Hauser Replies to Citation Allegations

Former Harvard psychology professor Marc D. Hauser responded publicly to Princeton philosophy professor Gilbert Harman’s accusation that Hauser failed to adequately credit another scholar in his 2006 book, Moral Minds.

Hauser resigned from the University in August after a three-year-long internal investigation found him guilty of eight counts of scientific misconduct.

Harman recently posted an essay on his website claiming Hauser’s book drew unfairly from Georgetown law professor and then-Cornell graduate student John Mikhail’s doctoral thesis. He has since posted Hauser’s two page response to the accusations.

“Some of the central ideas of Hauser’s book and many of its details seemed to me to be clearly indebted to Mikhail’s work, although this indebtedness was mostly unmentioned,” Harman wrote.

The essay discusses the similarities between Mikhail’s and Hauser’s work and raises the question of whether Hauser’s borrowing of ideas constitutes plagiarism.

Harman cited specific instances where he believes Mikhail deserves credit and lists various universities’ policies, including Harvard’s, that define theft of ideas as plagiarism. He declined to comment for this article.

Hauser’s response acknowledged Mikhail’s intellectual influence on his thinking but defended his citations as adequate.

According to Harman’s essay, Hauser cites Mikhail nine times in Moral Minds, including in the acknowledgments, where he wrote, “A special thanks ... to John Mikhail, whose thesis on Rawls’ linguistic analogy greatly influenced my own thinking.”

The “primary intellectual influence” for Moral Minds was MIT linguistics professor Noam Chomsky, Hauser wrote in his response.

“These accusations confuse ordinary intellectual influence for malfeasance, while grossly distorting the history of my ideas and their influence,” Hauser wrote.

“They gloss the important difference between an empirical synthesis/trade book and a philosophical treatise/academic book,” he wrote.

Harman noted in his essay that some of his colleagues disagree with his accusation that Hauser did not sufficiently cite Mikhail in his book as well as with his suggestion that it may constitute plagiarism.

Harman wrote that some of his colleagues say the “standards of appropriate citation are considerably relaxed for writing aimed at a wider audience.”

In his response, Hauser made a similar point. Harman’s standards, Hauser wrote, set up “criteria for citations that would make libraries of books and journal publications guilty, wrongly so.”

But whether or not Hauser’s work constitutes plagiarism, Harman wrote, it does make “inappropriate use of Mikhail’s work.”

—Staff writer Gautam S. Kumar can be reached at gkumar@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Julia L. Ryan can be reached at jryan@college.harvard.edu.

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