Marc Hauser, as many know, is a prominent psychologist at Harvard who is well known for research into primate cognition and the evolution of morality. Many may also know that he has been accused of research misconduct in a very public (and one-sided) way. It has truly been unfortunate not only for the people involved, but for those of us who rely the integrity of research in general and Professor Hauser’s work in particular.
As Nicholas Wade now reports, it appears that the case against Professor Hauser is not what it seemed and has encountered difficulties. My sense of the situation, as an attorney, is there clearly was a rush to judgment and a shocking lack of process that has resulted in a Kafkaesque experience for Professor Hauser. It obviously has taken a financial and emotional toll on him. Harvard certainly has done him no favors.
The most disturbing aspect of the story is that Hauser’s defenders contend his critics were “scholars known to be virulently opposed to his research program.” This sort of thing, if true, is completely unacceptable. You can be opposed to someone’s research program without engaging in vicious attacks or making allegations that can ruin lives and careers.
This leaves me wondering who this critics are and what might be their motivations. It would be one thing if such critics are opposed to Hauser’s research into morality and his argument that moral behavior is naturally evolved, no religion necessary. This is of course a hot button issue that can crank up the temperature in any room.
But it is quite another thing if the criticism is aimed at Hauser’s primate cognition research — honestly, the stakes in such studies are not that high, and the findings — no matter which way they come out, are not going to unsettle anyone’s world view. If Hauser’s critics are “virulently opposed” to this aspect of his research, the motivations are surely personal and petty.
The bottom line at this point is that it appears that none of Hauser’s research into morals has been touched by the investigation. This is good news.