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Cognition editor says Hauser may have fabricated data

Evolutionary psychologist Marc Hauser may have fabricated data in a 2002 publication, according to the editor of the journal, Cognition.

The Boston Globe today reports that Gerry Altmann, editor-in-chief of the journal, says that he has seen some of the findings of Harvard University’s internal misconduct investigation of its famed psychologist. According to that investigation, there was no record of some of the data reported in the paper as a graph.

“The graph is effectively a fiction,” Altmann told the Globe. “If it’s the case the data have in fact been fabricated, which is what I as the editor infer, that is as serious as it gets."

Hauser retracted the paper following the investigation, but gave no clear explanation of why. For more about the investigation and the 2002 paper, check out ‘Harvard probe kept under wraps’.

Update: In a statement, Altmann clarified for us what was missing in the videotapes.


In the 2002 Cognition paper, Hauser and his colleagues reportedly trained cotton-top tamarins to recognize two different “grammars”. These grammars were patterns in the sequence of syllables, for instance “wi wi di” (AAB) vs. “le we we” (ABB). One group of monkeys was trained on the first pattern, and the other group trained on the second pattern.

The investigators then played these sounds on a hidden loudspeaker, and watched the monkeys to see if they turned to look in the direction of the sound more often when they heard a different “grammar” than the one to which they were accustomed. Hauser and his colleagues claimed that they did, suggesting that the monkeys were able to distinguish between two underlying grammars. But Altmann says that, according to the Harvard investigation, Hauser lacked the critical control data showing how often the monkeys turned toward the loudspeakers when hearing their familiar grammar. “Perhaps they would turn round as often if they heard anything coming from that speaker,” Altmann wrote. “The experiment as run did not allow any conclusions to be drawn regarding monkeys’ ability to distinguish between different grammatical patterns.”

And that has led Altmann to conclude that the data were likely fabricated. “I am forced to conclude that there was most likely an intention here to deceive the field,” he says. “This is, to my mind, the worst form of academic conduct.” But this is just conjecture, he adds, and Harvard’s investigation gave no explanation for the discrepancy between what was on the tapes and what was in the paper. “Perhaps, therefore, the data were not fabricated,” he allows. “But I do assume that if the investigation had uncovered a more plausible alternative explanation (and I know that the investigation was rigorous to the extreme), it would not have found Hauser guilty of scientific misconduct.”

“Simply losing your tapes isn’t misconduct,” he added in a phone interview.

Comments

  1. Report this comment

    Clayton Burns said:

    to bruce.alberts@ucsf.edu,

    seyfarth@psych.upenn.edu,

    date Sat, Aug 14, 2010 at 2:19 PM

    subject ScienceInsider—Wieman.

    Dr. Bruce Alberts:

    The first Jeffrey Mervis post in ScienceInsider on Carl Wieman’s appointment shows “0 Comments.” But in fact, as you will see below, my comment was posted for weeks until it was deleted. Given that the

    comments on even older posts remain, I find it odd that my comment was

    removed.

    Could you ask Jeffrey Mervis why this has happened?

    In a subsequent post, Jeffrey Mervis noted that he had an opportunity

    to ask questions of Carl Wieman on the issues related to his appointment. But he appears to have avoided the topic of the Dvorak

    letter. UBC has a director of biology, who told me that Wieman has some difficulties in working with people. He also questioned the full

    applicability of Wieman’s methods to biology.

    In the context of UBC’s media-documented historical problems with

    informed consent, and its equally documented employment of university

    counsel and security to suppress information, I find this deletion

    very strange. Clayton Burns Vancouver Canada 604 222 1286.

    Carl Wieman Chosen for White House Science Post

    by Jeffrey Mervis on March 22, 2010 7:11 PM | Permanent Link | 0 Comments

    Physicist Carl Wieman has been picked to be associate director for

    science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

    A 2001 Nobelist for creating a new form of matter known as a

    Bose-Einstein condensate, Wieman has since become a leader in the effort to reform U.S. undergraduate education. He divides his time between the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, in Canada, and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

    The science slot, which also oversees education, is one of four associate director positions at OSTP. Today’s announcement was the president’s intent to nominate him. The nomination requires

    confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

    ScienceInsider – breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

    Carl Wieman Chosen for White House Science Post

    by Jeffrey Mervis on March 22, 2010 7:11 PM | Permanent Link | 1 Comment

    Physicist Carl Wieman has been picked to be associate director for

    science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

    (OSTP).

    A 2001 Nobelist for creating a new form of matter known as a

    Bose-Einstein condensate, Wieman has since become a leader in the effort to reform U.S. undergraduate education. He divides his time between the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, in Canada, and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

    The science slot, which also oversees education, is one of four associate director positions at OSTP. Today’s announcement was the president’s intent to nominate him. The nomination requires

    confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

    Showing 1 comment

    Clayton Burns [Moderator] 1 hour ago

    One might have thought that there would have been some mildly critical digging on the part of USA Today, New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal on this story. I find Carl Wieman to be well organized, capable of making a good presentation with effective

    use of information technology, and a persuasive lecturer with a high energy level.

