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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Marc Hauser’s second chance: Leading science writers endorse his upcoming book

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Evilicious-CoverYesterday, Marc Hauser, the former Harvard psychologist found by the Office of Research Integrity to have committed misconduct, tweeted that his new book, Evilicious, is coming out on October 15.

An excerpt of the book, which was originally scheduled to be published by Viking/Penguin, is available at Hauser’s website. (We learned about the book in a blog post by Andrew Gelman.) Viking/Penguin is apparently no longer publishing it, however, as the book will be available “at Amazon as a Kindle Select, for print-on-demand at Createspace, and as an audio book at Audible (also available on Amazon).”

What caught our eye were two blurbs. One was from Nicholas Wade, former science editor of the New York Times, who covered the Hauser case, and co-authored 1983’s Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science. The other was from Michael Shermer, founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, the Executive Director of the Skeptics Society, and a monthly columnist for Scientific American.

Wade:

What Steven Pinker has done for violence, Marc Hauser has achieved with evil – this book brings the light of science to illuminate the heart of darkness.

Shermer:

Marc Hauser’s cogent and concise study on the psychological nature of evil could not come at a more propitious time after the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre changed the national debate on violence. Much discussion has been focused on mental health issues, but as Hauser reveals through his thorough summary of the scientific study of violence, the problem is not a handful of crazy people; it is that we all have the capacity to commit acts of violence due to the nature of our psychology and how our brains are wired. Every Congressman, Senator, and journalist voting or writing on what to do about violence should read this book first.

In an email Hauser sent other authors about the book, MIT’s Noam Chomsky also raved, as did Randy Cohen, who used to write The Ethicist for the New York Times Magazine.

We asked Wade and Shermer whether Hauser’s history gave them pause. Both told us people deserve second chances. Shermer:

I read through Marc’s short book fairly carefully as (1) I know the literature on this topic very well, and (2) I’m writing my own book on moral progress and so have a deep interest in the topic of evil, and I didn’t see anything in the least bit questionable in his writings. The book is based entirely on other people’s work, and most especially secondary literature, so I felt that any research ethical questions on the part of Marc’s Harvard career were irrelevant in this case, so I had no reservations about blurbing the book. I also believe that people should be given a second chance, and it seems to me that Marc is trying to rehabilitate his intellectual career and I think that is admirable.

Wade:

I firmly believe that everyone deserves a second chance, especially someone of Marc Hauser’s talent and ability.

We agree that everyone deserves a second chance. But we do prefer when those given a second chance acknowledge that they did something wrong. That might start with noting a retraction, instead of continuing to list the retracted paper among your publications. (See October 21, 2013 update.)

In the ORI findings released last year, Hauser “neither admits nor denies committing research misconduct.” He expanded on that in comments at the time, and only acknowledged “mistakes.” Excerpt:

Although I have fundamental differences with some of the findings in the ORI report, I acknowledge that I made mistakes. I tried to do too much, teaching courses, running a large lab of students, sitting on several editorial boards, directing the Mind, Brain & Behavior Program at Harvard, conducting multiple research collaborations, and writing for the general public. I let important details get away from my control, and as head of the lab, I take responsibility for all errors made within the lab, whether or not I was directly involved. I am saddened that this investigation has caused some to question all of my work, rather than the few papers and unpublished studies in question. Before, during and after the investigation, many of my lab’s research findings were replicated by independent researchers. I remain proud of the many important papers generated by myself, my collaborators and my students over the years. I am also deeply gratified to see my students carve out significant areas of research at major universities around the world.

Update, 6 p.m. Eastern 9/26/13: David Dobbs weighs in.

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Written by Ivan Oransky

September 26, 2013 at 3:31 pm

9 Responses

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  1. I don’t think academic dishonesty is really a concern for this book. My bigger worry is that he is simply a dreadful writer. His “Moral Minds” is one of the worst-written, most confused books I have ever attempted to read. Together with “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” (which is also complete garbage), it is one of only two books I have ever started and not completed.

    Bobo2

    September 26, 2013 at 5:07 pm

  2. Nicholas Wade didn’t just cover the Hauser story. He crossed over the line from reporter to advocate for Hauser. Gerry Altmann, the editor of Cognition, stated his opinion that Hauser was guilty. Wade then reported that Altmann changed his mind and that Hauser might be innocent. The truth was that Altmann had *not* changed his mind and then had to post on his own blog that Wade misrepresented him. Altmann’s attempts to get Wade to correct his reporting were fruitless.

    Why, you may wonder, did Wade (a reporter) seem to advocate for Hauser, even to extent of misrepresenting Altmann’s position? Easy. Wade wrote a book and many of its conclusions depended on Hauser’s work being legit.

    Wade has a big conflict of interest re: Hauser and it seems it has also reflected his “reporting”. Why listen to Wade now?

    Herman

    September 26, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    • Re; Wade’s quote: “I firmly believe that everyone deserves a second chance, especially someone of Marc Hauser’s talent and ability.”

      How do we know that Hauser has talent if he is a fraud?

      Herman

      September 26, 2013 at 5:13 pm

      • There are many people with tremendous amounts of talent and ability who never get a first chance.

        The Iron Chemist

        September 27, 2013 at 4:23 pm

        • Absolutely true. A very talented scientist with poor social skills and strict ethics will almost always lose out against a less talented person with great schmoozing abilities and situational ethics standards. I don’t know if Hauser was talented or not in reality.

          Real Science

          September 30, 2013 at 8:36 am

  3. Looks like great reading material for one to bring along to a D.Stapel spin class or on a ride on the TED train.

    Canadia

    September 27, 2013 at 9:07 am

    • Forgot to add: Hauser does have a propensity for fiction (hardy har har)

      Canadia

      September 27, 2013 at 9:10 am

  4. The “justifications” in the quoted by RW words of Hauser are not talented, not original. They present well-known, much used and actually, self-incriminating phraseology. What is “talent” in psychology? It is this “smart” manipulation of the minds of others by words that has nothing to do with any science. Unfortunately, if a psychologist is not known as someone who committed a misconduct, his routine of manipulations is believed to be legitimate. Moreover, even having committed fraud in the past, he has a “second chance”. That’s the specifics of the profession.

    pyshnov

    October 1, 2013 at 5:32 am

  5. Shermer’s endorsement is disappointing and will hurt his credibility. Skeptic magazine mainly exposes the unscientific claims and methods of paranormalists and proponents of alternative medicine. Shermer now makes himself vulnerable to the criticism that his skepticism only applies to those outside of the academic mainstream, whereas cheaters well established in academia get a free pass. That is not a position Shermer should be in. And it is obvious that he lauds the book because he likes its conclusions. Not very “skeptical”.

    I also note that the observation “we all have the capacity to commit acts of violence” is hardly innovative – to the contrary, it’s quite consistent with ancient non-scientific theories of evil, such as the Christian doctrine of original sin.

    Academic Daylight

    October 21, 2013 at 3:13 pm


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