Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

March Hauser: The Denoument

I missed it at the time, but it turns out the Boston Globe obtained Harvard's internal investigative report a couple of weeks ago and it's about as ugly as can be.

To whit:

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.”
In a pistachio shell, when his experiments didn't get the results he wanted, he changed the data.

I find this very difficult to understand. Post docs competing for the dwindling share of faculty appointments, assistant professors desperately striving for tenure, frustrated non-entities seeing no chance for glory, yeah, they have motives to cheat and you can make all sorts of arguments about how academic culture, the social organization of science, the competition for grant funding as public support for science yo-yos, all contribute to scientific misconduct.

But none of this applied to Hauser. He was already tenured at Harvard, already famous, already positioned to suck up all the funding he needed. He had no discernible motive for fraud. And his general program of research does not appear to be a tissue of fraud; it's just some particular experiments that didn't go his way. People often write that an experiment "failed." There's no such thing. If it's well done, then the result is informative, no matter what it is. Maybe it turns out that your idea for a warp drive won't allow you to travel faster than light after all, but now you know something that you didn't know before. Maybe your monkeys can't figure out how to do division, but now you know. It still counts, and it has the virtue of being true.

Evidently Hauser is out on Cape Cod somewhere working with at risk youth. I hope he isn't purporting to be a role model.

No comments: