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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Delicious irony

The following article appeared in yesterday's NY Times:

Harvard Finds Scientist Guilty of Misconduct

by Nicholas Wade

Harvard University said Friday that it has found a prominent researcher, Marc Hauser, "solely responsible" for eight instances of scientific misconduct.

Hours later, Dr. Hauser, a rising star for his explorations into cognition and morality, made his first public statement since news of the inquiry emerged last week, telling the New York Times, "I acknowledge that I made some significant mistakes" and saying he was "deeply sorry for the problems this case had caused to my students, my colleagues and my university."

Dr. Hauser is a leader in the field of animal and human cognition, and in 2006 wrote a well-received book, “Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong.”

Yes, it's too sweet for words: an academic expert in morality is found guilty of immoral academic conduct. That it happened at Harvard, of course, makes it all the better. It is as yet unclear exactly what the nature of Hauser's offenses were, as Harvard as been very tight-lipped about the incident so far. But you have to love Hauser's lawyerly apology, in which he acknowledges "significant mistakes" without any admission as to what they actually were, leaving himself all sorts of legal wriggle room should he need it. Time after time we seem to find that people who set themselves up as moral arbiters turn out to be the least moral people themselves.

I suppose, given that pattern, and given this blog's obsessive disapproval of sociopaths, I should be suspected of sociopathy. The equivalent outcome here would be for me to turn out to be a serial killer. But I haven't killed anybody, I promise.

At least not yet.

Then again, that's exactly what a sociopathic serial killer would say.

Seriously -- you should always be suspicious of the self-righteously moral, whether they be televangelists or politicians or Harvard professors. Or sociopath-hating bloggers.

I would like to point out that my only claim to moral superiority is vis-a-vis sociopaths.

Which, I guess, is not setting the bar all that high.


Dave Moriarty said...

i think the same holds true when countries say their country identity is obsessed about Honor. the Germans and the Japanse int he 1940's went on and on about honor--and look how they behaved
so i am suspcious when someone tells me they are all about honor. if indeed they were about honor they wouldn't be talking about it

John Craig said...

Dave -- I completely agree with you in principle there, at least about individuals. People who go on and on about honor tend to not have much themselves. I think the picture with countries is a little more complicated. All countries in wartime have propaganda machines, subtle or not, and there were plenty of individual Germans and Japanese who I'm sure in the context of their country's belief system did behave with honor. (We see kamikaze pilots as evil, but sacrificing yourself for your country is an brave act, even if you're on the wrong side of the war.) I'm sure the individuals within those countries who talked the most about honor were the ones who actually had the least.

Dave Moriarty said...

i think we can conclude that honor is something one demonstrates in daily conduct where every day matters rather than something to preach about

i agree the kamikaze pilots gave the ultimate sacrifice which they equated with honor.

John Craig said...

Agreed. I think that the average soldier in the German army was probably as noble as his American counterpart; it was the guys like Joseph Goebbels who were the opposite. And so it is in every war, and probably, every government.