Science in Mind

Former Harvard professor found to have fabricated data will publish book that probes evil

Marc Hauser, the former Harvard University psychology professor who was found by federal officials to have fabricated and manipulated data, is publishing a book on the nature of evil, “Evilicious: Desire + Denial = Cruelty.”

The former professor, who has worked with at-risk youth on Cape Cod since leaving Harvard, announced on Twitter his book would be available October 15. On his blog, he said that the book will be available through Kindle Select, as an audio book, or as a print-on-demand book.

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The problems with Hauser’s research came to light in 2010, when the Globe reported that the popular professor would take a leave of absence. In handwritten letters, Hauser had informed colleagues that a three-year investigation into his lab had found evidence of misconduct and that one of his scientific papers would be retracted. The findings of the university investigation were eventually passed on to a federal oversight agency, which reported in 2012 that Hauser had engaged in six instances of scientific misconduct in research supported by the National Institutes of Health.

In his agreement with the federal government, Hauser did not admit or deny that he had committed misconduct, but agreed to a number of restrictions on his ability to do research supported by federal grant money.

The lengthy investigation and the uncertainty surrounding Hauser’s fate became a major distraction for the Harvard psychology department, and opened up larger debates in the field of psychology about how much his many contributions to the scientific literature could be trusted.

Here's an excerpt from the upcoming book:

“If my explanation for how evil develops in individuals and how it evolved is correct, it suggests that each of us has the potential to engage in cruel acts against innocent others. Equipped with the gift of imagination, we all entertain goals that are out of reach either because of personal limitations or because of constraints imposed by our own and others’ moral standards. Tempted to achieve such goals, we may morally disengage, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously. When we morally disengage, we enable a process of false justification for our actions, including self-deception and the dehumanization of others. On this view, everyone is capable of engaging in gratuitous cruelty because the ingredients that make up the recipe for evil are part of human nature, part of our uniquely evolved brains.”

At the blog Retraction Watch, two who blurbed the book—Nicholas Wade, a New York Times science reporter and science writer Michael Shermer—said that they believe in second chances. What do you think?