Posts Tagged ‘Harvard University’

Marc Hauser publishes on “Evil”

September 27, 2013

Following in the footsteps of other fraudsters (Diedrik Stapel for one), Marc Hauser has published a new book on “Evil”. Since he left Harvard he has been involved with “brain training  (brain-washing?) of children at risk.

I suppose that a transgressor cannot be said to have no practical experience of morality though to say that he is particularly qualified to write about “Evil” is perhaps pushing it a bit. What constitutes “Evil” is of course rather subjective. Just as with Stapel there is no shortage of his advocates and apologists now rushing to praise his book. Just as with Stapel the New York Times (Nicholas Wade) appears to be providing some free promotion. Good Luck to him though I shall not be acquiring a copy. 

Marc Hauser, the former Harvard University psychology professor who was found by federal officials to have fabricated and manipulated data, is publishing a book on the nature of evil, “Evilicious: Desire + Denial = Cruelty.”

The former professor, who has worked with at-risk youth on Cape Cod since leaving Harvard, announced on Twitter his book would be available October 15. On his blog, he said that the book will be available through Kindle Select, as an audio book, or as a print-on-demand book. ….

At the blog Retraction Watch, two who blurbed the book—Nicholas Wade, a New York Times science reporter and science writer Michael Shermer—said that they believe in second chances.

Marc Hauser makes his comeback with “brain-training” for at-risk children

June 4, 2013

Marc Hauser who was terminated / resigned from Harvard for rather suspect data creation (the Hausergate affaire) is now making his comeback with a new enterprise called Risk-Eraser

Risk-Eraser transforms the learning and decision-making of at-risk children by building more effective programs. Our goal is to erase the risk in the lives of at-risk populations.

His program is touted as being evidence-based and involves critical thinking and “brain-training” to give a program which “helps students reach higher goals in both school and in their social lives, enables programs to run more efficiently, and empowers teachers to engage in the most exciting methods of pedagogy”. 

Google Maps: West Falmouth Hwy #376, W. Falmouth, MA, 02574

Some irony in his claim of being “evidence-based” and the line between “brain-training” and brain-washing is rather thin. Brain-washing – even in a good cause – and with vulnerable children would seem to raise a number of ethical issues.

Risk-Eraser, West Falmouth Hwy #376, W. Falmouth, MA, 02574​

Looks nice there.

Currently he is the only member of the team. A Technical team and an Advisory team are said to be “coming soon”.

Marc Hauser, PhD

I am the founder of Risk-Eraser. The company grew out of two passionate interests: to understand human nature and to improve the lives of those less fortunate.  My PhD is in the mind and brain sciences.  I was a professor at Harvard for 19 years.  I have published over 200 papers and six books. I have won several awards for my teaching, and am the proud mentor of some of the best students in my academic areas of interest; these individuals now hold distinguished professorships at major universities all over the world.

 His main transgression may have initially been due to confirmation bias and this may have led to the data “manipulation”.  I am quite sure that not everything Hauser did or does is tainted — but the real problem is that discerning what is or is not suspect is going to be difficult.

To implement any confirmation bias with “at-risk children” could I think be very destructive.  Applying “brain-washing” techniques on “at- risk” children seems itself not to be devoid of risk.

ORI finds misconduct by Marc Hauser in 4 NIH grants

September 6, 2012

Psychology is an academic discipline but it is not (yet) a science.

The Hausergate affaire followed by the Diedrik Stapel affaire only confirmed my view that psychology as an academic discipline is permeated by confirmation bias (and sometimes just plain fraud). Now the Marc Hauser affaire reaches some kind of a conclusion (at least until he has served his “sentence” and is then “rehabilitated”) with the Office of Research Integrity’s report.

Retraction Watch comments on the ORI report:

Two years after questions surfaced about work by former Harvard psychology professor Marc Hauser, an official government report is finally out.

It’s not pretty.

The findings by the Office of Research Integrity were first reported by the Boston Globe, which was also first to report the issues in Hauser’s work. They’re extensive, covering misconduct in four different NIH grants ……..

