Hauser is an eminent and very public expert in evolutionary biology, specializing in the origins of morality. The news that Harvard has opened an inquiry about the credibility of his research is distressing, to say the least, in view of the overriding significance of his field of study, and the remarkable and exciting work and smashing of old orthodoxies that have been going on there lately. Hauser was one of the nine keynote speakers at the recent Edge conference on the Science of Morality that I mentioned in an earlier post, and one can only hope that the inquiry will turn up nothing more serious than a case of confirmation bias.
Affairs like this are saddening, but not surprising. Academics today are under overwhelming pressure to publish, and the quality of their work is bound to suffer as a result. That’s particularly true of the young associate professors who are still fighting for tenure. I don’t want to single any of them out, but the CV’s of most of them who work at top universities are online. Look at a few of them, and you’ll see how unbelievably competitive they have to be to survive. If they don’t include literally scores of publications in research journals and peer-reviewed conferences, not to mention a boatload of awards, honors, and research grants, they’re not even in the running. In view of the amount of time they must spend writing papers and research proposals, not to mention teaching, public service, and all the rest of the stuff they need to pack into a credible resume, it’s a wonder any of them have any time left for serious research. The “publish or perish” thing has been a problem for a long time, and it degrades the quality of scientific work in many fields. It would be nice if we could finally find a solution.