SCIENCE FRAUD: Primate Morality as Reported by a Dishonest Primate

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Dr. Marc Hauser is the guy who postulated that our sense of morality might be hardwired into us as a survival instinct and/or a vestige of evolution, rather than free choice on our part. It's a popular theory he's developed, influential and perhaps kind of lucrative as well.

To be honest, I don't know where I stand on this issue. On the one hand, I like the romantic notion that we are who and what and how we choose to be, but on the other hand, I can't deny that some people like chocolate more than others, or beer, or sex, or just punching people repeatedly in the face, and many times there's no clearly visible situational reason for it. If genetic predilections for destructive behavior exist, then it follows genetic predilections for constructive behavior probably also exist. Any parent can tell you about that little switch that clicks in your head about three months before your first kid is born, when you start distancing yourself - generally without even realizing it - from your crazier, more dangerous friends.

So the fact is, I don't know what I think about the theory. I can see both sides.

Regardless of whether or not morality is genetic, however, it would appear the man reporting it is perhaps not as hardwired towards scrupulous behavior as his followers would prefer:

>>>The journal Cognition published an article by Dr. Hauser and others in 2002 saying that tamarin monkeys could learn certain rules much as human infants do. The journal is about to run a retraction saying that an internal examination by Harvard “found that the data do not support the reported findings.”<<<

and

>>>Dr. Hauser is a fluent and persuasive writer, and his undoing seems to have been his experiments, many of which depended on videotaping cotton-topped tamarin monkeys and noting their responses. It is easy for human observers to see the response they want and so to be fooled by the monkeys.

Dr. Terrace said there had been problems for some time with Dr. Hauser’s work.

“First there was arbitrary interpretation of the videotapes to suit the hypothesis,” he said. “The other was whether the data was real. There have been a number of papers using videotape, and all of them have to be reviewed to see if the data holds up.”<<<

None of this is really damning, of course, but it looks bad.

I'll tell you this, though: If it turns out that morality *is* a genetic construct, or if we simply decide it is as an accepted urban legend, the effects on society and social justice will be pretty terrible. Neonazis can argue they're simply genetically predisposed to antisemitism, spousal abusers can argue it's simply how they're wired, homosexuals can get lynched and their attackers can claim "Oh, it's just a problem with how my alleles work."

I'm not so much concerned with whether or not this whole concept is true - if it is, it always has been, and if it isn't, then it never was, but either way it doesn't change anything about ourselves - but I do fear the social implications. We've spent the better part of the last five hundred years adjusting to the idea that our fates lie in ourselves and not in our stars. If suddenly people start believing they're not responsible for their actions...

Well, I can't see anything good coming out of that. Can you?

Source article:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/12/education/12harvard.html?_r=3&ref=educ...

And thanks to the mighty, mighty Neorandomizer for pointing it out to me

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