What Marc Hauser Did

As folks continue to chuckle or despair over the spectacle of a morality researcher caught in an act of immorality, more details are emerging about Harvard Professor Marc Hauser’s scientific misconduct. Slate provides a good overview of Hauser’s problematic research and links to Cognition Editor Gerry Altmann’s detailed discussion.

At Slate, David Dobbs explains Hauser’s significance:

In the broadest sense, Hauser was trying to prove that we share with some of our primate kin certain basic, conceptual structures in our minds. First, he claimed (along with others) to have found in monkeys signs of the innate “universal grammar” that linguist Noam Chomsky had posited as being fundamental to human speech and thought. Then he made a more surprising assertion: Many of our primate kin, he argued, also share with us a universal moral grammar—or a “moral organ…”

As an adventurer in the land of morality, I find myself reacting strongly to the news that Hauser may have  gone so far as to fabricate at least one set of results. I’m much more  skeptical now about animal research. I don’t have the scientific background yet to tell the bogus from the real, so I’m shying away from it all. I’d love to hear from someone who does have the background to explain the issues. If this is a valid area of research, then what a shame to see it slandered by one scientist’s failure.

Meanwhile, the Edge Foundation announced that Hauser “has withdrawn his contribution” from the New Science of Morality conference.

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One Response to What Marc Hauser Did

  1. ktwop says:

    Animals no doubt have “values” as comparators. Tastier, stronger, faster, higher, further are all examples of comparisons which animals are clearly capable of making.
    To get from values to a sub-set of ethical (or moral) values requires setting standards of correctness or rightness or justice or goodness.
    The ability to select some values as being right or good or proper or just would seem to be a distinguishing mark of sapience. I am sceptical that even primates have this and find most reported animal research – even that which is not faked – unconvincing.

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