I am sad to report that it is indeed confirmed by official sources that primatologist Marc Hauser engaged in several instances of what is being termed misconduct while carrying out experiments in his lab.
Dean Michael Smith issued the following letter to members of the Harvard community today:
Dear faculty colleagues,
No dean wants to see a member of the faculty found responsible for scientific misconduct, for such misconduct strikes at the core of our academic values. Thus, it is with great sadness that I confirm that Professor Marc Hauser was found solely responsible, after a thorough investigation by a faculty investigating committee, for eight instances of scientific misconduct under FAS standards. The investigation was governed by our long-standing policies on professional conduct and shaped by the regulations of federal funding agencies. After careful review of the investigating committee’s confidential report and opportunities for Professor Hauser to respond, I accepted the committee’s findings and immediately moved to fulfill our obligations to the funding agencies and scientific community and to impose appropriate sanctions.
Harvard, like every major research institution, takes a finding of scientific misconduct extremely seriously and imposes consequential sanctions on individuals found to have committed scientific misconduct. Rigid adherence to the scientific method and scrupulous attention to the integrity of research results are values we expect in every one of our faculty, students, and staff.
In brief, when allegations of scientific misconduct arise, the FAS Standing Committee on Professional Conduct (CPC) is charged with beginning a process of inquiry into the allegations. The inquiry phase is followed by an investigation phase that is conducted by an impartial committee of qualified, tenured faculty (the investigating committee), provided that the dean, advised by the CPC, believes the allegations warrant further investigation. 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. Furthermore, when the allegations concern research involving federal funding, funding agency regulations govern our processes during the investigation and our obligations after our investigation is complete. (For example, federal regulations impose an ongoing obligation to protect the identities of those who provided assistance to the investigation.) 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.
Since some of the research in the current case was supported by federal funds, the investigating committee’s report and other supplemental material were submitted to the federal offices responsible for their own review, in accordance with federal regulations and FAS procedures. Our usual practice is not to publicly comment on such cases, one reason being to ensure the integrity of the government’s review processes.
A key obligation in a scientific misconduct case is to correct any affected publications, and our confidentiality policies do not conflict with this obligation. In this case, after accepting the findings of the committee, I immediately moved to have the record corrected for those papers that were called into question by the investigation. The committee’s report indicated that three publications needed to be corrected or retracted, and this is now a matter of public record. To date, the paper, “Rule learning by cotton-top tamarins,”Cognition 86, B15-B22 (2002) has been retracted because the data produced in the published experiments did not support the published findings; and a correction was published to the paper, “Rhesus monkeys correctly read the goal-relevant gestures of a human agent,” Proceedings of the Royal Society B 274, 1913-1918 (2007). The authors continue to work with the editors of the third publication, “The perception of rational, goal-directed action in nonhuman primates,” Science 317, 1402-1405 (2007). As we reported to one of these editors, the investigating committee found problems with respect to the three publications mentioned previously, and five other studies that either did not result in publications or where the problems were corrected prior to publication. 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.
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. However, to enlighten those unfamiliar with the available sanctions, options in findings of scientific misconduct include involuntary leave, the imposition of additional oversight on a faculty member’s research lab, and appropriately severe restrictions on a faculty member’s ability to apply for research grants, to admit graduate students, and to supervise undergraduate research. To ensure compliance with the imposed sanctions, those within Harvard with oversight of the affected activities are informed of the sanctions that fall within their administrative responsibilities.
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.
In summary, Harvard has completed its investigation of the several allegations in the current case and does not anticipate making any additional findings, statements, or corrections to the scientific record with respect to those allegations. This does not mean, however, that others outside Harvard have completed their reviews. In particular, Harvard continues to cooperate with all federal inquiries into this matter by the PHS Office of Research Integrity, the NSF Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.
Michael D. Smith
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
This statement conforms almost exactly to what I had come to learn of the situation. It is very important to note that Harvard has found Hauser solely responsible. None of the undergraduates, graduate students, or post docs who worked in that lab are implicated by this report, and to my knowledge, in any other way.
I did trust Marc. I even invented a phenomenon to explain what others thought might be an anomaly. Now, I feel rather personally betrayed, which is of no consequence. What is really important is that this is a demonstration of science’s self correcting process. And not.
This is an embarrassment and a kick in the teeth. Never mind the research. We will adjust one way or another what we think about what monkeys can do (and can’t do) as more (valid) research is done, and the occasional bad research (of whatever kind that may be) is rooted out and discarded. There is a different, larger problem.
We are very much engaged in a culture war these days, as all readers of this blog know. Having one of our own … a well respected and well funded scientist … create this sort of situation is exactly the opposite of what is needed. Yes, yes, we can keep telling others and ourselves that this just proves that science is self correcting. That is true. But it also proves that the hubris and selfishness of one person can do more in the form of damage than an entire productive career can do in the way of building of our collective credibility.
I’m sorry, Marc, but I’ve got my pitchfork, and I’m pretty much ready to drive you into the swamp. This was not a misstep or a weak moment, or a single regrettable event. This was several years across several projects, seemingly key to what you were doing in that lab with all that funding and all those students. I know your friends and colleagues who are close to you feel very badly about what you are going through. But in my mind, a combination of institutional shadow and personal privilege are likely to combine to keep you from the punishment you probably deserve. You just made our life harder, and I refer here to those of us in the public trenches fighting for science.
Marc, if you ever read this, I have a question for you. Where do morals come from? Where? I’m waiting to see your Darwin 2009 video on that topic appear on Uncommon Descent and other creationist web sites. Forget the monkey research. You’ve set us back years.
One of the key papers discredited by this report:
Hauser, M. (2002). Rule learning by cotton-top tamarins Cognition, 86 (1) DOI: 10.1016/S0010-0277(02)00139-7