DrugMonkey notes that Marc Hauser has offered an explanation for faking data (as reported on the Chronicle of Higher Education Percolator blog). His explanation amounts to:
- being busy with teaching and directing the Mind, Brain & Behavior Program at Harvard
- being busy serving on lots of fancy editorial boards
- being busy writing stuff explaining science to an audience of non-scientists
- being busy working with lots of scientific collaborators
- being busy running a large research lab with lots of students
DrugMonkey responds that busy is part of the job description, especially if you're rolling in the prestige of a faculty post at Harvard, and of being a recognized leader in your field. I would add that "I was really busy and I made a bad decision (but just this one time)" is an excuse we professors frequently hear from students we catch cheating. It's also one that doesn't work -- we expect our students to do honest work and figure out their time management issues. And, we're expected to work out our own time management issues -- even if it means saying "No" to invitations that are sometimes tempting.
By the way, Marc Hauser didn't actually admit that he faked data, or committed research misconduct of any kind, so much as he "accepts the findings" of the Office of Research Integrity. Moreover, his comments seem to be leaning on that last bullet point (the rigors of supervising a big lab) to deflect what responsibility he does take. From the CHE Percolator:
He also implies that some of the blame may actually belong to others in his lab. Writes Hauser: “I let important details get away from my control, and as head of the lab, I take responsibility for all errors made within the lab, whether or not I was directly involved.”
But that take—the idea that the problems were caused mainly by Hauser’s inattention—doesn’t square with the story told by those in his laboratory. A former research assistant, who was among those who blew the whistle on Hauser, writes in an e-mail that while the report “does a pretty good job of summing up what is known,” it nevertheless “leaves off how hard his co-authors, who were his at-will employees and graduate students, had to fight to get him to agree not to publish the tainted data.”
The former research assistant points out that the report takes into account only the research that was flagged by whistle-blowers. “He betrayed the trust of everyone that worked with him, and especially those of us who were under him and who should have been able to trust him,” the research assistant writes.
So, Hauser is kind of claiming that there were too many students, postdocs, and technicians to supervise properly, and some of them got away from him and falsified methodology and coding and fabricated data. The underlings challenge this account.
In the comments at DrugMonkey's, hypotheses are being floated as to what might have spurred Hauser's bad actions. (A perception that he needed to come up with sexy findings to stay a star in his field is one of the frontrunners.) I'm more inclined to come up with a list of options Hauser might have fruitfully pursued instead of faking or allowing fakery to happen on his watch:
- He could have agreed not to send out manuscripts with questionable data when his underlings asked him.
- He could have asked to be released from some of his teaching and/or administrative duties at Harvard so he could spend the needed time on his research and on properly mentoring the members of his lab.
- He could have taken on fewer students in order to better supervise and mentor the students in his charge.
- He could have sought the advice of a colleague or a collaborator on ways he might deal with his workload (or with the temptations that workload might be awakening in him).
- He could have communicated to his department, his professional societies, and the funding agencies his considered view that the demands on researchers, and operative definitions of productivity, make it unreasonable hard to do the careful research needed to come up with reliable answers to scientific questions.
And those are just off the top of my head.
I'm guessing that the pressure Marc Hauser felt to get results was real enough. What I'm not buying is the same thing that I don't buy when I get this excuse from student plagiarists: that there was no other choice. Absent a gun to Hauser's head, there surely were other things he could have done.
Feel free to add to the list of other options someone facing Hauser-like temptations could productively pursue instead of cheating.