What happens to the field of moral psychology when one of its most prominent researchers is under investigation for tampering with his findings? This question is anything but academic since the news broke this week about a years-long investigation at Harvard.
Harvard Professor Marc Hauser — one of the scientists participating in the Edge Foundation conference I’ve been featuring — is under investigation for scientific misconduct. One of his papers has been withdrawn. He is on a year-long leave from Harvard, although it’s unclear whether the leave has anything to do with the investigation. The inquiry has apparently been going on for three years, but Harvard has kept the investigation and its results secret. Details of the situation are in the New York Times and Boston Globe and The New Scientist.
By the way, I watched Hauser’s presentation at the Edge conference web site, but didn’t post to about it. His theories didn’t seem relevant to my quest to understand goodness.
There are a thousand possible jokes I could make about the immorality of a morality researcher who may (or may not) have tampered with the results of his experiments, or at least of a single experiment. What concerns me the most is the impact any inaccurate results might have on the field of moral psychology. (And I will admit to being curious about Hauser’s motives, if the allegations prove to be true.)
The New Scientist explains the significance of Hauser’s work on animals and morality:
Do animals think? For many years, each time the media wanted insights into this most intriguing of questions, Marc Hauser was the scientist of choice. His Harvard University lab produced a string of intriguing papers suggesting that monkeys have uncannily human-like mental capacities, and Hauser was always ready with an eloquent explanation.