The other day, a friend told me that when he saw me blogging on Noam Chomsky, he was surprised not to see any mention of disgraced primatologist Marc Hauser. I was like, whaaaaaa? I had no idea these two had any connection. In fact, though, they wrote papers together.
This made me wonder what Chomsky thought of Hauser’s data scandal. I googled *marc hauser noam chomsky* and the first item that came up was this, from July 2011, reported by Tom Bartlett:
I [Bartlett] asked Chomsky for his comment on the Hauser resignation and he e-mailed the following:
Mark Hauser is a fine scientist with an outstanding record of accomplishment. His resignation is a serious loss for Harvard, and given the nature of the attack on him, for science generally.
Chomsky is a mentor of Hauser so I can’t fault Chomsky for defending the guy. But why couldn’t he have stuck with something more general, something like, “I respect and admire Mark Hauser and am not aware of any improprieties in his work.” Or maybe something like, “It is possible that—well, he has published quite a lot in various areas. It’s possible that some of the papers went to press without sufficient rethinking, but I don’t know of any cases.” That’s actually what Chomsky did say, a year earlier.
So what happened, that Chomsky changed his tune and got so aggressive? “A serious loss for Harvard” etc? My guess (without any evidence, but, hey, I’m free to guess) is that, as we discussed previously, Chomsky seems to be surrounded mostly by admirers or his haters. The admirers give no useful feedback, and the haters are so clearly against him that he can ignore them. Basically, he lives in a world in which everything is a battle, so it’s hard for him to do nuance. Or, to put it more carefully, he can do nuance, but if he thinks it’s a war going on, he goes into war mode.
P.S. Lots of details on Hauser in this news article by Charles Gross.