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The Waiting Game

With the federal investigation pending, Hauser and Harvard hold their breath

By Julia L. Ryan and Kevin J. Wu, Crimson Staff Writers

Three years ago, Harvard investigators began collecting videos and computer files from the lab of Marc D. Hauser, the popular psychology professor and best-selling author.

But the investigation was kept under wraps by the University until, facing media scrutiny, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith confirmed in August that an internal investigation had found Hauser “solely responsible for eight counts of scientific misconduct.”

As speculation abounded on the type of “scientific misconduct”—which Harvard defines as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism—the professor took a leave of absence and retreated to his home on Cape Cod to work on his new book.

Because Hauser received federal funding for his research, the committee in charge of the Harvard investigation turned over its findings to the Office of Research Integrity in accordance with federal policy.

Now, despite a condemning internal investigation, Harvard finds itself in the unfamiliar position of waiting for another body to dictate the future of a professor who was once a prized member of its faculty.

NO COMMENT

Smith has been silent on the details of Hauser’s case since confirming the “eight counts of misconduct.”

But he said at the time that ORI regulations dictated what information could be released.

“Funding agency regulations govern our process during the investigation and our obligations after our investigation is complete,” he wrote in an Aug. 20 letter to the Faculty.

The investigation found fault in three of Hauser’s published articles, leading to the retraction of one and the correction of two others to edit or remove unsupported findings, Smith said. In five other instances, the studies called into question either remained unpublished or were corrected before publication.

Beyond these findings, the University has not commented on the federal investigation or the precise nature of Hauser’s misconduct.

“Our investigative process will not succeed if individuals do not have complete confidence that their identities can be protected,” Smith wrote at the time.

Following calls for greater transparency, Smith said in the letter that he would create a committee to review Harvard’s policies regarding academic misconduct and the level of secrecy surrounding the process. The University’s Office of the Provost has since led the committee.

“The Provost’s office determined that the issues of concern were not unique to the FAS and established a committee to review communications and confidentiality policies related to potential instances of academic misconduct from a University-wide perspective,” wrote FAS spokesperson Jeff Neal in a statement. The committee is expected to make recommendations to the Provost this summer, he said.

‘AN EPISTEMIC BIND’

Nine months after the federal investigation became public, Psychology Department Chair Susan E. Carey ’64 threw her hands up in frustration.

“It could take seven years,” she said in an interview with The Crimson last week. “It’s really, really a mess.”

An ORI investigation into a case like Hauser’s typically takes weeks to months to reach its conclusions, according to Ann Bradley, a spokeswoman for the ORI. But if Hauser chooses to appeal the body’s findings, the process could drag into years, Bradley said.

While the federal body conducts its own investigation and reviews Harvard’s findings, the Psychology Department has been forced into a waiting game.

Carey said that she has not been made privy to the details of the University’s investigation.

But in February, the Psychology Department—whose jurisdiction extends to Hauser’s courses but not to his research—barred Hauser from teaching and advising in the 2011-2012 academic year.

Carey said that Harvard’s findings of “misconduct” provided sufficient grounds to prohibit Hauser from teaching.

But until more information on the nature of the misconduct is revealed, Carey says the department will refrain from making a long-term decision.

“Since we’re in an epistemic bind, we feel that we can’t make a permanent [decision],” Carey said. “The reason we only did it for one year is that we’re waiting for the ORI to make its findings public.”

Following the department vote, Smith barred Hauser from teaching across FAS in the coming academic year.

Yet Hauser remains a tenured faculty member in FAS, and it is unclear what role he will play on campus next year.

A tenured faculty member has never faced dismissal proceedings from FAS for research misconduct, but according to the American Association of University Professors, misrepresentation, falsification, and ethical or policy violations are legitimate reasons for termination of tenure.

REPLICATING THE RESULTS

In the midst of public speculation, Hauser has remained largely silent. In a statement made last August, Hauser admitted to making “some significant mistakes,” But he refrained from commenting on whether he committed scientific misconduct and has declined to discuss the ongoing investigation.

And in a statement published in conjunction with the retraction, Hauser took responsibility for an “error,” but did not speak to the possibility of the University’s more severe charge of “misconduct.”

He declined to comment for this article.

But in the three years between the start of the investigation and the official announcement of the University’s findings, Hauser made preliminary efforts to clear his name.

In 2008, aware that he was under investigation, Hauser traveled with two of his research collaborators to Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico to replicate two of the studies called into question.

Two years later in July 2010, a biological research journal called The Proceedings of the Royal Society B published one of the replications, which confirmed the original findings of the 2007 corrected study, “Rhesus monkeys correctly read the goal-relevant gestures of a human agent.”

Then, in April 2011, the journal Science published a replication that Hauser performed in 2008 of the other corrected study called into question by the investigation. Again, Hauser confirmed the findings of his original study.

Scientists in the field have debated how far these replications go in vindicating Hauser.

In an editorial posted on the science blog RealClearScience last Tuesday, Pierre Pica, a linguist and Research Fellow at the National Center of Scientific Research in Paris, said the replications of Hauser’s studies “call into question the accusations of fabrication and falsification.”

Others have called the replications irrelevant to Hauser’s case, both because they were conducted by Hauser himself and because they do not prove an absence of misconduct in the original study.

“Ultimately it’s not a question of whether he can replicate his findings—it’s whether other people can,” said Gordon G. Gallup Jr., a psychology professor at University at Albany, State University of New York who has publicly questioned Hauser’s body of research.

“They need to be independently replicated by other competent scientists in the field.”

A ‘PREMATURE’ DISCUSSION

Carey said commenting on Hauser’s situation at the present juncture is unproductive.

“Each of us has heard rumors, and each of us has our own opinions about what Hauser probably did or did not do,” Carey said. “But those opinions are really worth nothing. The due process goes through the Committee on Professional Conduct and ORI.”

Members of the Psychology Department have not commented on their colleague, seconding Carey’s belief that speculation is useless until the federal investigation releases its findings.

“First, I have no knowledge of the facts of this case to contribute to the discussion,” wrote psychology professor Elizabeth S. Spelke in an email to The Crimson. “Second, the investigation of Professor Hauser is ongoing, making any responses to your questions premature.”

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

—Staff writer Kevin J. Wu can be reached at kwu@college.harvard.edu.

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Tags
Sciences DivisionFacultyYear in ReviewCommencement 2011Marc Hauser