Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Another retraction hits high-profile food researcher under fire

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Brian Wansink

It’s been a rough year for Brian Wansink.

Last year, the prominent food researcher posted a blog praising a student for her productivity in his lab. But when Wansink described his methods, readers became concerned that the lab was using improper research techniques to generate more publications. Earlier this year, researchers posted an analysis of four papers by Wansink about pizza consumption to PeerJ, saying they discovered more than 150 inconsistencies in the data. Now, one of those four papers has been retracted.

On Friday, BMC Nutrition posted a brief notice about the 2015 paper, which examined whether people who pay different amounts for all-you-can-eat Italian buffets feel more or less guilty about how much they ate. The notice says the retraction stems from concerns about the data analysis, and the authors do not agree with the journal’s decision.

The new retraction is the second for Wansink, director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell.

Here’s the complete retraction notice:

The Editor is retracting this article [1] because concerns have been raised [2] after publication with respect to the analysis of the data reported. The authors have been offered the opportunity to submit a new manuscript for peer review. The authors do not agree with this retraction.

The paper had been tagged with an editor’s note, saying:

The Editor is aware that concerns have been raised with respect to the data in this article. The authors have informed us that they are re-analysing their data and we will take appropriate editorial action once this has been completed.

A spokesperson for the publisher confirmed that, following the editor’s note, “the editor felt a retraction was warranted. ” When we contacted Wansink, we received a response from the Food and Brand Lab Team:

The reason given for the retraction was that the revisions would have been too substantial, however, the results of our reanalysis of the data were supportive of the original findings. We are revising and updating this paper with the updated analysis and will submit it again.

Low prices and high regret: how pricing influences regret at all-you-can-eat buffets” was published in 2015 in BMC Nutrition; the journal is not indexed by Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

Jordan Anaya, first author of the PeerJ report, told us:

After the release of the pizza data set we took a look and found it concerning enough to recommend retraction of all 4 pizza papers, as detailed in our most recent preprint…I’m glad that 1 out of the 4 journals agreed with us, but it is concerning that the other 3 journals have decided minor (and often inaccurate) corrections are sufficient.

Indeed, the other three papers co-authored by Wansink that focus on pizza have all received editorial notices, but none have been retracted. The most recent correction was issued in August by the Journal of Sensory Studies. The lengthy correction changes values in four tables, and concludes with this summary:

The overall findings of the paper remain unchanged by our reanalysis. Diners who paid $4 for their buffet rated the overall pizza experience as less tasty than their counterparts in the $8 condition. Those in the $4 condition exhibited a downward trend in ratings of additional slices that is not evident among those paying $8, as was reported in the original manuscript. While the relationships and significance remain after a re-analysis of the data, there were a number of minor errors in the reporting of the originally published manuscript. The data had been collected five years earlier over a two-month period (October – December). In moving forward, analysis and reporting processes will be strengthened through a new set of detailed standard operating procedures. Should these SOPs be useful to other groups, they can be downloaded at FoodPsychology.Cornell.edu/ResearchSOPs.

Lower buffet prices lead to less taste satisfaction” has been cited six times since it was published in 2014.

Wansink has pledged to reanalyze his data (and spoke about his efforts to us in February). According to the correction notice, the reanalysis was performed both “internally” and by Mathematica Policy Research, which was paid to review the material.

Regarding the August correction notice, Anaya told us:

Although I appreciate the length of the correction, I don’t find the correction accurate, as it suffers from problems similar to a previous correction.

The other notice to which Anaya refers was issued for another one of the four pizza papers, which he called the “worst correction ever.”

The fourth paper criticized by Anaya and his colleagues received an “editorial note” in April, noting:

…a robustness check that affirms the main findings that men tend to eat (i) more pizza and (ii) more salad in the company of women…

The Journal of Sensory Studies also issued Wansink’s previous retraction, for a 2002 paper about how food labeling might influence taste, citing “major overlap” with a 2000 article.

In April, an internal review by Cornell University concluded that Wansink made numerous mistakes, but declared he did not commit misconduct.

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Written by Alison McCook

September 19th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Comments
  • Jordan Anaya September 19, 2017 at 11:31 am

    Just a quick clarification.

    Our first criticism of the pizza publications, where we identified around 150 inconsistencies, was done without access to the data: https://peerj.com/preprints/2748/

    After the Food and Brand Lab released their data we felt it was important to reanalyze it ourselves, which is the preprint linked to in this post: https://peerj.com/preprints/3025/

    The data release showed the problems with the papers went beyond errors in the analysis, or questionable methods. The data release revealed that the data is likely untrustworthy. Indeed, this data set contradicts a previous pizza study by this same lab.

  • Nick September 19, 2017 at 11:40 am

    Interested readers can find our reply to the “Editorial Note” on the fourth paper, mentioned in the above article, here: http://steamtraen.blogspot.nl/2017/04/an-open-letter-to-dr-todd-shackelford.html

    We pointed out that, among other things, the Editorial Note did not address the consequences of the admission by the authors that the method of data collection described in the original article — in highly-detailed section over 100 words long — did not match the one mentioned in the note.

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