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The Science of Morality

By Michael Cook

A leading researcher into the biological basis of morality has been found guility of academic misconduct.

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Morality is a tricky business. If you are an expert, people tend to hold you to a higher standard of probity. That’s why sex abuse scandals and the double lives of some televangelists have done such damage to the cause of religious morality. Perhaps, too, this is why academic misconduct by one of the leading exponents of the “new science of morality” has rattled scientists and bioethicists.

In August, Harvard University announced that a popular lecturer, 51-year-old Professor Marc D. Hauser, was guilty of eight instances of unspecified scientific misconduct, three involving published papers and five unpublished material. “There were problems involving data acquisition, data analysis, data retention, and the reporting of research methodologies and results,” a university official admitted. Harvard has resisted pressure to reveal the dreary details, but the word on the academic grapevine is that Hauser may have performed experiments without a control group, making them utterly useless.

“If it’s the case the data have in fact been fabricated, which is what I as the editor infer, that is as serious as it gets,” said the editor of Cognition, Gerry Altmann, who has withdrawn a 2002 paper of which Hauser was the lead author.

Hauser’s future is uncertain. The case is being investigated by the Federal government as it may involve misuse of research funds. He...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Michael Cook is the editor of the bioethics newsletter BioEdge.