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


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




 
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