Hauser In the News—Again

The University should not change its handling of Hauser’s case

The case of Psychology Professor Marc D. Hauser’s alleged fabrication of research has only gotten more convoluted. Previously, a Harvard investigation led by the Dean of the Faculty of the Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith found Hauser responsible for eight counts of scientific misconduct, and Hauser is currently on book leave for the year—a decision that was made after the allegations surfaced. Just as all the noise about the situation calmed down, Gerry Altmann, the editor of the psychology journal where Professor Hauser published the work that is being debated and Hauser’s principal accuser, suggested that there was a possible alternative explanation for the data that Hauser published, but that he still concluded that the data was more likely fabricated, given the evidence he had been presented. Still, Altmann asked that people “allow the process to conclude.”

Even with Altmann’s assertions, we still strongly believe that the situation has not shifted dramatically. Although many people have been sympathetic to Professor Hauser, including two former colleagues who vigorously defended Hauser as “the consummate scientist—the most disinterested, most rational, the most ethical,” neither the Harvard community nor the larger public should immediately jump to conclusions about Hauser’s innocence. Hauser has already been found guilty as part of a three-year long Harvard internal investigation which resulted in the current controversy and forced him to make corrections to a 2007 study he published in a scientific journal. Given these extensive findings, the innocent until proven guilty maxim can no longer be fully applied in this situation: Indeed, Hauser has been proven guilty of some charges by Harvard even if the federal investigation does not come to the same conclusion.

Professor Hauser is set to return to campus next year after his leave is over. However, we believe that the University should implement some sort of consequence when he returns—a penalty that is on par with the severity of his actions. Although it would be helpful if Harvard would release more information on the eight counts of misconduct that it uncovered, it is likely prohibited from doing so by the regulations surrounding ongoing legal proceedings. If such information can be released, however, we hope that Harvard will share it with the public. Likewise, we would like to hear from Hauser a solid explanation of the events that transpired in his lab—as much of a defense as he can offer without going against any rules that prevent him from disclosing certain information while under federal investigation.

The situation with Hauser is regrettable for all parties involved. Yet, until the federal investigations conclude, we must stick to the facts that are currently clear. Ultimately, new comments by Dr. Altmann do not shift the core facts of the situation: Hauser continues to be under federal investigation for a good reason, and he is guilty in the eight cases Harvard discovered. The University would do well to proceed as such for the near future.

CORRECTION: November 2, 2010

An earlier version of the Oct. 28 editorial "Hauser in the News—Again" stated that Gerry Altmann had retracted his accusations about Hauser's data. In fact, Altmann had suggested that there was a possible alternative explanation for the data that Hauser published, but that he still concluded that the data was more likely fabricated, given the evidence he had been presented. The Crimson regrets the error.

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