Journal Editor Says He Believes Retracted Hauser Paper Contains Fabricated Data

Evidence of bad behavior by Harvard University cognitive scientist Marc Hauser continues to mount. Today Gerry Altmann, the editor of the journal Cognition, posted a statement on his blog saying that his review of information provided to him by Harvard has convinced him that fabrication is the most plausible explanation for data in a 2002 Cognition paper. The journal had already planned to retract the paper.

The paper in question addressed whether monkeys can learn to distinguish abstract rules underlying patterns of syllables played through a loudspeaker. The paper's conclusion that cotton-top tamarins can learn these types of rules surprised some researchers, who believed that this was a uniquely human talent related to our ability to learn language. The findings fit with a broader theme in Hauser's work: that the cognitive gap between humans and monkeys is not as great as widely supposed.

Altmann writes on his blog that the Harvard investigators reviewed videotapes of the experiments and found no evidence that a key experimental condition reported in the paper had ever been run:

Given that there is no evidence that the data, as reported, were in fact collected …, and given that the reported data were subjected to statistical analyses to show how they supported the paper's conclusions, I am forced to conclude that there was most likely an intention here, using data that appear to have been fabricated, to deceive the field into believing something for which there was in fact no evidence at all.

Altmann writes that there may yet be an alternative explanation for the discrepancy between the videotapes and what's reported in the paper. But he can’t imagine what it might be, adding, "I know that the investigation was rigorous to the extreme."

For more on the Hauser case, see this summary from last week's Science and a more recent rundown of the remaining questions.