Cornell finds that food marketing researcher Brian Wansink committed misconduct, as he announces retirement

A day after the JAMA family of journals retracted six of his studies, Cornell food marketing researcher Brian Wansink tells Retraction Watch that he will be retiring next year.

And Cornell said today that it found that Wansink “committed academic misconduct in his research and scholarship, including misreporting of research data, problematic statistical techniques, failure to properly document and preserve research results, and inappropriate authorship.”

[See an update with a new statement by Wansink here.]

In a statement, Wansink said:

Professor Brian Wansink will be retiring from Cornell University and leaving his position as the John S. Dyson Professor of Marketing at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management effective on June 30, 2019.

Professor Wansink stated, “I have been tremendously honored and blessed to be a Cornell professor and especially to be the first John S. Dyson Professor of Marketing at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management”.

Professor Wansink has called Cornell his home for the past 14 years.  In addition to his role as an educator, Professor Wansink’s career at Cornell was highlighted by his involvement in the new 2010 US Dietary Guidelines (known as MyPlate.com) and in outreach programs that lead to healthier eating in schools, military bases, daycares, and food pantries.  

The statement concludes with a comment Wansink attributes to John Dyson, which we are working on confirming:

Noting recently published controversy concerning Professor Wansink, Cornell Trustee Emeritus John Dyson, whose family has endowed Professor Wansink’s Chair, added, “Given my family’s connection to Professor Wansink’s position at Cornell, I have taken a keen interest in the matter. Cornell has completed an exhaustive investigation of Professor Wansink.  I can say that the investigation found no fraud, no theft, no plagiarism, and no sexual misconduct or Title IX issues. I understand that Cornell and Professor Wansink mutually have decided that Professor Wansink’s research approach and goals differ from the academic expectations of Cornell University, and they have decided to part ways accordingly. I wish Professor Wansink the best”.

Cornell planned to make a statement about the findings of their investigation, as we reported yesterday. Today, they made a statement that tells a different story than Wansink’s quotation from Dyson does:

For more than a year, Cornell University has been engaged in reviewing allegations of misconduct against Professor Brian Wansink, many of which were highly public in their nature. The process of review and investigation under both federal regulations and university policy requires fairness and confidentiality. For this reason, Cornell has not commented substantively on this matter. At this time, it is appropriate to convey the results of Cornell’s extensive review.

Consistent with the university’s Academic Misconduct policy, a faculty committee conducted a thorough investigation into Professor Wansink’s research. The committee found that Professor Wansink committed academic misconduct in his research and scholarship, including misreporting of research data, problematic statistical techniques, failure to properly document and preserve research results, and inappropriate authorship.  As provided in Cornell policy, these findings were thoroughly reviewed by and upheld by Cornell’s dean of the faculty.

Professor Wansink has tendered his resignation and will be retiring from Cornell at the end of this academic year. He has been removed from all teaching and research. Instead, he will be obligated to spend his time cooperating with the university in its ongoing review of his prior research.

We regret this situation which has been painful to the university community. Cornell University remains committed to the highest standards of academic integrity and we are reviewing our research policies to ensure we can meet this commitment.

Wansink has had 13 papers retracted — one of them twice, and at least 15 corrected, according to our database. The saga began in November 2016 with a blog post by Wansink about a graduate student, and grew to involve allegations of p-hacking and sloppy statistics.

We asked James Heathers, who along with Jordan Anaya, Nick Brown, and Tim van der Zee did painstaking analyses of Wansink’s work, for his take on the two statements:

We draw a distinction between ‘misconduct’, which is a very broad church (including inappropriate analyses and statistics, egregious mistakes, etc.) and more serious, willful misconduct. The statements are not mutually exclusive.

Of course, to the health of the broader literature, it doesn’t matter if published scientific inconsistencies are due to mistakes, carelessness, recklessness, or fraud – they all add up to untrustworthy publications.

And how does Heathers feel now that Wansink has resigned, and so many papers have been retracted and corrected?

Frankly, I feel a certain quiet satisfaction that this matter has been handled publicly and has resulted in a tangible outcome. This is already more than many misconduct investigations achieve. I never expected any benefit personally, nor am I likely to derive any. The upside, if there is one, is that we can put a single point on the side of a ledger that says ‘scientific accuracy matters’.

We plan to update this story as we learn more.

Like Retraction Watch? You can make a tax-deductible contribution to support our growth, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, sign up for an email every time there’s a new post (look for the “follow” button at the lower right part of your screen), or subscribe to our daily digest. If you find a retraction that’s not in our database, you can let us know here. For comments or feedback, email us at team@retractionwatch.com.

3 thoughts on “Cornell finds that food marketing researcher Brian Wansink committed misconduct, as he announces retirement”

  1. Wansink was awarded Ig Nobel “Nutrition Prize” in 2007 for “for exploring the seemingly boundless appetites of human beings, by feeding them with a self-refilling, bottomless bowl of soup.” Since at least 1 paper concerning this topic is now retracted (“Super Bowls: serving bowl size and food consumption” in JAMA. 2005 Apr 13;293(14):1727-8), will Ig Nobel committee strip him of this prize?

  2. And this guy will be making a good 6 fig salary for a year, and pretty much doing nothing but cooperating with investigators. While the people who actual generate honest data (grad students, post-docs) are given a pittance. Academia needs to collapse.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.