Former Harvard University psychologist Marc Hauser has admitted to making “mistakes” in his research that led to the findings of research misconduct announced today by the US Office of Research Integrity (ORI), which polices research funded by the US National Institutes of Health.
“I let important details get away from my control, and as head of the lab, I take responsibility for all errors made within the lab, whether or not I was directly involved,” says Hauser in a statement sent to Nature by e-mail. The ORI says that he neither admits nor denies committing research misconduct.
In August 2010, the Boston Globe broke news that an internal investigation at Harvard, which is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had found evidence of misconduct in work by Hauser, who was prominent in the fields of evolutionary linguistics and psychology and also wrote extensively for the lay public. A paper Hauser had published in the journal Cognition was retracted, but the nature of his transgressions remained unclear and, after Harvard refused to release its investigation report on the case, supporters of Hauser sprang to his defence, attributing errors in his research to sloppy record-keeping, not fraud.
Those who had hoped to find out who was right when the ORI closed the case might be disappointed, however. Although the ORI finding does conclude that Hauser published “fabricated” data in the Cognition paper and “falsified” the results of other, unpublished experiments on tamarin monkeys, it remains silent on whether his fabrication and falsification were intentional.
At least one supporter still thinks that it wasn’t. “The ORI finding is consistent with an interpretation of the case as involving errors in data analysis and record-keeping, not serious fraud,” says Jeffrey Watumull, a PhD student in linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and at Cambridge University, UK, who previously co-authored a paper with Hauser and has spoken publicly in his defence. “It’s interesting the sanctions are not punitive.” The ORI stopped short of banning Hauser from raising federal funding for research in the future, but says that he has agreed to submit a supervisory plan if he does so.
Bert Vaux, a linguist at Cambridge University and another supporter of Hauser’s, says that he finds the ORI report reasonable, but questions the amount of time, energy and money that the government has spent investigating the case.
A spokeswoman for the US Department of Health and Human Services, which houses the ORI, did not provide access to officials with knowledge of Hauser’s case before Nature’s deadline. According to the National Institutes of Health website, the US government spent US$223,860 in one year on just one of four grants raised by Hauser that were used in part to fund research affected by the misconduct.