• October 25, 2014

Dean's Letter Confirms Allegations of Scientific Misconduct Against Hauser

 

Michael D. Smith, dean of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, sent the following e-mail message to members of the faculty on August 20, 2010, to describe findings of scientific misconduct against Professor Marc Hauser:

Dear faculty colleagues,

No dean wants to see a member of the faculty found responsible for scientific misconduct, for such misconduct strikes at the core of our academic values. Thus, it is with great sadness that I confirm that Professor Marc Hauser was found solely responsible, after a thorough investigation by a faculty investigating committee, for eight instances of scientific misconduct under FAS standards. The investigation was governed by our long-standing policies on professional conduct and shaped by the regulations of federal funding agencies. 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.

Harvard, like every major research institution, takes a finding of scientific misconduct extremely seriously and imposes consequential sanctions on individuals found to have committed scientific misconduct.

Rigid adherence to the scientific method and scrupulous attention to the integrity of research results are values we expect in every one of our faculty, students, and staff.

In brief, when allegations of scientific misconduct arise, the FAS Standing Committee on Professional Conduct (CPC) is charged with beginning a process of inquiry into the allegations. The inquiry phase is followed by an investigation phase that is conducted by an impartial committee of qualified, tenured faculty (the investigating committee), provided that the dean, advised by the CPC, believes the allegations warrant further investigation. The work of the investigating committee as well as its final report are considered confidential to protect both the individuals who made the allegations and those who assisted in the investigation. Our investigative process will not succeed if individuals do not have complete confidence that their identities can be protected throughout the process and after the findings are reported to the appropriate agencies. Furthermore, when the allegations concern research involving federal funding, funding agency regulations govern our processes during the investigation and our obligations after our investigation is complete. (For example, federal regulations impose an ongoing obligation to protect the identities of those who provided assistance to the investigation.) When the investigation phase is complete, the investigating committee produces a confidential report describing their activity and their findings. The response of the accused to this report and the report itself are considered by the dean, who then decides whether to accept the findings, and in the case of a finding of misconduct, determine the sanctions that are appropriate. This entire and extensive process was followed in the current case.

Since some of the research in the current case was supported by federal funds, the investigating committee's report and other supplemental material were submitted to the federal offices responsible for their own review, in accordance with federal regulations and FAS procedures. Our usual practice is not to publicly comment on such cases, one reason being to ensure the integrity of the government's review processes.

A key obligation in a scientific misconduct case is to correct any affected publications, and our confidentiality policies do not conflict with this obligation. In this case, after accepting the findings of the committee, I immediately moved to have the record corrected for those papers that were called into question by the investigation. The committee's report indicated that three publications needed to be corrected or retracted, and this is now a matter of public record. To date, the paper, 'Rule learning by cotton-top tamarins,' Cognition 86, B15-B22 (2002) has been retracted because the data produced in the published experiments did not support the published findings; and a correction was published to the paper, 'Rhesus monkeys correctly read the goal-relevant gestures of a human agent,' Proceedings of the Royal Society B 274, 1913-1918 (2007). The authors continue to work with the editors of the third publication, 'The perception of rational, goal-directed action in nonhuman primates,' Science 317, 1402-1405 (2007).

As we reported to one of these editors, the investigating committee found problems with respect to the three publications mentioned previously, and five other studies that either did not result in publications or where the problems were corrected prior to publication. While different issues were detected for the studies reviewed, overall, the experiments reported were designed and conducted, but there were problems involving data acquisition, data analysis, data retention, and the reporting of research methodologies and results.

Beyond these responsibilities to the funding agencies and the scientific community, Harvard considers confidential the specific sanctions applied to anyone found responsible for scientific misconduct. However, to enlighten those unfamiliar with the available sanctions, options in findings of scientific misconduct 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.

To ensure compliance with the imposed sanctions, those within Harvard with oversight of the affected activities are informed of the sanctions that fall within their administrative responsibilities.

As should be clear from this letter, I have a deeply rooted faith in our process and the shared values upon which it is founded. Nonetheless, it is healthy to review periodically our long-standing practices. Consequently, I will form a faculty committee this fall to reaffirm or recommend changes to the communication and confidentiality practices associated with the conclusion of cases involving allegations of professional misconduct. To be clear, I will ask the committee to consider our policies covering all professional misconduct cases and not comment solely on the current scientific misconduct case.

In summary, Harvard has completed its investigation of the several allegations in the current case and does not anticipate making any additional findings, statements, or corrections to the scientific record with respect to those allegations. This does not mean, however, that others outside Harvard have completed their reviews. In particular, Harvard continues to cooperate with all federal inquiries into this matter by the PHS Office of Research Integrity, the NSF Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts.

 

Respectfully yours,

Michael D. Smith

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

 

Comments

1. swish - August 23, 2010 at 10:00 am

There may be cases of unwarranted latitude extended to misbehaving faculty, but in this case, after this kind of open letter, seems to me he'll surely be fired if he doesn't resign.

2. cwinton - August 23, 2010 at 10:07 am

While it is tempting to treat scientific misconduct as somehow akin to plagiarism in the more general realm of academic misconduct, it needs to be recognized that the scope of an incident of plagiarism is far less likely to be as far reaching as one of scientific misconduct. The fabrication of the plagiarist is claiming credit for someone else's work, not the fabrication of the data supporting that work. In other words, an act of plagiarism is unlikely to undermine the validity of a line of inquiry, including the work of others, which is exactly what scientific misconduct does.

We treat students (and in truth most academics) very harshly for plagiarism, especially when it is proven to be blatent and persistent. From what has been revealed, it appears Mr. Hauser's scientific misconduct has been blatent and persistent. How Harvard chooses to handle his case is their business, but one hopes the actions they take will be more severe than would be the case if one of their scholars of similar repute was found to have been claiming others written work as their own.

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