Harvard announces Hauser was found guilty of misconduct, NIH ORI notified

August 20, 2010

ScienceInsider has published a letter from Harvard Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Michael Smith, addressed to his faculty.

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 [Faculty of Arts and Sciences] standards.

The dean notes that their internal inquiry is over but that there are ongoing investigations from the NIH and NSF. So my curiosity turns to Hauser’s NIH support- I took a little stroll over to RePORTER.

From 1997 to 2009 there are nine projects listed under the P51RR000168 award which is the backbone funding for the New England Primate Research Center, one of the few places in which the highly endangered cotton top tamarin is maintained for research purposes. The majority of the projects are titled “CONCEPTUAL KNOWLEDGE AND PERCEPTION IN TAMARINS”. RePORTER is new and the prior system, CRISP, did not link the amounts but you can tell from the most recent two years that these are small projects amounting to $50-60K.

Hauser appears to have only had a single R01 “Mechanisms of Vocal Communication” (2003-2006).

Of course we do not know how many applications he may have submitted that were not selected for funding and, of course, ORI considers applications that have been submitted when judging misconduct and fraud, not just the funded ones. One of the papers that has been retracted was published in 2002 so the timing is certainly such that there could have been bad data included in the application.

The P51 awards offer a slight twist. I’m not totally familiar with the system but it would not surprise me if this backbone award to the Center, reviewed every 5 years, only specified a process by which smaller research grants would be selected by a non-NIH peer review process. Perhaps it is splitting hairs but it is possible that Hauser’s subprojects were not reviewed by the NIH. There may be some loopholes here.

Wandering over to NSF’s Fastlane search I located 10 projects on which Hauser was PI or Co-PI. This is where his big funding has been coming from, apparently. So yup, I bet NSF will have some work to do in evaluating his applications to them as well.

This announcement from the Harvard Dean is just the beginning.

No Responses Yet to “Harvard announces Hauser was found guilty of misconduct, NIH ORI notified”

  1. Miles Says:

    Wow. Any idea where it goes from here? I’ve never seen such a scandal, but I assume he can’t stay there.


  2. Neuro-conservative Says:

    Based on Hauser’s statement, it appears he intends to do just that.

    Research and teaching are my passion. After taking some time off, I look forward to getting back to my work, mindful of what I have learned in this case. This has been painful for me and those who have been associated with the work.

    Hey, DM, maybe you should fake up some hawt monkey pseudoscience — if you get caught, just hang out for a year, write a book about how evolution made you do it, and, if you have to, apologize to Oprah!


  3. To be fair, I can’t find (in a brief search) any clear explanation of what went wrong. There’s presumably a difference between defrauding the system and making bad (but well-intended) mistakes in handling your data. Not that either should be okay for a scientist to do, but with the latter we could tolerate him going back to research while the in the former case he should probably be blacklisted in academia.


  4. Neuro-conservative Says:

    I believe the phrase is “modified limited hangout.”


  5. DrugMonkey Says:

    It is up to Harvard and their policies/procedures. Hauser’s quote in the NYT today certainly sounds like he thinks he is going to return to research and teaching in the future.

    if ORI or the NSF inspector agree that there was misconduct on federal funding he could be facing at least a three year ban on federal funds. dunno how that goes over at Harvard. presumably he’s tenured..


  6. Neuro-conservative Says:

    You would have to think that revocation of tenure would be possible in these circumstances, although the dean did not mention that as a potential outcome of the investigation.


  7. To be fair, I can’t find (in a brief search) any clear explanation of what went wrong. There’s presumably a difference between defrauding the system and making bad (but well-intended) mistakes in handling your data.

    Part of the role of the investigative committee is to distinguish between bad science and intentional mishandling of data and/or fraud. The Harvard FAS policies on research state:

    “Research misconduct” or “misconduct in research” includes fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results.

    Fabrication is making up data or results and recording or reporting them.
    Falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record.
    Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit.

    Research misconduct does not include honest error or differences of opinion.

    The investigating committee found Hauser responsible for misconduct–and the dean accepted the finding. This would suggest that they have sufficent evidence to believe that whatever happened was indeed intentional. Maybe he just threw out the data that didn’t agree, but that is still scientific misconduct. I suspect we won’t know the full extent of what exactly happened until NIH and NSF release their findings, which could take quite a while longer–amirite, DM?


  8. DrugMonkey Says:

    the timing between original misconduct and the issuance of an ORI finding amounts to years, yes. that’s from reading the ORI findings. hard to know in prior cases how much of the interval is the internal process before ORI is notified though…gotta be at least a year or two in ORIland I would think


  9. nightsongfire Says:

    Here’s a discussion on what went wrong on the Medical Writing, Editing & Grantsmanship blog .


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