Harvard Versus Dr. Marc Hauser
Dr. Marc Hauser has been accused by Harvard of scientific misconduct some time ago, and the case still has not been resolved. He was doing his job in the animal cognition field, where it is very hard to define what is what, since there are numerous times when the results are inconsistent.
The case is very strange because Dr. Hauser is known for the fact that he constantly writes about morality. Harvard announced on 20th of August that they found him responsible for eight counts of scientific misconduct. Bert Vaux and Jeffrey Watumull, who are two former colleagues of Dr. Marc Hauser, sent a paper earlier this week, stating that he is a great scientist, and that it is very likely that the accusations had the task of removing him from the office. Gerry Altmann was the man who accused him, and he admitted last month that his accusations might have been kind of rough.
Dr. Hauser published an article in the psychology journal called Cognition, where Altmann is the editor. Dr. Hauser has been accused that the article is full of scientific misconduct. Dr. Altmann publicly accused him of inventing data, but then later he reconsidered, saying that the data might have come from laboratory errors. He stated that they need time to analyze the situation and to see what actually happened. The Office of Research Integrity, which is a government agency that investigates scientific misconduct, is involved in the case. John Dahlberg, director of the agency’s investigations unit, stated that it takes them at least 7 months to take a decision, and that they have had cases when they solved the problem in 8 years.
The government report has to be ready until Dr. Hauser can defend himself and until Altmann can present his evidence. There are many people who believe that this will take years, as the reputation of the Office of Research Integrity is well known when it comes to solving cases. The situation is extremely complicated because Harvard has accused one of the best scientists in the domain, and Dr. Hauser can not defend himself for the moment, which might ruin his career. A faculty member of Harvard who did not want to reveal his identity, stated that the accusations were made because of certain interests, as the accusers are convinced that the decision will come no sooner than three years, which might be enough to completely destroy Dr. Hauser’s career. Everything began in 2007 when officials from the University went into his office and collected data. Everything happened when he was out of the country.
He was announced of this by his students who could not tell him what those people were looking for. He did not receive any information whatsoever from them, but it is now known that they wrote a secret report on him. A committee of professors investigated him, Dr. Michael D. Smith, the dean of the faculty of arts and sciences being the person who endorsed their findings. The interesting thing is that the accusations brought by the professors might not meet the government’s definition of scientific misconduct, which is applied when a person plagiarizes or forges a document.
Two of his eight charges have been brought for the fact that some of his documents do not contain the raw data, and according to the Office of Research Integrity, that does not qualify as scientific misconduct. The third charge involves the article he posted in the magazine, and it seems that this one is more serious. He published the article in 2002, and it says that rhesus monkeys can differentiate a novel control of sounds from a control sequence, which might be related to the understanding of language. The novel and the control must be alternated at every moment in order to make the background sound as similar as possible. When he posted the video of the experiment, it was discovered that it only contained the novel sounds.
Altmann stated that since the video did not contain the controls have not been done, even if they were presented in the paper, and that could only mean that he lied about them in the first place. He recently declared that his early accusations have been to rough, and that it is possible that there might have been an alternative explanation to the story. In the experimental video, a monkey is located in a soundproof box. The computer is playing a sound, but it can not be heard in the video. It is possible that due to an error made by the computer, the second test sound has been replaced by the control sounds, and the researchers have written that everything went according to the plan, without realizing the mistake.
However, the situation gets more complicated, as the video does not indicate the way in which they have reached the status written on the paper. One has to provide video evidence of the things he writes on the paper, and Dr. Hauser failed to do so. However, not doing so is not considered fraud, but a simple error. Altmann has now stated that it is very likely that the researchers have made a simple human mistake, without intending to commit fraud and to provide false information. Mr. Watumull, a linguistics student, who worked in Dr. Hauser’s laboratory in 2007, stated that it is very likely that an error occurred. The other five accusations involve some disagreements between Dr. Hauser and his students, all of them being corrected prior to the publishing of the paper in the magazine.
The students sent him an e-mail saying that the monkey might have turned its head every time it heard a sound as a novel. In his experiments Dr. Houser said that the monkey turned its head when it heard sounds, but the students said that it didn’t. They met in order to solve this disagreement, and one of Dr. Hauser’s assistant declared that Dr. Hauser wanted to impose his point of view because of his superior position. This is the main reason why the university initiated the accusation against him. There are other students who have said that in a prior disagreement, Dr. Hauser admitted that he was wrong, so he decided not to publish the results.
Mr. Watumull, ho is another student, stated that Dr. Hauser has never used his position in order to intimidate the students, or to force his theories if they were wrong. In fact, most of the people from the university, including the teachers, know him for the fact that he likes to hear the opinion of his students prior to publishing a paper. Bennett Galef, an expert on animal behavior at McMaster University in Ontario is one of the few people who have seen the papers published by Dr. Hauser. Based on his expertise, he stated that there are no clues that Dr. Hauser committed something wrong. He believes however, that Dr. Hauser should have been more careful with the experiment and that he should have supervised things in a better way than he did.
He also stated that it is very likely that the ones, who accused him, did not understand the way in which animal behavior works, as they were all physical scientists. Dr. Hauser declined to talk about the accusations the professors brought against him, but he was willing to talk about a previous experiment of his. He conducted that experiment in 1995, and he said that cotton-top tamarin monkeys could recognize themselves in a mirror. Everybody was shocked by this, as it was known that only the humans, chimps and orangutans have the capability of recognizing themselves in the mirror. When he was asked to provide video evidence of this, he did, but it was discovered that the monkeys did not react as Dr. Hauser said. Because of it, many accused him of jumping to conclusions too fast, and they believe that he did it in the case of this experiment as well. They do not say that he commits fraud, but that he often makes errors because of it.
However, Dr. Hauser did not consider that he did something wrong, as he said that the head of the monkeys moved in a certain direction when they saw themselves in the mirror. It is very difficult to analyze the situation, as the scoring of the animals is often subjective. The researcher who works with them knows them the best, and a new movement or reaction might give him clues about certain things. Of course, a third person might not realize the subtle movement and he would need more proof of the reaction. Dr. Hauser said that the video evidence was not considered satisfactory because the people who looked at it did not know the cotton-top monkeys too well. When he was asked to repeat the experiment, he could not do it, and according to him, the reason for that is the variability of the individuals.
It seems that some animals are more gifted than the others, and it is very hard to replicate an experiment with a different animal. They require lots of training, and some of them might be more responsive and more willing to learn than the others. Disagreements when it comes to the method of conducting the experiment occur quite often, and it seems that they occurred in five different experiments conducted by Dr. Hauser and his students. It is unknown how this case will evolve, as Dr. Hauser has admitted that he has made some mistakes, but not the mistakes he has been accused off. He admitted that he could have done some things in a different manner.11