There has been some news over the past few weeks about Marc Hauser, the Harvard psychologist found guilty of misconduct by the university last year. First, because Harvard had listed him in a course catalog, The Crimson said that he might be teaching again, following a ban. But that turned out not to be the case, as The Boston Globe reported.
Today, Science lifted the embargo on a paper by Hauser and Justin Wood, now of the University of Southern California, showing that results published in the journal in 2007 — and later questioned — have held up. The abstract:
Wood et al. (1) reported experiments on action perception with cotton-top tamarins, rhesus macaques and chimpanzees. All of the research materials are available to support the findings from the tamarin and chimpanzee experiments. However, there are only summary data, as opposed to raw data, for the rhesus monkey experiments because the researcher who performed the experiments inadvertently failed to archive the original field notes. Upon realizing that the notes were unavailable, Wood and Hauser reran all of the rhesus experiments, using the same design and test population. Each trial was videotaped and coded blind to the experimental condition. We found the same pattern of results: Rhesus showed statistically significant choice responses after observing the intentional hand grasp and hand-occupied elbow touch actions, and responded at chance levels after observing the accidental hand flop and hand-empty elbow touch actions. The direct replication of the originally reported results on rhesus monkeys in Wood et al. (1), including the raw data, is available below, and stored at www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/317/5843/1402/DC2.
(That link is
not yet now live. , but will be shortly, according to Science , which will publish the paper in this week’s issue.) According to the new paper, the authors added “more rigorous methods” to test the original results.
Hauser, as David Dobbs noted in Slate last fall, was using the experiments to “test whether monkeys can make simple linguistic and moral distinctions.” Here’s how Dobbs described the original results:
In one study, for instance, he tried to show that rhesus monkeys, cotton-topped tamarins, and chimpanzees could distinguish between intentional movements and those that seemed accidental. Each animal would be presented with two small containers, and then an experimenter would either a) grab one of the containers with a deliberate motion, suggesting the container might have food inside, or b) let his arm flop down in such a way that his hand would “accidentally” make contact with it, which presumably suggested nothing about its contents. Then the animal would be let at the containers. Which one would they check out first? On average, both monkeys and chimps were more likely to grab at a container that had been touched on purpose. Along with other experiments, this one suggested the monkeys shared some of the human ability to discern intentions; perhaps they possessed, too, the rudimentary “theory of mind” that’s considered a prerequisite for morality.
But there was a problem, as Dobbs explains:
In one instance of misconduct, he’s accused of bypassing protocols for watching and coding those dull films of one trial after another; as a result, he either saw monkey responses he desperately wanted to see or fabricated responses he didn’t see.
The replication suggests that the results published in Science are believable. As Retraction Watch readers may recall, Hauser has retracted a 2002 paper in Cognition. We’re still waiting, of course, for Harvard to release the report of its investigation into the entire affair.
Please see a post on why Science lifted this embargo early, on our sister blog Embargo Watch.