So, a couple of days ago, Gilbert Harman, Philosophy Professor at Princeton, wrote four pages arguing that Marc Hauser’s 2006 book, Moral Minds: How Nature Designed our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, plagiarized the work of John Mikhail. I mentioned it and linked to it in my Sunday Linkasaurolophus post.
Since then, the paper has been taken down from Harman’s website.
Apparently, Harman did not intend for the argument to be made public. It was more like brainstorming, a first step at putting together “the case for the prosecution,” as Harman puts it. It was a draft that he had meant to be presented only to a small circle, as Harman explained here:
For the record, my discussion was intended as a draft of a case for the prosecution and not a final verdict on this topic. I thought I was making it available for only a few people in order to get comments, but apparently it has had a somewhat wider audience than I intended. In the light of various comments I have received, I need to rethink the “case”, something I cannot do immediately, so I have removed that version from my web site.
Interestingly, my earlier post received an anonymous comment from someone claiming to be a student of Hauser’s. The comment stated that Harman’s piece was retracted, and that Hauser could not possibly have had a culture of fear in his lab, since he has trained so many successful scientists, and has won awards for teaching and mentoring.
I mention that just to point out two things. First, based on Harman’s own comment, the piece has not been retracted so much as it has been shelved until Harman has more time. When and if he puts something together that he is willing to stand behind in a public forum, it might be less critical of Hauser, or it might be more critical. We’ll just have to wait and see. In any event, I don’t think that the removal of the piece should necessarily be viewed as a repudiation of the original claims. Certainly, it seems reasonable to assume that the facts that Harman presented wil not change, even if his interpretation of them does.
Second, yes, Hauser has a reputation as a gifted communicator, teacher, and mentor. Yes, Hauser has trained a lot of successful scientists. And, I have no doubt that there are people out there who think very highly of him, at least highly enough to anonymously defend him in blog comment threads.
However, none of that is inconsistent with the portrayal of Hauser’s lab presented by other lab members, which paints Hauser as, at best,
dismissive impatient, and, at worst, a bit of a bully.
That being said, my use of the phrase “culture of fear” to describe Hauser’s lab may have been a bit over the top.
I’ll keep my ear to the ground, and will post anything new that comes up on the Harman piece. In the meantime, if you’re interested in the whole Hauser saga, David Dobbs wrote several nice posts on it, four of which you can find (in chronological order) here, here, here, and here.