As I had posted at the end of last year, psychology as an academic discipline needs to start introducing some intellectual rigour:

That psychology is a discipline and a field of study is indisputable. That the study of human (or animal) behaviour is a worthy field and that experimentation and research are well worth pursuing is also obvious. But I am of the view that it is far from being a science.  Psychology can be considered to be a pre-science similar to alchemy. And the practitioners of psychology are similar to priests and shamans and witch-doctors and other practitioners of magic. Inevitably the field contains many charlatans.  …… In the various fields of psychology, the null hypothesis is rarely if ever brought into play. …..

…. As Paul Lutus so well puts it

…. psychology can make virtually any claim and offer any kind of therapy, because there is no practical likelihood of refutation – no clear criteria to invalidate a claim. This, in turn, is because human psychology is not a science, it is very largely a belief system similar to religion.

Data fabrication by Hauser and Stapel strengthen the view that psychology is no science

December 23, 2011

That psychology is a discipline and a field of study is indisputable. That the study of human (or animal) behaviour is a worthy field and that experimentation and research are well worth pursuing is also obvious. But I am of the view that it is far from being a science.  Psychology can be considered to be a pre-science similar to alchemy. And the practitioners of psychology are similar to priests and shamans and witch-doctors and other practitioners of magic. Inevitably the field contains many charlatans.

During 2011 the high profile cases of Marc Hauser and Diederik Stapel  where data was faked (and no matter which way the pill is coated they both fabricated data to suit their theories) only reinforces my view that their behaviour was essentially narcissistic and not uncommon in the burgeoning fields of psychology. In both cases inflated egos led to the creation of their “signature” hypotheses followed by the fabrication of data to prove their conclusions – which had already been reached! I am inherently suspicious of psychologists who are supposed scientists but who are seduced by the fame and fortunes of press adulation or tenure or who become Agony Aunts on TV.

Charles Gross writes in The Nation about the Marc Hauser affair and concludes:


Marc Hauser now accused of “theft of ideas”

October 21, 2011

The Hausergate affair seemed to have reached a sort of resolution with Marc Hauser’s resignation from Harvard – but it has come back to life with accusations from Gilbert Harman, a philosophy Professor at Princeton that Hauser’s book Moral Minds may have “stolen ideas” without sufficient attribution from the 2000 doctoral thesis of John Mikhail, a graduate student at Cornell University who is now a law professor at Georgetown University.


Harvard criticised for being too lenient with Hauser

September 1, 2011

I don’t know to what extent the Harvard Crimson represents student opinion at Harvard but it is likely that they represent at least a substantial body of opinion among the student body.  In an editorial today, they come down very hard against what they perceive as being the rather lenient treatment of Marc Hauser by the University. He was found guilty of scientific misconduct, sent on a years “gardening” leave but kept his tenure and his lab. He was then allowed to return and continue his research but was not allowed to teach. He then resigned or was allowed to or invited to resign. The University investigation seems to be over though the Office of Research Integrity investigation into the misuse of Federal grants may still be ongoing.

The Crimson thinks that allowing him to save face was a little too lenient:

In April, we argued that Harvard should have taken a more aggressive stance in response to the findings of the investigative committee and fired Hauser. Hauser’s prohibition from further research and teaching would have been a logical consequence of his actions. It would have forcefully upheld the imperative for honesty and accuracy in the sciences. Tenure, a privilege given to distinguished professors, is no shield for academic misconduct.

.. despite (a) measure of closure that Hauser’s resignation brings to this situation, it remains that the University should have taken stronger and earlier disciplinary action against him. 

.. By firing Hauser, Harvard would have sent a firm message that academic dishonesty is not tolerated. In contrast, Hauser’s resignation is an evasion of full culpability and deemphasizes the gravity of his actions. Allowing Hauser to save face and graciously depart his position offers little recourse for the multitude of scientific malfeasances that were committed.

.. Harvard undergraduates are held to high standards regarding academic discipline—professors with positions of influence should be equally, if not more, accountable for their deeds. By refusing to take bold action and instead allowing for a willing resignation, the University has downplayed the severity of his academic dishonesty.

Strong words.

Of course the University has also been criticised by Hauser’s friends and supporters  for being too hard on him!

