Hauser is listed as one of the main authors.
A retraction which has already been written will appear in a future edition of Cognition. There have also been previous challenges to the credibility of Hauser’s work:
In 1995, he was the lead author of a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that looked at whether cotton-top tamarins are able to recognize themselves in a mirror. Self-recognition was something that set humans and other primates, such as chimpanzees and orangutans, apart from other animals, and no one had shown that monkeys had this ability.
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 The original paper has never been retracted or corrected.
Hauser is writing a book with the tantalizing title Evilicious: Explaining Our Evolved Taste for Being Bad.