Evolutionary psychology gets busted by the morality squad?
|September 1, 2010||Posted by O'Leary under Evolutionary psychology, Evolutionary biology|
Caroline Crocker, of American Institute for Science and Technology Education (AITSE), writes me to comment,
Scientific Integrity and Dr. Hauser
Can being disorganized lead to scientific fame?
Harvard University scientist Marc Hauser became famous for his work in cognitive evolution. As a psychologist who investigates the neurological basis for morality and works with primates and people, you would think he would know better than to, at the least, keep inadequate records or, much worse, fabricate data. But, Dr. Hauser is on “academic leave” after a Harvard University faculty committee found him “solely responsible for eight counts of scientific misconduct”.
The history of the problems is long, starting in 1995, but the Harvard investigation was only initiated in 2007. Perhaps enough students had complained or maybe the comments from peers were becoming too embarrassing. Now Michael Ruse’s concern is that the field of evolutionary biology itself will suffer from bad publicity.
But surely this should not be the main concern! Dr. Ruse makes the point that Dr. Hauser may have been under pressure to attract grant money, graduate students, and postdoctoral students–and this is mostly accomplished through publication. The pressure may have been exacerbated by the fact that Dr. Hauser holds a prestigious position at a leading university. In other words, Dr. Hauser may have succumbed to political, financial or even ideological temptation to forgo scientific integrity–thereby publishing at least three unsubstantiated scientific papers, possibly misleading numerous other scientists, and wasting countless tax dollars.
What is the answer? Raising the profile of scientific integrity in our nation. We need, as Kate Shaw said, to “encourage responsible science, experimental replication, and an even more thorough review process.”
Many will know Crocker as the scientist who got the boot from George Mason University for questioning the Prophet Darwin. I understand she will be posting here after she finalizes her book.
That said, here’s The Edge on Marc Hauser:
Along with Irv Devore, he teaches the Evolution of Human Behavior class, a Core Course at Harvard with 500 undergraduate students. The interdisciplinary course, “Science B29” (nickname: “The Sex Course”), has been running for 30 years, was started by Devore and Robert Trivers, and is the second most popular course on campus, behind “Econ 10”. Section teachers over the years comprise a who’s who of leading thinkers and include people such as John Tooby and Leda Cosmides, and Sarah B. Hrdy. In 1997-98, he sponsored a trial run of “Edge University” in which the students in Science B29 received Edge mailing as part of required reading in the course.
Not wanting to dance on anyone’s grave, I must nonetheless say that I think the evolutionary biologists had this one coming. They had been warned years ago to disassociate themselves from the tabloid-friendly speculations of “evolutionary psychology.”
I never believed Hauser’s theories anyway. Basically, if morality “evolved” in the same way that, say, noses evolved, just about everyone would have it. But just about everyone doesn’t have it, as many have discovered to their cost.
Look at it like this: The local street capo is much more closely related genetically to the local “good neighbour” type than humans are to chimpanzees or gorillas. He could be his twin brother. So it might be better to look in a direction other than biological evolution if we want to understand morality.
And there is really little evidence that great apes have any important system of morality, because it probably requires cognition beyond their reach and is unnecessary to their needs.
(Note: I am sympathetic to researchers who want to protect great apes, but doubt that the solution lies in trying to show that they are just like us. It can too easily end in stuff like this.)