Marc Hauser’s lobbyists get to work but only end up excusing scientific misconduct

August 9, 2011

Marc Hauser’s friends have started on the process of repairing some of the damage to his reputation brought about by his own misconduct. He has “resigned” from Harvard but – with a little help from his friends – he will no doubt pop-up with a fancy title at some other institution soon.

 The Harvard Crimson reports that a group of academics have written a “letter” criticising the investigation of Hauser’s misconducts by Harvard. The letter was written by Pierre Pica, a scientist at the National Center for Scientific Research, Bert Vaux, director of studies in linguistics at King’s College in the University of Cambridge, and Jeffrey Watumull, a Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge. Watumull previously worked in Hauser’s lab. Eight other academics including Naom Chomsky have added their signatures.

But they protest too much about one of their own. I felt on reading their letter that while they accuse Harvard of a witch-hunt and express concern about the undermining of scientific inquiry they actually end up trivialising ethical behaviour and excusing scientific misconduct. Their concern does not ring true. The letter talks about a media frenzy against Hauser but ignores the fact that nothing came up in the media until after the 3 year investigation had shown the misconduct and Hauser had taken a year’s gardening leave.

Harvard Crimson: Monday, August 08, 2011

The letter—which was signed by MIT Linguistics Professor Noam Chomsky, one of Hauser’s mentors—criticizes the scope of the inquiry into Hauser’s research, the media frenzy that followed the release of Harvard’s findings, and insinuations that Hauser’s body of work has been thrown into question by the investigation. ….

Eight academics from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Brazil signed the letter, including Harvard Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology Florian Engert. It has been circulated among top academics.

The Crimson obtained a copy of the letter—titled “Could the Process of Investigating Scientific Misconduct Undermine Scientific Inquiry?”—from the authors.

Following allegations that Hauser falsified research data, a three-year investigation into Hauser’s research found him “solely responsible for eight counts of scientific misconduct,” Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith wrote in a letter last August. Reports attributed the source of those allegations to his graduate students.

In the fallout from the investigation, Hauser took a year-long leave of absence, was then barred from teaching for another year, and ultimately resigned from his tenured position this summer.

Related: Hausergate posts

Hausergate: Marc Hauser will resign from Harvard

July 24, 2011

I was travelling last week and missed the news on the Boston Globe last Tuesday 19th July.

It brings a kind of resolution to the entire Hausergate affair. 

“Marc Hauser has resigned his position as a faculty member, effective August 1, 2011,” Harvard spokesman Jeff Neal wrote in an e-mail statement today. Hauser was a popular professor known for his research and writing on the evolutionary underpinnings of morality and the traits that make the human mind distinct from those of other animals. He took a leave of absence after a faculty investigating committee concluded a three-year investigation — first reported last August by the Globe. But he was due to return to the university this fall, a prospect that made many of his former colleagues uncomfortable.

image Harvard Gazette

A large majority of the Harvard psychology faculty had voted not to allow him to teach in the department this year, and Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith had supported the decision. “While on leave over the past year, I have begun doing some extremely interesting and rewarding work focusing on the educational needs of at-risk teenagers. I have also been offered some exciting opportunities in the private sector,” Hauser wrote in a resignation letter to the dean, dated July 7. “While I may return to teaching and research in the years to come, I look forward to focusing my energies in the coming year on these new and interesting challenges.” …..

Three published papers led by Hauser were thrown into question by the investigation — one was retracted and two were corrected. Problems were also found in five additional studies that were either not published or corrected prior to publication. ….

Harvard has said it is cooperating with a federal investigation into Hauser’s research, which is believed to be continuing. A spokeswoman for the federal Office of Research Integrity of the Department of Health and Human Services said the office cannot confirm or deny any ongoing investigations.

In an unusual step, dean Michael D. Smith wrote a letter to the faculty last year explaining that Hauser had been found “solely responsible” for eight instances of scientific misconduct, a serious transgression. The problems, Smith wrote, were not the same in each case, but involved “data acquisition, data analysis, data retention, and the reporting of research methodologies and results” — concerns that encompass many key aspects of scientific research. The letter detailed a list of possible sanctions in such cases, including involuntary leave and restrictions on a faculty member’s ability to apply for research grants or advise students, but also said that specific actions are kept confidential. 

