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Psychologist Marc Hauser on Leave

8.10.10

Professor of psychology Marc Hauser, who studies animal cognition and has written popular works including Moral Minds: How Nature Designed a Universal Sense of Right and Wrong (2006), will be on leave for the coming academic year. This morning's Boston Globe reports that the leave follows an internal investigation that found "evidence of scientific misconduct" in Hauser's laboratory and led to the retraction of a journal article for which he was the lead author.

Cognition editor Gerry Altmann confirmed that a forthcoming issue will include a retraction of a 2002 study that found that cotton-top tamarin monkeys are able to learn patterns. The retraction says only that: "an internal examination at Harvard University...found that the data do not support the reported findings," and that Hauser "accepts responsibility for the error." It does not explain the nature of the data problems. Altmann, a psychology professor at the University of York in England, said he received the retraction request from Hauser himself and did not receive further explanation.

University administration would not comment on the circumstances surrounding Hauser's leave. Spokesman Jeff Neal wrote:

As a general policy, reviews of faculty conduct are considered confidential. As a result, I cannot assist you with information specific to any individual Harvard scholar. However, speaking in general and not about any specific individual or case, we take our faculty conduct policy seriously. We have a robust policy and we follow a well defined and extensive review process. In cases where we find misconduct has occurred, we report, as appropriate, to external agencies (e.g., government funding agencies) and correct any affected scholarly record.

Hauser could not be reached for comment; a recorded message on his office phone said he would be on leave from July 1, 2010, through the fall of 2011.

In general, Hauser's work examines animal behavior as a window into the evolution of human cognition. He has argued that animals possess some of the mental faculties long thought of as unique to humans, but that what makes humans unique is the ability to combine these faculties in novel ways and to apply them innovatively to new purposes—for instance, not just using a knife to chop vegetables, but to open a box or stab an intruder who enters one's home. His 2000 book, Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think, cautioned against assuming that animals possess humanlike emotions just because they sometimes behave in ways that look like human expressions of emotion.

Hauser has taught at Harvard since 1992. He was named a Harvard College Professor, an honor that recognizes excellence in teaching, in 2002.

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