Posts Tagged ‘hausergate’

Marc Hauser actively manipulated data

May 30, 2014

Marc Hauser – and his supporters – have generally maintained that his misconduct was – at worst – negligence and certainly inadvertent. But the Boston Globe today reports on an internal Harvard report (obtained under FoI) which details wrongdoings rather more deliberate and sinister than Hauser and his friends have ever acknowledged or admitted.

The report is fairly damning.

Boston Globe:

But a copy of an internal Harvard report released to the Globe under the Freedom of Information Act now paints a vivid picture of what actually happened in the Hauser lab and suggests it was not mere negligence that led to the problems. 

The 85-page report details instances in which Hauser changed data so that it would show a desired effect. It shows that he more than once rebuffed or downplayed questions and concerns from people in his laboratory about how a result was obtained. The report also describes “a disturbing pattern of misrepresentation of results and shading of truth” and a “reckless disregard for basic scientific standards.”

A three-member Harvard committee reviewed 40 internal and external hard drives, interviewed 10 people, and examined original video and paper files that led them to conclude that Hauser had manipulated and falsified data.

Their report was sent to the federal Office of Research Integrity in 2010, but it was not released to the Globe by the agency until this week. ……… Much has been redacted from the report, including the identities of those who did the painstaking investigation and those who brought the problems to light.

Hauser, reached by phone Thursday, said he is focused on his work with at-risk youth on Cape Cod and declined to comment on the report.

The manipulation reported dates back at least to 2002 where he reported (presumably manufactured) data on a videotape of monkey responses which did not exist. In 2005 he altered data to make what was statistically insignificant become significant. Also in 2005, he discarded data after it had been found by a subordinate to have been inconsistent (presumably manipulated). Later, he tried to claim his mail ordering the discarding of the data as evidence of his innocence:

“These may not be the words of someone trying to alter data, but they could certainly be the words of someone who had previously altered data: having been confronted with a red highlighted spreadsheet showing previous alterations, it made more sense to proclaim disappointment about ‘errors’ and suggest recoding everything than, for example, sitting down to compare data sets to see how the ‘errors’ occurred,”

In 2007,

 a member of the laboratory wanted to recode an experiment involving rhesus monkey behavior, due to “inconsistencies” in the coding. “I am getting a bit pissed here. There were no inconsistencies!” Hauser responded, explaining how an analysis was done. 

Later that day, the person resigned from the lab. 

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.

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.


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)

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.

Marc Hauser’s apologists are getting organised

November 2, 2010

Earlier posts have described a Harvard investigation led by the Dean of the Faculty of the Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith which found Marc Hauser responsible for eight counts of scientific misconduct. Hauser has been “sentenced” to “book leave” for the year.

Some academics – together with some luke warm support from the CHE and the New York Times – seem to be starting a campaign to ease his way back into the academic world. But they give me the impression of merely being apologists. Perhaps – they say – he just made innocent mistakes. Or that the difficult subject of cognition is prone to errors. Maybe he got a raw deal! Unfortunately it all seems like a PR exercise now. Damage control and the hell with the questionable ethics of a Professor who specialises in cognition and ethics.

But it seems to me to be conveniently forgotten that he has already been found guilty – on eight counts just at Harvard. The onus of proof has shifted. The assumption must now be of guilt  – not of innocence. His work dating at least back to 1995 is suspect.

At least the Harvard Crimson is not (at least not yet) joining the circle of protective wagons beginning to form around Hauser:

Professor Hauser is set to return to campus next year after his leave is over. However, we believe that the University should implement some sort of consequence when he returns—a penalty that is on par with the severity of his actions. Although it would be helpful if Harvard would release more information on the eight counts of misconduct that it uncovered, it is likely prohibited from doing so by the regulations surrounding ongoing legal proceedings.

Update: Two more papers retracted by Mount Sinai

September 24, 2010
Mount Sinai School of Medicine logo.png

Image via Wikipedia

There is an epidemic of retractions.

Retraction Watch reports that Gene therapy researcher Savio Woo has retracted two more papers in addition to the 4 retracted earlier.

Mount Sinai School of Medicine researcher Savio Woo, whom Retraction Watch reported last week has already retracted four papers from major journals as two postdocs have been fired from his lab, has retracted two more from Molecular Therapy: The Journal of the American Society of Gene Therapy.

The two papers, both from 2007, were “Metabolic Basis of Sexual Dimorphism in PKU Mice After Genome-targeted PAH Gene Therapy” and “Correction in Female PKU Mice by Repeated Administration of mPAH cDNA Using phiBT1 Integration System.” As Nature noted in its coverage of the other retractions, the papers apparently followed from a now-retracted paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that, as we noted in a previous post, “claimed to have discovered a possible cure for phenylketonuria, or PKU, in mice.”

Li Chen and Zhiyu Li were the pot-docs implicated.

Harvard President says Hauser could lose tenure

September 22, 2010
Statue of John Harvard, founder of Harvard Uni...

John Harvard: Wikipedia

The Boston Globe reports on an interview of Harvard’s President Drew Gilpin Faust by former ABC correspondent Charlie Gibson.

The discussion, billed as a start-of-the-school year address, was held at Sanders Theatre and broadcast over the Internet. In response to Gibson’s question about why Marc Hauser remained on the faculty even after the university found him guilty of eight instances of scientific misconduct, Faust said Harvard is addressing the issue. “Integrity is absolutely fundamental in everything we do,’’ Faust said. “We have a process we have undertaken, and that process still has some part to continue because it involves federal funds.’’ Cases of scientific misconduct could result in a loss of tenure, Faust said.

Gibson said the silence from the university has been “somewhat deafening,’’ and raised the possibility that the lack of response could call into question Harvard’s research integrity and have financial implications. But Faust replied that Harvard has moved to depart somewhat from its normally confidential proceedings, in order to correct the scientific record, though it remains mindful of ongoing federal investigations. “Announcing that there were indeed findings, that was unprecedented,’’ she said.

Whether the Harvard President is actually trying to maintain and protect integrity or merely engaging in damage control is unclear. The second part of the Boston Globe article is about the honouring of Martin Peretz and how Harvard is swallowing its principles and seems to show that there is a price at which Harvard is prepared to compromise integrity.

But meanwhile the wagons continue to circle.

Bert Vaux who is a former Professor of Linguistics at Harvard University and Jeffrey Watumull who is a PhD student in Linguistics and a member of Hauser’s lab have rushed to his defence in The Harvard Crimson.

“In our experience, Marc Hauser is the consummate scientist—the most disinterested, the most rational, the most ethical. We are proud to be his colleagues. However, we are less than proud of those in the cognitive sciences reacting publicly to Hauser’s case with irresponsible impatience (disrespect for due process), unjustified slurs, and half-baked conjectures. All are interested in the truth, but as scientists we ought to consider the case reasonably and measuredly, with objectivity and fairness”.

But they forget that his nonsense started at least as long ago as 1995. One wonders whether Hauser’s defenders are part of a concerted damage control exercise. Methinks they do protest too much.

The onus of proof has shifted.

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