Harvard Dean sheds (a little) more light on Hauser misconduct case.

Today ScienceInsider gave an update on the Marc Hauser misconduct case, one that seems to support the accounts of other researchers in the Hauser lab. From ScienceInsider:

In an e-mail sent earlier today to Harvard University faculty members, Michael Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), confirms that cognitive scientist Marc Hauser "was found solely responsible, after a thorough investigation by a faculty member investigating committee, for eight instances of scientific misconduct under FAS standards."

ScienceInsider reprints the Dean's email in its entirety. Here's the characterization of the nature of Hauser's misconduct from that email:

While different issues were detected for the studies reviewed, overall, the experiments reported were designed and conducted, but there were problems involving data acquisition, data analysis, data retention, and the reporting of research methodologies and results.

WIthout the actual report of Harvard's inquiry, it's hard to know what standards of proof they were using. However, it seems likely that the evidence was judged to be more consistent with scientific misconduct than with honest mistakes.

The Dean's email states that Harvard is moving forward to make the necessary corrections to the scientific literature, and, potentially, to return the federal funding associated with the research projects in which Hauser was found to have committed scientific misconduct. As well, the email notes that the relevant federal agencies may still be in the midst of their own inquiries and/or investigations of Hauser's conduct on their nickel.

However, the email also states:

The work of the investigating committee as well as its final report are considered confidential to protect both the individuals who made the allegations and those who assisted in the investigation. Our investigative process will not succeed if individuals do not have complete confidence that their identities can be protected throughout the process and after the findings are reported to the appropriate agencies. ... When the investigation phase is complete, the investigating committee produces a confidential report describing their activity and their findings. The response of the accused to this report and the report itself are considered by the dean, who then decides whether to accept the findings, and in the case of a finding of misconduct, determine the sanctions that are appropriate. This entire and extensive process was followed in the current case. ...

Beyond these responsibilities to the funding agencies and the scientific community, Harvard considers confidential the specific sanctions applied to anyone found responsible for scientific misconduct.

In other words, as things stand now, much of what Harvard found in their investigation of Marc Hauser may never be made public. Obviously, this limits our ability to discuss the details of the case in more that hypothetical terms.

However, the email from the Dean goes on:

As should be clear from this letter, I have a deeply rooted faith in our process and the shared values upon which it is founded. Nonetheless, it is healthy to review periodically our long-standing practices. Consequently, I will form a faculty committee this fall to reaffirm or recommend changes to the communication and confidentiality practices associated with the conclusion of cases involving allegations of professional misconduct. To be clear, I will ask the committee to consider our policies covering all professional misconduct cases and not comment solely on the current scientific misconduct case.

This sounds, to my ear, like the folks at Harvard are weighing the benefits of confidentiality in the adjudication of a high-profile case like this against the costs of such confidentiality. My own sense is that there are sensible reasons on each side of the balance here. It should be interesting to see how the Harvard community comes down on the question of confidentiality versus openness in the aftermath of the Hauser case.

4 responses so far

  • Dario Ringach says:

    Presumably, the full report will be made available to the Office of Scientific Integrity and I wouldn't be surprised if a FOIA from the Boston Globe would made the full report available sooner or later. Alternatively, one can expect more students to come forward with their version of the events. As others, I wonder if there are clear signs of data fabrication or if he is suffering the consequences of sloppy data collection and self-deception in the analysis.

  • David says:

    The work was supported by government funds. The government funds other researchers at Harvard and taxpayers have a right to fully understand the measures Harvard takes to ensure honesty.

    Harvard wants to "to protect both the individuals who made the allegations and those who assisted in the investigation" - fine. Issue a public report of the findings, with the small parts that need to stay confidential as a private appendix.

    To me, the path of integrity involves publishing the maximum amount of information that can be published, and keeping private the minimum needed to protect vulnerable innocents. Harvard is taking the opposite approach. I'd call Harvard's approach "Nixonian."

  • Roland says:

    @Dario,

    There is email evidence that he bullied his students into accepting the fabricated data. Thus, it does not seem to be sloppiness or self-delusion. It seems to be a conscious and deliberate effort to falsify results.