Another retraction to appear for Cornell food scientist Brian Wansink

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This will mark Wansink’s sixth retraction; one of his papers was retracted twice after the journal pulled a revised version.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This article has been retracted at the request of the Editors  on the grounds of unreliable data in Table 1 and duplication of text in the results and discussion sections from an earlier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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9 thoughts on “Another retraction to appear for Cornell food scientist Brian Wansink”

  1. 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?

    1. 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”.

      1. “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.

  2. 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.

      1. I am not sure what it would even mean to be a “food policy scientist.” Dr. Wansink has a PhD in consumer behavior from the Stanford business school and was a professor of marketing at Dartmouth. This doesn’t exactly make him what would usually be considered a “scientist.” Nor it is really clear what his background in food policy per se is. Maybe this should say “Dr Wansink is an expert in marketing and food consumption behaviors.”

  3. Just came across the expression of concern about Brian Wansink article and have NOT examined them except to review the titles, all of which are true, based simply on 50 years as a country doctor who writes a little and published often. Chair of CME at the NC Academy of Family Physicians for 2 years and at Chatham Hospital for 35 years; the Thursday Morning Intellectual Society met every other Thursday for that time, and AHEC covered the other 99 counties in NC, supported us, and considered Chatham County, right next door to Orange County and UNC, as well tended to for continuing education for our physicians. I also did office based research on Trichomoniasis treatment, a unique single author paper published in the New England Journal.
    Is Dr. Wansink being lazy and sloppy with his data? Managing such does become tedious if your paycheck leans on ‘publish or perish’. I was fortunate that I worked for my patients and my research was done only when I had an observation I wished to document. I know I was unable to have published a very careful analysis of hysterectomy results as it flew in the face of the current bias. Medical myths are as ingrained in the herd psyche as any other; ask Socrates.

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