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Slate reporter muses on Harvard’s recent evolutionary psychology scandal

Thumbnail for version as of 00:32, 25 February 2009

cottontop tamarin, St. Louis Zoo, courtesy ltshears

At Slate , reporter David Dobbs muses (May 2, 2011) on the Marc “but the monkeys talk to ME!” Hauser research scandal, which he covered:

First, let’s recall that “scientific misconduct” in this case does not mean sloppy work; it means, by the NIH definitions Harvard uses in such investigations, either plagiarism (not on the table here) or the manipulation or fabrication of data. Extremely serious charges. I covered this heavily last year here at Neuron Culture and in a wrap-up at Slate.

Given the seriousness of those findings from Harvard, many wondered if Hauser would be fired. Harvard has kept its cards close, however, probably for a mix of legal and strategic reasons, and probably too because a federal investigation is apparently underway, as sometimes happens if a researcher is accused of particularly egregious misconduct in research using federal funds. As a result, the Hauser news feed stayed quiet for a while. But it livened up over the last two weeks.

[ ... ]

If the Harvard administration thinks it can avoid this issue, I hope they’ll think again. Doing otherwise feeds the impression that the university grants stars like Hauser the sort of exemption the Crimson [campus newspaper] complains of. Whatever Harvard decides about Hauser — and not deciding is the worst decision of all — it needs to make the standards and the process far more transparent than it has so far.

Dobbs doesn’t address the possibility, one way or the other, whether the whole business of trying to prove that monkeys think like people was ripe for some sort of disaster.

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2 Responses to Slate reporter muses on Harvard’s recent evolutionary psychology scandal

  1. 1
    CannuckianYankee

    Well it’s simple really: the “research” was predicated on some basic Darwinian assumptions; that we are like they (the monkeys), and it wouldn’t be surprising to find correlations. But such “correlations” weren’t found to be striking enough to confirm the Darwinian assumptions, so a little wigie-wamming of the data was in order.

    My question: Is this an isolated incident, or does this sort of thing happen more often than we think?

  2. Cannuckian at 1, come home, we have work to do.

    Seriously, I personally suspect that much primate research is rubbish. Many animals can develop a relationship with humans. The human interprets the relationship.

    Did you ever have an Aunt Marge who KNEW that her cat understood her?

    That could not possibly be true in any reasonable sense, but I have no doubt that if she and the cat had shared an apartment for 12 years, the cat knew a great deal about her habits and tendencies and how to manipulate them as needed. That’s all the cat ever had to do to come out ahead in life, so he does it.

    If cat study was as well funded as primate study, someone could sure enough write a thesis on the cat’s mental abilities but – if Occam’s razor is still sharp – most of it can be put down to the fact that the cat in question does not need his limited mental abilities to hunt for food. So he uses them to attempt to control the human who is the source of his well-being.

    A smart decision, but not his decision exactly. He does not think, but something in him thinks, as Teilhard said.

    About that, Teilhard was right.

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