    However, I think that it would be fair to ask Wieman about the following letter from Dr. Marcel Dvorak to the National Post. The President of UBC has refused to comment on this letter. Does what

    Dvorak wrote reflect in part downstream effects of styles of science

    teaching and the broken interface between the life sciences and arts subjects such as the teaching of English and the terms of biology and medicine?

    Copyright National Post Company Mar 29, 2008

    Re: The Ugly Face Of Medicare, John Turley-Ewart, March 28.

    Unfortunately, Jennie’s story is not at all unusual in our health care

    system. The quality of care she received is directly related to the

    lack of capacity at multiple levels within the public health care

    system. For a number of years, governments have equated numbers of

    physicians and surgeons directly with health care costs and have tried

    unsuccessfully to control the latter by restricting the former. The paradox is that Jennie’s life-long disability is likely to be more costly to society than it would have been to provide adequate surgical

    manpower to provide her the timely surgical care and rehabilitation she required.

    I have had the privilege to train over 30 surgeons in a spine fellowship program at the Vancouver General Hospital and the

    University of British Columbia. Out of these, only seven are practising spine surgery in Canada. As a country, we train enough surgeons, but we do not have opportunities for them. At the University

    of British Columbia we are in the process of doubling our medical school class size, however, without beds and operating time, we are simply providing highly trained physicians and surgeons for other

    countries.

    In the past week or two, I could relate to you stories similar to Jennie’s, but with the diagnoses of misdiagnosed spine fractures, paralysis due to metastatic cancer to the spine that was undiagnosed for weeks and gradual paralysis due to spinal stenosis (an easily

    treatable degenerative condition).

    I am amazed at the lack of public outcry regarding the lack of access to appropriate care, and I often reflect that if we treated our pet animals the same way we treat many of our patients, the outcry from animal rights groups would be deafening.

    Dr. Marcel Dvorak, head, Division of Spine, Vancouver Coastal Health

    and University of British Columbia.

    That is the first question that I would ask Carl: What is your analysis of this Dvorak letter? Do you think that clicking and multiple choice could ameliorate the diagnostic syndromes described by Dvorak? There have been complaints about the overuse of the clicker in biology at UBC. Can we see the evidence, the UBC course evaluations, so that we can assess the effectiveness of clicking for ourselves?

    After the Amy Bishop matter, I thought that the President of the USA would say that to get federal funding all American universities would have to have open performance reviews and course evaluations. Strangely, he did not seem to grasp the issue at all. What is Carl’s explanation of the somewhat painful and confused set of practices in relation to course evaluations at UBC?

    The second most important question for Carl is the Regina v. Hwi Lee judgment of Judge R.D. Fratkin April 28, 2009. When I went over to the Richmond courthouse to get the judgment, I found that it was not at all in demand. The Korean student Hwi Lee made threats against

    biosciences at UBC. He was terrified of making oral presentations. Instead of helping to strengthen high school biology in BC so that such problems would be identified and dealt with far earlier, UBC

    appeared not to be able to grasp the language issues at all. An indirect reflection perhaps of how Carl tends to devalue language. I was stunned when he told me that language and science are totally separate, so that clearly he would not be able to understand how

    international students would need enriched English (or French) programs to thrive in science in America or Canada.

    UBC has been afflicted for at least a dozen years by professors in the English department teaching their own books instead of adopting

    some of the most remarkable products of the corpus revolution in

    linguistics, such as the COBUILD English Grammar and Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. Carl Wieman gave me the impression that it would be pointless to discuss with him the language factor in science. He apparently can’t orient to this issue at all.

    Carl, do you have the Hwi Lee judgment? What is your assessment of this judgment?

    It is not only in first-year English that UBC is struggling with

    chaotic practices. Nor is UBC to blame more than many other universities in that the interface between the arts and sciences is

    fractured. It is impossible to understand why universities do not

    construct terms of biology courses, for example, based on first- and

    second-year biology texts, many of which are superior. Such courses

    should employ as their models corpus methods in linguistics. Perhaps

    the AAAS could review all the terms of biology and medicine courses in

    the USA and Canada and choose the least mechanistic and most powerful. If you can find any such course.

    Therefore, if America had serious education journalists, at least two of the subject areas—Dvorak, Hwi Lee, arts-sciences interface, English for science students—would have been fully explored by now.

    We see today in the papers that national reading skills continue

    to register as “mediocre.” Well, no wonder. If analytical depth in

    education reporting just does not exist, you cannot expect improvement.

    Clayton Burns PhD Vancouver claytonburns@gmail.com (604 222 1286)

  2. Report this comment

    mutuelle said:

    Hauser msut be sure before publishing a data.He must not fabricate such stuffs which we will consider to be true.Harvard is a prestigious university around the world.And its name is really menioned in the field of psycholgy.And I guess that the people working at Harvard are not mere human beings.They must be very brilliant to have got that post.Harvard’s investigation gave no explanation for the discrepancy between what was on the tapes and what was in the paper.Looking forward for more info.

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