Editor of Cognition Continues to Maintain that Marc Hauser Falsified Data

Gerry Altmann, editor of the journal Cognition, says that NY Times writer Nicholas Wade misrepresented his view on the Marc Hauser affair. Here’s a quote from the article:

Difficulties in Defining Errors in Case Against Harvard Researcher

. . .

Also last month his principal accuser outside of Harvard, Gerry Altmann, allowed that he may have spoken too hastily. Dr. Altmann is the editor of Cognition, a psychology journal in which Dr. Hauser published an article said by Harvard to show scientific misconduct.

When first shown evidence by Harvard for this conclusion, Dr. Altmann publicly accused Dr. Hauser of fabricating data. But he now says an innocent explanation, based on laboratory error, not fraud, is possible. People should step back, he writes, and “allow due process to conclude.”


Writing in his blog, Altmann reproduces their actual e-mail correspondance:

15 Sep 2010, Nicholas Wade wrote at 19:27:

should one assume that you are now receding from or withdrawing your statement to me of Aug 27?  “Given the PUBLISHED design of the experiment, my conclusion is that the control condition was fabricated,”

15 Sep 2010, I replied at 19:33:

I’m not withdrawing it. … Given the content of the examined videotapes, any other conclusion than the one I reached and which you quoted would simply be implausible. So I stand by what I said.


Also on his blog, Altmann stated:

In fact, there has been no stepping back. As I make very clear in this blog (and repeated in emails to Mr. Wade…), the information I have received, when taken at face value, leads me to maintain my belief that the data that had been published in the journal Cognition was effectively a fiction – that is, there was no basis in the recorded data for those data. I concluded, and I continue to conclude, that the data were most likely fabricated (that is, after all, what a fiction is – a fabrication).

He wrote a letter to the editor of the NYT to set the record straight, and he’ll post the link if it’s published.

via Neuroskeptic: Marc Hauser: Plot Thickens, Solidifies, Cracks?

New Marc Hauser Paper on Antidepressants and Moral Judgments

Serotonin selectively influences moral judgment and behavior through effects on harm aversion

General Procedure. Participants attended three sessions at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, UK (at least 1 wk apart) and received single doses of atomoxetine (60 mg), citalopram (30 mg), and placebo in a double-blind fully counterbalanced design.

Hauser is 3rd of 4 authors on a new paper in PNAS that administered acute doses of two antidepressants (a norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor and a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, respectively) to healthy control participants, then tested them in the Trolley Problem paradigm.


Aversive emotional reactions to real or imagined social harms infuse moral judgment and motivate prosocial behavior. Here, we show that the neurotransmitter serotonin directly alters both moral judgment and behavior through increasing subjects’ aversion to personally harming others. We enhanced serotonin in healthy volunteers with citalopram (a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) and contrasted its effects with both a pharmacological control treatment and a placebo on tests of moral judgment and behavior. We measured the drugs’ effects on moral judgment in a set of moral ‘dilemmas’ pitting utilitarian outcomes (e.g., saving five lives) against highly aversive harmful actions (e.g., killing an innocent person). Enhancing serotonin made subjects more likely to judge harmful actions as forbidden, but only in cases where harms were emotionally salient. This harm-avoidant bias after citalopram was also evident in behavior during the ultimatum game, in which subjects decide to accept or reject fair or unfair monetary offers from another player. Rejecting unfair offers enforces a fairness norm but also harms the other player financially. Enhancing serotonin made subjects less likely to reject unfair offers. Furthermore, the prosocial effects of citalopram varied as a function of trait empathy. Individuals high in trait empathy showed stronger effects of citalopram on moral judgment and behavior than individuals low in trait empathy. Together, these findings provide unique evidence that serotonin could promote prosocial behavior by enhancing harm aversion, a prosocial sentiment that directly affects both moral judgment and moral behavior.


Molly J. Crockett, Luke Clark, Marc D. Hauser, Trevor W. Robbins (2010). Serotonin selectively influences moral judgment and behavior through effects on harm aversion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Published online before print September 27, 2010.