Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Another retraction to appear for Cornell food scientist Brian Wansink

with 6 comments

Brian Wansink

The new year will bring a sixth retraction for food scientist Brian Wansink, whose work has been under fire for all of 2017.

Although the notice has not yet been released, the journal Appetite plans to retract a 2003 paper about the different forces that motivate people to try new foods (referring, in this specific context, to soy).

It’s unclear why “Profiling taste-motivated segments” is being retracted (we asked the journal, but haven’t immediately heard back); some potential issues were flagged in March by Nick Brown, a PhD student who has devoted hundreds of hours to analyzing Wansink’s work (and forwarded us the email from Appetite confirming the upcoming retraction).

For instance, Brown alleged the article contains duplicated material, and similarities to the results from another 2002 paper that also measured soy consumption. After analyzing those two papers and a 2004 paper (also about eating soy), Brown concluded:

1-Around half of the F statistics reported in these three articles cannot be correct, given the means that were reported. Either the means are wrong, or the F statistics are wrong, or both.

2-The attitudes towards soy products reported by the participants in the Cheong and Westgren studies are remarkably similar, despite the samples having been drawn from very different populations. This similarity also seems to apply to the items for which the results give impossible test statistics.

3-The distribution of the digits after the decimal point in the numbers representing the means and F statistics does not appear to be consistent with these numbers representing the values of measured random variables (or statistical operations performed on such variables); nor does it appear to be consistent with random transcription errors.

Brown added:

I am trying hard to think of possible explanations for all of this.

This will mark Wansink’s sixth retraction; one of his papers was retracted twice after the journal pulled a revised version. He also has issued 13 corrections. The Appetite paper has been cited six times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

Update January 3, 2018 18:44 UTC: The editor of Appetite has sent us the text of the upcoming retraction:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editors  on the grounds of unreliable data in Table 1 and duplication of text in the results and discussion sections from an earlier publication (B. Wansink and J. Cheong, Taste profiles that correlate with soy consumption in developing countries, Pakistan Journal of Nutrition 1: 276; 2002; DOI: 10.3923/pjn.2002.276.278).

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Written by Alison McCook

December 28th, 2017 at 2:24 pm

  • Betfried van Efget December 28, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    This cannot be a mistake. Accoding to Brown, Wansinks results are so doubtful, they must have been up or, at least, manipulated. However, did someone check the tools which are used by Brown et al?

    • Nicholas Brown December 28, 2017 at 6:32 pm

      1. Can you point me to where I suggested that the results “must have been made up or, at least, manipulated”?

      2. The techniques I used to analyze these results are, I think, reasonably transparently described in my blog post, but if someone wants to check my working, I will be happy to provide any more details that might be required.

      Andrew Gelman cited the plot of the trailing digits here, which I took to mean that he found the argument (that these digits are not consistent with the measurement of random variables) to be at least somewhat interesting.

      3. The blog post in which I pointed out these issues dates from March 2017, and I first contacted the editor of Appetite in May 2017. I do not know exactly what was discussed in the meantime, but I imagine that the decision to retract, and the fact that this took more than six months, comes down to more than just “this Nick Brown guy wrote a blog post asking some questions”.

      • Nahhf December 29, 2017 at 6:54 am

        1. Come on, it’s clear you implied it.

      • rfg January 2, 2018 at 12:53 pm

        “3. The blog post in which I pointed out these issues dates from March 2017, and I first contacted the editor of Appetite in May 2017. I do not know exactly what was discussed in the meantime, but I imagine that the decision to retract, and the fact that this took more than six months, comes down to more than just “this Nick Brown guy wrote a blog post asking some questions”.”

        6 months from blogpost to retraction is a remarkably fast! We are talking really really fast!

        It usually takes years and unfortunately the persons who serve as the whistleblowers are as often as not the ones who pay the most severe price after all the time and effort.

        The only way a 6 month retraction happens is if an intrepid reporter (such as those here at RW and in the Wansink case Stephanie M Lee at Buzzflash) writes about the case.

        A blogpost by itself (even on PubPeer) is not enough to get an institution to move on a possible misconduct case especially when it involves a too-big-to-fail Professor. It’s way too easy to bury the dirty laundry.

        OTOH, a news article, well written and spread widely, like SML’s Buzzflash reporting on Wansink- will get action. These days – with ORI in disarray, COPE leaders wanting to do away with retractions and the ethics review processes at many or most institutions largely broken [the main job of RIOs seems to me to be in many cases only to protect the brand] – sunshine reporting in the lay press might be the only thing that gets some action.

  • Prof. Chukwuemeka Chucks Agbakwuru December 29, 2017 at 8:41 am

    A focused research study is aimed at new discoveries as they may relate to old theories with intentions to modifying existing ideas for general development in humanity. Stakeholders must not be allowed to block progress in this regard for selfish interests.

  • Dr. Anna Katharine Mansfield December 29, 2017 at 9:39 am

    Retraction watch- I love the work you do, but I’m concerned that you’re calling Dr. Wansink a ‘food scientist.’ He holds a PhD in Marketing and Consumer behavior, and his Food and Brand Lab is housed in the Business School. The Dept. of Food Science at Cornell is taking some collateral damage from members of the press incorrectly identifying him as a member of our field, and I would ask Retraction Watch not to add to that problem. Thank you.

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