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Harvard Researcher Guilty of Scientific Misconduct

The high-profile researcher Marc Hauser, whose work on infants and other primates makes bold claims about human nature and evolution, has been found responsible for eight instances of scientific misconduct and is taking a leave of absence from his Harvard lab.

Hauser has worked for decades with infants and non-human primates to look at the evolutionary roots of traits like morality and the development of language and math.  He’s one of the most prominent scientists in the field—helping us understand how babies come into the world already equipped with certain skills and knowledge.

He showed that infants, as well as a certain species of monkey, have the ability to learn the building blocks of algebra.  But now it seems he may have purposefully fabricated the results to make monkeys and babies appear similar in their abilities.  And it was members of his own team who called him out.Apparently, his graduate students raised a red flag years ago saying that they believed him to be making up data.  An investigation has been going on for three years now and Harvard has been criticized for not being transparent about the whole affair.  But last Friday the university made a public statement confirming that Hauser was “solely responsible” for the misconduct. As reported by the Chronicle for Higher Education, internal email documents suggest he mis-coded the behavior of the monkeys in his study to show that they were able to learn basic math concepts (when in fact, they weren’t).

Hauser’s contributions to the field of primate and human baby research will be under a close microscope for the near future.  But out of his huge body of work, only three published papers were in question, so hopefully most of what he has done is legitimate.  It’s just unfortunate that he took a sketchy detour.

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