Conduct Unbecoming

Charges that Harvard psychology professor Marc Hauser falsified data have been widely reported. Hauser suffered professional embarrassment and the retraction of published papers, but his employer does not seem ready to impose any lasting sanctions. He will take a year off from teaching and advising and then, presumably, return to research.

The Harvard Crimson notes that when other prominent faculty have committed scientific misconduct, the punishment has been similarly lax. The head of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School resigned in 1988 after admitting plagiarism, but was then hired back as chief emeritus. According to sources at Harvard, the university has never revoked tenure for research lapses.

No doubt the exposure has been devastating for Hauser and will cloud any of his future accomplishments. Still, it is not clear that he incurred any institutional penalty for his actions. Falsifying data erodes the core of a university’s academic mission. There should be some commensurate punishment for violating those values. Firing Hauser is not the solution either because he could return to research chastened and invigorated. As befitting an educational setting, Hauser’s experience should become a teachable moment for the rest of the community, not an excuse to banish him for a year.

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