Posts Tagged ‘marc hauser’

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 (et al including Chomsky) is back on language evolution

May 1, 2014

The rehabilitation of Marc Hauser continues and he along with many others have just published a review about language evolution in Frontiers in Psychology.  Links to the Abstract and the paper (provisional) are given below but they argue that the “explosion of research in the last 40 years” has made little progress. Essentially, they say (to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld) :

With regard to the biological evolution of language, we don’t know much and we don’t even know what we don’t know. But now we can at least list some areas that we know that we don’t know. 

Hauser is the lead author and gives his affiliation as Risk Eraser which is engaged in brain training for kids at risk.

Marc D. Hauser, Charles Yang, Robert C. Berwick, Ian Tattersall, Michael Ryan,Jeffrey Watumull, Noam Chomsky and Richard Lewontin, The mystery of language evolution, Front. Psychol., doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00401

Abstract: Understanding the evolution of language requires evidence regarding origins and processes that led to change. In the last 40 years, there has been an explosion of research on this problem as well as a sense that considerable progress has been made. We argue instead that the richness of ideas is accompanied by a poverty of evidence, with essentially no explanation of how and why our linguistic computations and representations evolved. We show that, to date, 1) studies of nonhuman animals provide virtually no relevant parallels to human linguistic communication, and none to the underlying biological capacity; 2) the fossil and archaeological evidence does not inform our understanding of the computations and representations of our earliest ancestors, leaving details of origins and selective pressure unresolved; 3) our understanding of the genetics of language is so impoverished that there is little hope of connecting genes to linguistic processes any time soon; 4) all modeling attempts have made unfounded assumptions, and have provided no empirical tests, thus leaving any insights into language’s origins unverifiable. Based on the current state of evidence, we submit that the most fundamental questions about the origins and evolution of our linguistic capacity remain as mysterious as ever, with considerable uncertainty about the discovery of either relevant or conclusive evidence that can adjudicate among the many open hypotheses. We conclude by presenting some suggestions about possible paths forward.

Not knowing something we don’t know at least moves it into the realm of things we know we don’t know and as such is quite valuable. 
The very readable paper (provisional) is available hereHauser Provisional Evolution of language

Another case of data manipulation, another Dutch psychology scandal

April 30, 2014


Jens Förster denies the claims of misconduct and has sent an email defending himself to Retraction Watch.


One would have thought the credentials of social psychology as a science – after Diedrik Staple, Dirk Smeesters and Mark Hauser – could not fall much lower. But data manipulation in social psychology would seem to be a bottomless pit.

Another case of data manipulation by social psychologists has erupted at the University of Amsterdam. This time by Jens Förster professor of social psychology at the University of Amsterdam and his colleague Markus Denzler. 

Retraction Watch: 

The University of Amsterdam has called for the retraction of a 2011 paper by two psychology researchers after a school investigation concluded that the article contained bogus data, the Dutch press are reporting.

The paper, “Sense Creative! The Impact of Global and Local Vision, Hearing, Touching, Tasting and Smelling on Creative and Analytic Thought,” was written by Jens Förster and Markus Denzler  and published in Social Psychological & Personality Science. ….

Professor Jens Förster

Jens Förster is no lightweight apparently. He is supposed to have research interests in the principles of motivation. Throughout my own career the practice of motivation in the workplace has been a special interest and I have read some of his papers. Now I feel let down. I have a theory that one of the primary motivators of social psychologists in academia is a narcissistic urge for media attention. No shortage of ego. And I note that as part of his webpage detailing his academic accomplishments he also feels it necessary to highlight his TV appearances!!!!

Television Appearances (Selection) 

Nachtcafé (SWR), Buten & Binnen (RB), Hermann & Tietjen (NDR), Euroland (SWF), Menschen der Woche (SWF), Die große Show der Naturwunder (ARD), Quarks & Co (WDR), Plasberg persönlich (WDR), Im Palais (RBB), Westart (WDR)

They love being Darlings of the media and the media oblige!

As a commenter on Retraction Watch points out, Förster also doubles as a cabaret artist! Perhaps he sees his academic endeavours also as a form of entertaining the public.

Rolf Degen: I hope that this will not escalate, as this could get ugly for the field of psychology. Jens Förster, a German, is a bigger name than Stapel ever was. He was repeatedly portrayed in the German media, not the least because of his second calling as a singer and a cabaret artist, and he has published an enormous amount of books, studies and review papers, all high quality stuff

This revelation occurs at a bad time for Förster, write the Dutch media. He is supposed to work as “Humboldt professor starting from June 1, and he was awarded five million Euros to do research at a German university the next five years. He is also supposed to cooperate with Jürgen Margraf – who is the President of the “German Society for Psychology” and as such the highest ranking German psychologist.

Bora! Bora! Bora! Could this be SciAm’s Pearl Harbour?

October 17, 2013

This is a sorry tale. And Scientific American and their Blogs Editor, Bora Zivkovic are covered in the proverbial effluent. Scientific American’s editor-in-chief Mariette DiChristina has not covered herself with very much glory. Biology Online has tarnished what little reputation it had.

