Marc Hauser, the primatologist psychologist at Harvard who recently was accused of mistreating evidence and graduate students, has resigned. I am in two minds about this. His work, although I am unconvinced by some of it, was very important, and he was good at communicating to the lay reader (including philosophers). I met him and was impressed by his demeanour and generosity. On the other hand, if he did deliberately misinterpret his data, that is an offence. Whether it is a hanging offence is moot.
Pasteur is reported to have ignored 90% of his data that did not fit his contagion model. We excuse him because he was able to identify bad data and it turned out he was right (mostly). Hauser also trimmed and interpreted his data. This is a common scientific activity that cannot be automated by statistics, no matter how often or how hard people try to do so. Some data is not really important because of obvious biases (the equipment failed, the reagents were contaminated, etc.).
But in interpreting behaviour, one has no automatic procedure, just interpretation. And when the organisms themselves are very like us, we can overinterpret without being aware of it. Add to the mix that the hypothesis in play is that they are very like us (that is, they behave like us because they have the same motivations and capacities in various degrees), and the likelihood that overinterpretation will occur is high. That seems to be what happened here.
But is Hauser therefore a bad scientist? If all we have is interpretation, then no, although he is probably “guilty” of confirmation bias, a persistent and ubiquitous problem in all science. His data are less reliable than Pasteur’s, so he should have used his judgement. The problem is that it is entirely subjective and he clearly overinterpreted. That is not enough to kill a career.
Now as to how he treated his graduate students I cannot say anything, except to say that if he did, he would hardly be the first supervisor to treat them badly. But like marriage difficulties, the only ones who know what transpires between an advisor and a student are those involved.