Saturday, August 14, 2010

Eliot Ness takes down Hauser?

It's a general rule of bad journalism that when a story begins to slow down, it's a journalist's duty to just make things up to squeeze out one or two more articles. As far as I know, there has been no new information released about the Marc Hauser story since it broke four days ago here. Yet yesterday the NYT writer Nicholas Wade wrote "Marc Hauser’s academic career was soaring when suddenly, three years ago, Harvard authorities raided his laboratory and confiscated computers and records" (emphasis added).

Raided? Really? They raided his lab? With shotguns and sledge hammers like Eliot Ness? Wade's article simply rehashes what we already know, so it's not clear why the NYT is giving him more and more column inches to fill. Wade is quickly making a cottage industry out of repetition of the Hauser story without adding much if any value (see here for an even more vicious critique of Wade). Why does he believe there was a "raid" on Hauser lab? It's not clear. The only indication is a quote later in the article from Michael Tomasello who said “Three years ago when Marc was in Australia, the university came in and seized his hard drives and videos because some students in his lab said, ‘Enough is enough.’ They said this was a pattern and they had specific evidence” (emphasis added).

Tomasello used the word "seize", Wade used the word "raid." To me those words have very different connotations. Seizing a hard drive can be as mild as some guy walking into a lab with a Starbucks in one hand and a stack of ungraded freshman essays in the other and saying to a couple of exhausted grad students "hey guys, I need to take your hard drives, can you take a break for a minute?" A raid, on the other hand, involves shotguns and tear gas.

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