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Fail for Hauser. Win for Science

Marc Hauser has been a rising star on the science scene for several years.  He’s published lots of articles, written books, and given lots of speeches.  Riding largely on the coattails of Elizabeth Spelke, a bona-fide star in the field of human infant cognition, Hauser was set to revolutionize the way we think of primates and moral development.

And then the shit hit the fan.  Three years ago, university officials seized his hard drive and other records after multiple complaints from staff and students that his work was possibly scientifically suspect or even fabricated in some instances.

After a lengthy investigation, it turns out that there was a lot of truth to the allegations.  It’s still somewhat unclear whether there was outright impropriety in the form of fabricating results or whether various omissions, commissions, and “inconsistencies” were due to piss poor record keeping and sloppy data gathering.  But all of that is an issue for the ethics committee.

The upshot of all this, regardless of Hauser’s eventual academic fate, is that the suspect research is being pulled from journals, and that future scientists will not cite it in support of their own work.  And that is why science is awesome.  It doesn’t always catch its mistakes right away, but eventually, the truth almost always comes out.

In fact, this little fiasco highlights two of the qualities of science that make it so reliable.  It is slow, tedious, and rigorous, and it is removed from its authors.  Generally speaking, new scientific ideas are met with resistance.  Especially when they overturn previously held foundational beliefs.  I recall seeing a Science Channel special on Gamma Ray Bursts, intense energy discharges from distant galaxies.  When they were discovered, the consensus was that they could not possibly come from outside the galaxy.  The first scientist to propose such an outlandish idea was shouted down from all sides.  But he and others persevered, and soon the evidence was undeniable.  Today, astronomers agree.  They are from outside our own galaxy.

Granted, there were certainly some professional careers on the line, and politics were involved.  That’s a sad but intractable reality since research needs funding.  But in the end, what saved the day was the replication of results and persistence of evidence.  It was a slow process, but because of its rigorous protocols and methodical pace, the strength of the end result was undeniable.

Importantly, the observations of gamma ray bursts were replicated by other scientists all over the world.  Had everything relied only on the testimony of one researcher, there might have been no progress at all.  But science doesn’t require anybody special to do the work.  All it requires is that the work is done in the same way.  If fifty people run an experiment in exactly the same way and all fifty get the same results, then we can trust the results.

These same strengths are what contributed to Marc Hauser’s fall from grace.  He tried to get ahead of himself.  He rushed experiments through without proper protocols or record keeping.  He was more interested in getting the results he wanted than following where the evidence led.  And he got caught.

How awesome would the world be if religion followed the same rigorous standards!



9 thoughts on “Fail for Hauser. Win for Science

  1. Not os fast Hamby,

    I thought Atheists were supposed to be critical thinkers.
    Did any of this pathetic development cause you to cast any doubts about the various theories of evolution of morality?

    Did you even question why scientists need to fabricate an evolutionary theory to get favorable results?

    Did this cause you to consider retracting many of your statements regarding the evolution of morality much of which will now most definately be called into question?

    Nah, because evolution is a fact inspite any data to the contrary…right hamby.


    Posted by PG | September 7, 2010, 11:16 pm
  2. No, PG. This guy’s research was faulty, and he got called out for it. For what it’s worth, the idea of “morality modules” in primates is interesting but doesn’t have any particular bearing on the moral theory of development in humans specifically, anymore than say a gibbon’s monogamy has anything to do with the bonobo’s polygamy.

    Posted by hambydammit | September 8, 2010, 12:58 am
  3. Hamby,
    Either you are engaging in intillectual dishonesty or you are ingnorant of Hausers fraudulent work as it relates to your blogging on the subject matter of human morality is breathtaking.

    First Ill asume that apparently you are not familiar with his research and book:
    “Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong”

    “How do humans develop their capacity to make moral decisions? Harvard biologist Hauser (Wild Minds) struggles to answer this and other questions in a study that is by turns fascinating and dull. Drawing on the linguistic theories of Noam Chomsky, Hauser argues that humans have a universal moral grammar, an instinctive, unconscious tool kit for constructing moral systems”.

    Any of that sound vaguely familiar to any of your preaching on human morality?

    Heres more on your evolutionary morality notions…

    It seems now all of his research as well as the entire field of evolutionary psychology is now suspect!..

    Here is a great article for you to read:

    Morality Check: When Fad Science Is Bad Science
    ‘Evolutionary psychologists tell elaborate stories explaining modern life based on the conditions and circumstances of our prehistoric ancestors—even though we know very little about those factors. “Often, the fact that their story seems to make sense is the only evidence they offer,” Mr. Ryan wrote. “For them, it may be enough, but it isn’t enough if you’re aspiring to be taken seriously as a science.”

