December 2, 2022

Will the new science of morality make us more moral? Perhaps not.

Marc D. Hauser allegedly involved in academic misconduct

Morality
is a tricky business. If you are an expert in preaching about it, people tend
to hold you to a higher standard of probity. Perhaps this is what has made allegations of
academic misconduct against one of the leading exponents of the “new science of
morality” so disturbing for Bostonians

Harvard
professor Marc D. Hauser has persuasively argued that no action is inherently
wrong. “We generally do not commit wrong acts because we recognize that
they are wrong and because we do not want to pay the emotional price of doing
something we perceive as wrong,” he says. As an evolutionary biologist, he
is fascinated by the idea of evil and thinks that his research can shed light
on its origin and its attraction. “I believe that science, and scientists, have
an important role to play in shaping the moral agenda. We have an obligation to
use facts and reason to guide what we ought to do,” he contended forcefully in a recent essay on The Edge.

Unfortunately,
Professor Hauser has just taken a year-long leave after Harvard found evidence
of faked results in some of his research. What sparked the investigation was a
2002 paper in the journal Cognition on whether monkeys learn rules. It is now
being formally retracted because the data do not support the findings.

This
is not the only paper under a cloud. Last month the prestigious British journal
Proceedings of the Royal Society B published a correction to one of Hauser’s
papers and now Science is looking at a 2007 paper.

“This
retraction creates a quandary for those of us in the field about whether other
results are to be trusted as well, especially since there are other papers
currently being reconsidered by other journals as well,” Michael Tomasello,
co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in
Leipzig, Germany, told the Boston Globe. 
“If scientists can’t trust published papers, the whole process breaks
down.”

Professor
Hauser has been one of Harvard’s most popular teachers and is currently working
on a new book with the provisional title, “Evilicious: Explaining Our Evolved
Taste for Being Bad.’ ~ Boston Globe, Aug 10



Michael Cook
bioethics
evolutionary psychology
Marc Hauser
morality
neuroscience