Related: Scientist Under Inquiry Resigns From Harvard (NY Times)

 Embattled Professor Marc Hauser Will Resign from Harvard (Harvard Crimson)

Marc Hauser to resume at Harvard

July 12, 2011

Marc Hauser of Hausergate fame was found guilty of 8 instances of scientific misconduct and was sent on a “years leave” as his reward. His failings were connected with his research and but he had  (has) the reputation of being a good teacher.

Of course since he has tenure (based it would seem on rather dodgy results) it seems he cannot be fired.  The Harvard President made a vague suggestion last year that scientific misconduct could even lead to loss of tenure. An opinion piece in the Harvard Crimson called for his sacking earlier this year. In fact it may well be that getting tenure was one of the reasons that he apparently just made up some of his results. But now the Harvard Magazine reports that he will be returning to Harvard this fall after his year long sabbatical but will not be allowed to teach.

Presumably he will be continuing with his “research”!

It might have been more appropriate to rescind his tenure, put him on probation and bar him from any unsupervised research.

PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY Marc Hauser will be returning to Harvard this fall—but not to teaching. At a psychology department meeting this spring, “a large majority” of the faculty voted against allowing him to teach courses in the coming academic year, according to Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) spokesman Jeff Neal.

Hauser, who studies animal cognition as a window into the evolution of the human mind, has been on a yearlong leave of absence after a faculty investigating committee found him “solely responsible” for eight instances of scientific misconduct. The University has never said whether Hauser’s leave was related to the questions about his research.

Hausergate: In scientific misconduct “confirmation bias” or “fudging data” are equally corrupt

January 2, 2011

The Scientific American carries an article about the Marc Hauser case at Harvard. (Marc Hauser was found to have committed 8 cases of scientific misconduct).

Scientific American

Scott O. Lilienfeld argues that Hauser may only be guilty of “confirmation bias” and that it is premature to ascribe deliberate wrongdoing to him:

Hauser has admitted to committing “significant mistakes.” In observing the reactions of my colleagues to Hauser’s shocking comeuppance, I have been surprised at how many assume reflexively that his misbehavior must have been deliberate. For example, University of Maryland physicist Robert L. Park wrote in a Web column that Hauser “fudged his experiments.” I don’t think we can be so sure. It’s entirely possible that Hauser was swayed by “confirmation bias”—the tendency to look for and perceive evidence consistent with our hypotheses and to deny, dismiss or distort evidence that is not.

The past few decades of research in cognitive, social and clinical psychology suggest that confirmation bias may be far more common than most of us realize. Even the best and the brightest scientists can be swayed by it, especially when they are deeply invested in their own hypotheses and the data are ambiguous. A baseball manager doesn’t argue with the umpire when the call is clear-cut—only when it is close.

Scholars in the behavioral sciences, including psychology and animal behavior, may be especially prone to bias. They often make close calls about data that are open to many interpretations…….

………. Two factors make combating confirmation bias an uphill battle. For one, data show that eminent scientists tend to be more arrogant and confident than other scientists. As a consequence, they may be especially vulnerable to confirmation bias and to wrong-headed conclusions, unless they are perpetually vigilant. Second, the mounting pressure on scholars to conduct single-hypothesis-driven research programs supported by huge federal grants is a recipe for trouble. Many scientists are highly motivated to disregard or selectively reinterpret negative results that could doom their careers.

But I am not persuaded. When “eminent” scientists use their position and power to indulge in “confirmation bias” it is merely a euphemism for what is still cheating by taking undue advantage of their position. It is “corruption” in its most basic form. I reject the notion that such “confirmation bias” is a form of  “unwitting behaviour”. It may well be behaviour which resides in the sub-conscious but that is not “unwitting” behaviour. Neither is it excusable just because it may be in the sub-conscious. It gets into the sub-conscious only because the conscious allows it to do so. When any behaviour residing in the sub-conscious conflicts with the values and morality of an individual it is inevitably ejected into the conscious.  Being sub-consciously immoral but consciously moral is not feasible.

In the case of Marc Hauser, even assuming that his faults were due to “confirmation bias” then either it was behaviour which remained entirely in the sub-conscious in which case his values and morality are suspect, or it was triggered into the conscious and he continued anyway in which case it was simple cheating.

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