    Yeah, we now await your upcoming retractions Hamby!


    Posted by PG | September 8, 2010, 2:01 am
  4. PG, you’ve proven repeatedly that you have no idea what the evolutionary model of moral development looks like, so I can’t imagine what you would gain from me giving you any kind of an in depth answer. So I’ll repeat myself one last time and then leave you in Trollsville.

    Hauser’s work proposed an interesting theory dealing with some of the foundational elements of moral development. It was proposed well after scientists already had a very good understanding of the evolutionary function of morality. It is not a foundation upon which everything rests. It would have been — had it proved true — an interesting twist which would have made scientists rethink some aspects of the timeline and functionality of moral development. But it is not foundational. That is, the evolutionary model of morality doesn’t stand or fall on its truth.

    It’s sort of like the debate between Gould/Lewontin and everybody else over punctuated equilibrium vs. gradualism. But then, I have no hope that you grasp those concepts either, so I’ve just wasted five minutes of my life for no return on investment.

    Posted by hambydammit | September 8, 2010, 2:04 pm
  5. Hamby,

    It is painfully obvious that you didnt read my accompaning article. The article dealt with the entire field of evolution of morality, not just Hausers work! Apparently your “Evolutionary model of morality” is just storytelling, but dont let the facts get in the way of your beliefs Hamby!

    Christopher Ryan is co-author of the recent book “Sex at Dawn,” itself an exercise in plumbing our prehistoric survival strategies for explanations of the modern human condition. But he is well aware of the limits of evolutionary psychology. “Many of the most prominent voices in the field are less scientists than political philosophers,” he cautioned last summer at the website of the magazine Psychology Today.

    Evolutionary psychologists tell elaborate stories explaining modern life based on the conditions and circumstances of our prehistoric ancestors—even though we know very little about those factors. “Often, the fact that their story seems to make sense is the only evidence they offer,” Mr. Ryan wrote. “For them, it may be enough, but it isn’t enough if you’re aspiring to be taken seriously as a science.”

    Will this information cause you to start thinking critically about continuing to write your weekly drivel posing your philosophy on morality as science?

    Sadly, no! Atheism is a really powerful religion! it doesent change like science does when facts contrary to its ideals are presented!


    Posted by PG | September 8, 2010, 3:15 pm
  6. All right, PG. Explain to me the basics of Hauser’s theory and then tell me what Ryan says about the same topic. Just the nutshell version will do.

    If you haven’t read and comprehended either of them, then you’re just a chattering blow-hard on the sidelines, right?

    (Pssst. I have read both, so I’ll know if you’re lying. But then, I honestly don’t think you know enough about evolution to even fake your way through it. By all means… prove me wrong.)

    Posted by hambydammit | September 8, 2010, 3:30 pm
  7. Neither of the first two links PG posted lead to anything useful. The first to a book on Amazon, the second to a missing article. The last to a an article where the author says that because the claimants use words like probably they are basically guessing.

    That’s not exactly how it works. When a scientists says probably, he actually means that the balance of the evidence, in his opinion, is more with this conclusion than any other, that he is aware of. Why would the failure of this scientist to properly do his work do anything but undermine his work, and possibly any worked based on it? If anything Hamby is making an excellent point, science is self correcting due to ti’s requirement for evidence and repeatability.

    Score: Science 1, Idiots 0.

    Posted by Alex Hardman | September 8, 2010, 5:09 pm
  8. PG sometimes gets on these kicks. Response is only necessary if you’re bored. I’m pretty sure that somewhere on the interwebz, his picture is displayed next to “Self-Pwn.”

    Posted by hambydammit | September 8, 2010, 5:38 pm
  9. Hamby,

    And there you have it. A prominent evolutionary phsycologist Christopher Ryans readily admits that his work and the work of others cannot be taken seriously as a real science and the Atheists simply choose to ignore it!

    Why, because it means Bloggers such as Hamby can no longer pose their psychology drivel as real science. Will Hamby stop the nonsense? Doubt it. We all know that a religion such as Atheism will never corrects itself.

    Most Scientists doing research in the hard sciences dont consider the soft sciences to be legitimate. Like it or not evolutionary psyhcology now has a huge credability issue not only with scientists, but with the general public as well.

    But hey Hamby, dont let the factst interfere with your belief system…


    Posted by PG | September 9, 2010, 1:30 pm

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