The Times ran on Saturday with two front-page stories about the questionable ethics of Harvardians Mark Zuckerberg and Marc Hauser.
The first Times piece reported on Facebook’s hostility to the new David Fincher film, The Social Network, which is about the founding of Facebook.
Behind the scenes…Mr. Zuckerberg and his colleagues have been locked in a tense standoff with the filmmakers, who portray Facebook as founded on a series of betrayals, then fueled by the unappeasable craving of almost everyone for “friends” — the Facebook term for those who connect on its online pages — that they will never really have.
The Times piece is pretty pro-Facebook, pointing out that some of the scenes in the film appear to be fiction and others are highly dramatized. Still, it misses the fundamental truth that Facebook was founded on a series of betrayals. (Having edited the 02138 investigation of Facebook, “Poking Facebook,” I can attest to that.) They may not have been illegal, but they were certainly unpleasant.
A greater problem for Facebook is that, try though it might, it can not sanitize the image of Mark Zuckerberg, who presents to most people as neither likable nor trustworthy. This is not a good thing for a company gathering information on over half a billion people. And Facebook’s latest privacy fiasco, its very scary “Places” feature, isn’t helping its cause.
The second Page One story on Harvard on Saturday was about Marc Hauser. Nicholas Wade’s piece was largely a rewrite of FAS dean Michael Smith’s letter, first posted on this site on Friday.
I don’t know Wade, but he seems comfortable voicing subjective opinion in his reporting. For example:
In view of Dr. Hauser’s prolific output, the finding of missing data in just three experiments, two of which he was able to repeat with the same results, is perhaps not greatly surprising.
Really? One suspects many eminent scientists would not agree with that assertion.
Wade also quotes Hauser, who gave a statement to the reporter, as “telling the New York Times,” language that in my business suggests he only told it to the New York Times and, thus, Wade had a scoop of sorts.
In fact, Hauser had given the same statement to USA Today, and presumably anyone else who asked for it.
The USA Today piece advances the ball considerably (making the Times look bad; emphasis added):
“It is good that Harvard now confirms the rumors, so that there is no doubt that they found actual scientific misconduct, and that they will take appropriate action,” says Emory University primate researcher Frans de Waal. “But it leaves open whether we in the field of animal behavior should just worry about those three articles or about many more, and then there are also publications related to language and morality that include data that are now in question. From my reading of the dean’s letter, it seems that all data produced by this lab over the years are potentially in question.”
Wade does note what his notable about Hauser’s statement: his confession merely to making “significant mistakes,” when the implication of the best piece of reportage on the scandal, the Chronicle of Higher Education story blogged about here last week, is that Hauser forged his data in at least one experiment—which is only a “mistake” in the broadest sense of the word.
I acknowledge that I made some significant mistakes and I am deeply disappointed that this has led to a retraction and two corrections. I also feel terrible about the concerns regarding the other five cases, which involved either unpublished work or studies in which the record was corrected before submission for publication.
I hope that the scientific community will now wait for the federal investigative agencies to make their final conclusions based on the material that they have available.
Of course, Hauser could make this process easier for the scientific community by simply telling people what he did—there’s nothing stopping him.
But just as Harvard earlier implied that it could not comment because of the federal investigation, Hauser is now sneakily suggesting that he can’t say anything for the same reason.
Which is, of course, balderdash: Hauser can say whatever he wants.
What he’s hoping is that people will have largely forgotten about this scandal by the time that federal investigation finishes its work, and that he can then obfuscate about whatever results it may produce.
Shouldn’t we expect better from someone whose website still lists him as a fellow at the Harvard Center for Ethics?
Here’s another great quote from that USA Today piece:
“Dishonesty in cognitive science is somehow more disturbing than dishonesty in biology or physical science,” said psychologist David Premack, an emeritus professor of the University of Pennsylvania, in an email to USA TODAY.* “The latter threatens the lives of people, producing a kind of harm we readily comprehend. The former puzzles us: it produces no physical harm, but threatens our standards, a kind of harm we do not readily understand. Because he caused no physical harm, we see him as discrediting everything he touched, including science itself. Hauser, a gifted writer, had no need for shortcuts.”
Note, by the way, that USA Today identifies this comment as an email, while the Times’ Nicholas Wade says that Hauser “told” the Times his comment, when it too was almost certainly emailed. Small things, but they matter.