Harvard Finds Psychology Researcher 'Solely Responsible' for Scientific Misconduct

August 20, 2010

The Harvard University psychologist Marc Hauser was "solely responsible" for eight instances of scientific misconduct in his lab, a university committee has found, according to an e-mail message sent to faculty members on Friday by the university's dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

The message is the fullest account provided by the university so far of the investigation into Mr. Hauser's work. Ever since news of the investigation was broken by The Boston Globe, the university has been criticized for remaining mostly silent on the nature of the allegations.

In the message, the dean, Michael D. Smith, said that after "careful review of the investigating committee's confidential report and opportunities for Professor Hauser to respond, I accepted the committee's findings and immediately moved to fulfill our obligations to the funding agencies and scientific community and to impose appropriate sanctions."

He did not reveal what those sanctions are, though he writes that possible sanctions could include "involuntary leave, the imposition of additional oversight on a faculty member's research lab, and appropriately severe restrictions on a faculty member's ability to apply for research grants, to admit graduate students, and to supervise undergraduate research." Mr. Hauser is currently on leave from Harvard.

The message says, as had already been reported, that there were problems with three published papers, which are being either corrected or retracted. But it also says that there were issues with five other studies that never made it to publication. The problems with both the published and unpublished studies included "data acquisition, data analysis, data retention, and the reporting of research methodologies and results."

An internal document obtained this week by The Chronicle told the story of how research assistants and a graduate student in Mr. Hauser's laboratory went to administrators after becoming convinced that the professor was reporting bogus data. In that case, the study in question was never published.

Dean Smith's message says that the university is cooperating with inquiries by the Office of Research Integrity in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, by the National Science Foundation's Office of Inspector General, and by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts.

Mr. Hauser has so far said nothing publicly about the allegations. The professor is director of Harvard's Cognitive Evolution Laboratory and is the author of Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong (Ecco, 2006) and is at work on a forthcoming book titled Evilicious: Why We Evolved a Taste for Being Bad. He has been voted one of the university's most popular professors.

Update (August 21, 10:50 a.m., U.S. Eastern time): In a statement he released late Friday, Professor Hauser acknowledged only that he had made "some significant mistakes," not that he had committed the research misconduct of which he has been accused. He also said he was "deeply sorry for the problems this case has caused to my students, my colleagues, and my university."