Updating – Morality Researcher Found Guilty of Misconduct

The other shoe has dropped for Harvard researcher Marc Hauser with the announcement that he has been found guilty of scientific misconduct. In a well written and interesting piece, Florida State Professor Michael Ruse puts this in context and argues that Hauser’s actions hurt all scientists. The questionable research involved studies on monkeys.

For the purposes of my quest, Harvard’s investigation calls the animal research side of moral psychology into question, but I’m not certain what the impact will be on entire effort to understand the psychology and physiology of morality. I’m still struggling to get a sense of the field of moral psychology. If animal research and Hauser’s work only played a small role, then his misconduct will mean little.

The news about Hauser is a great reminder, though, that some of the most terrifying and possibly false words that can be uttered are “studies have shown.” This is also a great reminder that morality is easier to talk about and study than to do.

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5 Responses to Updating – Morality Researcher Found Guilty of Misconduct

  1. Darrell Icenogle says:

    Like you, I’m sniffing along the moral psychology trails, peaking behind the bushes, and rooting my nose in the dirt to see if I can find a bone. (Well, perhaps it would be more polite to employ that image only for myself.) At any rate, of those who participated in the Edge conference, Hauser’s work seemed the least intuitive and least interesting, to me. My bias is toward understanding morality as it relates to politics, and many of those present at the conference seem to be open about having that bias. Although I have known about the investigation, and thus watchful for other references to Hauser, of the others I have read, I haven’t found a lot of reference to Hauser’s work. I can remember only one, by Jonathan Haidt, and that reference pointed to a minor conflict he had with one of Hauser’s conclusions.

    I put all science in brackets. I look for what seems to be useful, and maybe use it until someone shows it isn’t useful — for whatever reason. The ‘truth’ of morality isn’t something I expect anyone to ever know, but moral ideas that help to explain our differences can be useful. Regardless of whether they turn out to be ‘true,’ they can help us bridge our differences for a time, and time is limited, for all of us.

  2. dianesilver says:

    I love the doggie metaphor. I may well steal it someday. Meanwhile, the “truth” of morality will always be a slippery thing. However, I do hope that someday we will have a better understanding of how and why human beings make morality. That’s something I would hope that scientists like those at the Edge conference can help provide. But even in science there is, in fact, no certainty. Knowledge is always moving forward, so I love your idea of putting all science in brackets.

    On a related note… It’s interesting how easy it is to acknowledge that human kinds understanding of science will always move forward, while it’s difficult for at least some to see that our understanding of what is moral and good can also progress.

  3. Darrell Icenogle says:

    > it’s difficult for at least some to see that our understanding of what is moral and good can also progress.

    It would be hard for anyone to deny, I think, that morality evolves, albeit more quickly for some than for others. (Maybe it evolves between generations, almost to the exclusion of individual moral evolution.) I agree, however, that not everyone sees that as a positive.

    I want to know how we can at least talk to each other about our differences, which requires us to humanize our opponents and be open to what they have to say. That, I think, is the crying need of our times. I think it falls on the shoulders of liberals to take the first steps.

  4. dianesilver says:

    LOL! Sometimes it certainly feels like liberals are the only ones willing to take the first steps, but perhaps that’s only my bias speaking. To put this in terms of politics, which I know is your interest, it certainly feels unsafe to humanize one’s opponent when that opponent continues to demonize you. And yet, I wonder. Yesterday, I caught a rerun of the marvelous film Gandhi. As always, I’m amazed at how much he accomplished by NOT demonizing his opponents, no matter who they were. At least in the film, he seemed willing to go farther than my frightened self is ready to do. I really have to read more about Gandhi, who certain is one person who personified goodness!

  5. Pingback: We May Be Hard Wired To Be Moral | In Search of Goodness

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