Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Marc Hauser on leave???

An odd development in the language evolution saga. Harvard professor Marc Hauser has been forced on leave over an apparent academic misconduct issue regarding a paper he published involving rule learning in monkeys. Hauser is well known within language evolution circles. He co-authored with Chomsky the (in)famous paper The Faculty of Language: What Is It, Who Has It, and How Did It Evolve? which argued that

...a distinction should be made between the faculty of language in the broad sense (FLB)and in the narrow sense (FLN). FLB includes a sensory-motor system, a conceptual-intentional system, and the computational mechanisms for recursion, providing the capacity to generate an infinite range of expressions from a finite set of elements. We hypothesize that FLN only includes recursion and is the only uniquely human component of the faculty of language. We further argue that FLN may have evolved for reasons other than language...

This prompted a response from Pinker & Jackendoff: The faculty of language: what’s special about it? which countered Hauser & Chomsky & Fitch saying "The approach ... is sufficiently problematic that it cannot be used to support claims about evolution." reports that Hauser "is taking a year-long leave after a lengthy internal investigation found evidence of scientific misconduct in his laboratory. The findings have resulted in the retraction of an influential study that he led. “MH accepts responsibility for the error,’’ says the retraction of the study on whether monkeys learn rules, which was published in 2002 in the journal Cognition. Two other journals say they have been notified of concerns in papers on which Hauser is listed as one of the main authors."

Commenters at Razib Khan's Gene Expression post about this fisk the article a bit and are worth reading over there. Nonetheless, it's a strange turn of events for language evolution.

Liberman has a nice analysis of Hauser's work here.

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