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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

“Misrepresentation,” “reckless disregard for basic scientific standards”: Hauser report reveals details of misconduct

with 14 comments

Harvard-logo_7Courtesy of a Freedom of Information Act request, The Boston Globe has a very good piece detailing what investigators found had actually happened in the Marc Hauser lab before the former Harvard psychology researcher resigned in 2011 and was found guilty of misconduct by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in 2012.

The Globe requested the 2010 report Harvard sent the ORI. Here’s a summary:

The 85-page report details instances in which Hauser changed data so that it would show a desired effect. It shows that he more than once rebuffed or downplayed questions and concerns from people in his laboratory about how a result was obtained. The report also describes “a disturbing pattern of misrepresentation of results and shading of truth” and a “reckless disregard for basic scientific standards.”

The Globe quotes key passages from the report:

“We did not find evidence that [professor] Hauser has been inventing findings out of whole cloth,” the committee wrote.

“. . . Hauser’s shortcomings in respect to research integrity have in the main consisted instead of repeated instances of cutting corners, of pushing analyses of data further in the direction of significance than the actual findings warranted, and of reporting results as he may have wished them to have been, rather than as they actually were.”

Meanwhile, Hauser is back publishing in the scientific literature, with a number of luminaries as co-authors.

Read the whole Globe report here.

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Written by Ivan Oransky

May 30, 2014 at 8:50 am

14 Responses

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  1. “The committee painstakingly reconstructed the process of data analysis and determined that Hauser had changed values, causing the result to be statistically significant, an important criterion showing that findings are probably not due to chance.”

    Mmm, statistical significance . . . Evilicious!

    Andrew Gelman

    May 30, 2014 at 9:12 am

    • Deception was critical in our primordial evolution, but destructive to civilization. And statistical significance,
      for many, is the ultimate in deception.

      ed goodwin

      May 30, 2014 at 9:24 am

    • Yeah, not like Potti and those guys at Duke, who used Bayesian methods… They were protected by their prior restrains…

      Steven McKinney

      May 30, 2014 at 7:53 pm

      • At least Hauser’s fraud didn’t have life or death consequences–unlike at Duke.


        May 30, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    • This is pertinent ““I am getting a bit pissed here. There were no inconsistencies!” Hauser responded, explaining how an analysis was done.” When the data is real and are reported as real some may interpret the emotional rant from Hauser as an attempt to intimidate the researcher to remove “inconsistencies”.
      Additionally, Hauser alleged “that people in his laboratory conspired against him, due to academic rivalry and disgruntlement.” It was neither, it was the simple plain fact that some researchers are honest and do not fake data. The researcher resigned the same day.
      Asides from the data manipulation etc, was anyone is his laboratory bullied? If they were, what did their employer, with a legal obligation to prevent such action, do? This was going on from at least 2005.
      Source: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/05/29/internal-harvard-report-shines-light-misconduct-star-psychology-researcher-marc-hauser/maSUowPqL4clXrOgj44aKP/story.html?rss_id=Top-GNP


      May 31, 2014 at 2:22 am

  2. Some of us have not realized that the unique potential of Homo Sapiens is not necessarily cognitive ability
    but conscience ability. This ability is the ultimate apex of evolution of a social animal.

    ed goodwin

    May 30, 2014 at 9:20 am

  3. In some sense, it’s too bad that the names of the investigation committee were redacted.

    That has got to be a thankless (if all too necessary) task for an academic, and they ought to be thanked and congratulated, like the folks at Colorado who handled the Ward Churchill case.

    John Mashey

    May 30, 2014 at 11:20 am

  4. I have read large parts of the complete report ( http://cache.boston.com/news/pdfs/harvardreport.pdf ) and I don’t see it as a big problem that the names of the people of the investigation committee have been omitted. An amazing report and highly recommended to read parts of it. The report consists of so-called ‘case studies’. Any case study is an investigation of irregularities in a particular study / paper (etc.).

    Many reports of -more or less- similar cases (Smeesters, Jens Förster, etc.) lack alot of details. No raw data and/or no processed data, no details on the procedure of the reported experiments (etc.). So tough / impossible to make a detailed reconstruction. In contrast, the Harvard committee had access to a huge amount of raw data and of processed data, including alot of e-mails of Marc Hauser himself (details of the confiscated material are listed on PDFpage 7/8 of the report). Therefore the Harvard committee was able to make detailed reconstructions, including feedback from Marc Hauser himself.

    I fail to understand why Harvard University was unwilling to post this report on its website. I think that some of the case studies in the report deserve to be published in the form of a paper in a journal (eg in a journal like Accountability in Research).

    Klaas van Dijk

    May 31, 2014 at 7:28 am

    • I’m amazed by the amount of work put into investigating this fraud. And I am amazed how Hauser continued to lie and try to misdirect the investigators till the bitter end, and how the committee took the time to debunk every single bullshit excuse he came up with. So much time and brain power wasted on his garbage!


      May 31, 2014 at 1:51 pm

  5. The Harvard Committee may be underestimating the seriousness of the impact of Hauser’s misconduct. The significance of Hauser’s work isn’t that non-human primates have some cognitive abilities. That’s clear, and, except for the bioethical implications, relatively uninteresting. The broader significance is exactly which species have exactly what abilities. That phylogenetic information allows one to start making inferences about the evolution and structure of cognitive abilities. Hauser’s, fortunately unpublished, AXA results in particular would have distorted what little solid information we have on an evolutionary theory of cognition. For an example of the kind of problem I’m referring to, see Jackendoff & Pinker (2005) Cognition 97: 211-225 and related papers (some authored by Hauser). As Pinker has repeatedly discussed in his popular books, evolutionary theories of mind have had a remarkably large and very tangible impact on education and social programs. I don’t want to overstate the significance of the work, but pushing various kinds of cognitive discrimination beyond the ape-monkey divergence (c. 25 Mya) obviously implies a different kind of mental structure and evolution than a developments nearer the gorilla-human split (maybe <10 Mya); and — most importantly — suggests a different allocation of research effort and research support in a field with serious real-world impacts.

    Toby White

    May 31, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    • Not sure that this type of research can have any “real life” impact. What kind of scientific field is that, where altering (intentionally or not) one or two data points/monkeys moves you from non-significant to significant results?


      May 31, 2014 at 3:20 pm

  6. Reblogged this on Research Reviews and commented:
    I started right after Hauser left, yet in months of seminars, lab meetings, department meetings, presentations, etc., I heard his name once. But I do still have dozens of copies of every participant response from every run (including pre-trials) of every experiment, every copy of every version of every instruction sheet for every component of every experiment, multiple copies of all source code, all results of all analyses, even data we couldn’t use because e.g. the subject’s movement in the MRI machine corrupted the signal data. Also, one of my client’s was interested in how to incorporate safeguards against fraud into his software package (although that had more to do with the shockwaves sent through the academic community by Stapel’s decades of Fraud).


    June 4, 2014 at 9:48 pm

  7. I find the juxtaposition of
    “We did not find evidence that [professor] Hauser has been inventing findings out of whole cloth,”


    “. . . of reporting results as he may have wished them to have been, rather than as they actually were.”

    pushing my irony meter into the red.

    Fear (in this instance I guess lawyers and lawsuits) is the most insidious of censors.


    June 6, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    • Don’t think it was fear as much as an attempt at face-saving. After all, Hauser represents Harvard.


      June 10, 2014 at 1:15 am

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