It all started as an unpleasant little incident when DN Lee, a scientist and a blogger at Scientific American, was called a “whore” by an “editor” at biology-online because she declined (very politely) to contribute free material for that site. She took exception to being called such names and blogged about it at her SciAm blog. The idiot who had referred to her in such terms was dismissed.

Then Scientific American made a fool of itself.  It removed her blog post. (All the rest follows only as a consequence of that one action).

Scientist and science communicator @DNLee5 declined an offer to blog for free from and got called a ‘whore’.  @DNLee5 posted a thoughtful response on herScientific American‘s blog The Urban Scientist.  A short time later, her response vanished

Scientific American editor-in-chief Mariette DiChristina also made herself out to be very economical with the truth. First she explained that the post was inappropriate and then – when the noise mounted –  said it had been removed for legal reasons. After the fire storm the post was reinstated.

But that was not all. Monica Byrne recounted her story. This Happened by Monica Byrne. The apparently well respected (in some circles) Bora Zivkovic, Blogs Editor for Scientific American, was a regular wolf in sheep’s clothing. His reputation in the blogosphere as being very helpful to women bloggers now seems to have been built on a hidden agenda. (Zivkovic is known as being hypocritical in other circles).

Priya Shetty was astonished at the silence on the blogosphere and was scathing in her article. Silence she argued was condoning the behaviour (as it was).

Bora apologised  – but not before the critical comments had escalated to a level which made it impossible to stay silent. This was when DN Lee’s post was reinstated by Scientific American.  And then further details emerged that this was not just some isolated incident but appeared to be a pattern in Bora’s behaviour.

(UPDATE!  And yet another “But he didn’t just make a mistake, apologize, atone and change his behavior. He harassed, and kept harassing”)

Andrew Maynard performed some ethical calisthenics and suggested that Bora had done so much good that he didn’t deserve to be named and shamed. He deserved “compassion”! He only managed to come out as an apologist for Bora — but his ethical standards came up rather short (in my opinion). The use of positions of power (actual or implied) for sexual harassment cannot be excused – I think – in any circumstances. Greg Laden is another blogger who tries to appear objective but comes out as an apologist for his friend Bora. (I recall that he tried in a very similar style to excuse the disgraced Marc Hauser – also apparently a friend). So I think Greg Laden’s excuses for the wrongdoings of establishment figures are to be discounted.

But the bottom line is that it took much too long for SciAm to show any kind of support – if it could even be called support – for DN Lee. The grudging reinstatement of her post hardly redresses the balance. The many friends of Bora are either silent or are drafting carefully worded apologia in his support. SciAm is now contorting itself to ensure that Bora’s position at SciAm is not jeopardised. I don’t see how SciAm can avoid a public rebuke for Bora.

Shades of Pearl Harbour! Bora! Bora! Bora! will be etched in SciAm’s psyche for some time to come.

(For those who can’t remember the movie Tora! Tora! Tora!  is the Japanese code-word used to indicate that complete surprise had been achieved at Pearl Harbour)

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.

Another headline chasing psychologist is censured

August 7, 2013

What is it about social psychology and psychologists that causes them particularly to chase notoriety and public attention even to the extent of faking data? Diedrik Stapel and Marc Hauser being recent high profile cases. Could it just be that they are all suffer from a narcissism which can only be satisfied by generating headlines and generally being in the limelight?

Now a certain Geoffrey Miller – supposedly an “evolutionary psychologist” – has been publicly censured by New York University  for essentially behaving like an idiot and then lying about it. After tweeting a stupid and offensive remark he then tried to pass it off as part of a research project! He has now apologised – a bit late – and deleted the tweet. But his self-promotional intentions were recognised. Apparently he researches into how the human mind evolved. (Or as is pretty obvious –  didn’t evolve for some).

“The Tweeting activities of associate professor Geoffrey Miller did not rise to the level of research,” said a statement from the IRB on the university’s website.

“The board concluded that Miller’s Tweets were self-promotional in nature and did not follow research criteria which require specific research questions or hypotheses, systematic methods for collection quantitative and/or qualitative data and criteria for selecting respondents.”

He is an Associate Professor at the University of New Mexico and visiting NYU

The Times Higher Education covers the developments:

A US professor who Tweeted that if overweight PhD applicants “didn’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs” then they “won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation” has been formally censured by his university.

Geoffrey Miller Twitter page

Geoffrey Miller Twitter page

Geoffrey Miller, associate professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico, apologised after sending the Tweet, which he subsequently deleted. He later told UNM it had been part of a research project – a claim dismissed by the university

The institution has now formally censured Professor Miller for “misrepresenting to his department chair and colleagues the motivation for a Tweet”. 

“Miller at first claimed his Tweet was part of a research project, but investigations by the Institutional Review Board at New York University where he was a visiting professor, and the IRB at UNM where he is a tenured professor, concluded that was not correct,” a statement from his university read. 

As part of the censure, Professor Miller will be required to develop “a plan for sensitivity training as it pertains to obesity” in cooperation with the UNM psychology department, and apologise to colleagues for his behavior. 

Professor Miller, who can appeal the censure, will also have his work monitored by the chair of the psychology department, and will be assigned a faculty mentor for three years, with whom he will meet on a regular basis to discuss potential problems.

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.


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