Wansink admits mistakes, but says there was “no fraud, no intentional misreporting”

Brian Wansink (far left)

Brian Wansink, the Cornell food marketing researcher who announced his resignation yesterday and has been found to have committed misconduct by the university, admits to mistakes and poor record-keeping in a statement released today.

But he insists that there was “no fraud, no intentional misreporting, no plagiarism, or no misappropriation.” (See entire statement below.)

As James Heathers, who along with Jordan Anaya, Nick Brown, and Tim van der Zee scrutinized of Wansink’s work, told us yesterday, Cornell’s statements of findings, and Wansink’s take on the case “are not mutually exclusive.” (We had asked Heathers to comment on a previous statement by Wansink, in which Wansink included a quote attributed to John Dyson, a Cornell University trustee who endowed Wansink’s professorship, making a similar case as Wansink does today.)

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.

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.

Future of Wansink’s Ig Nobel? 

A Retraction Watch commenter noted yesterday that Wansink was awarded a 2007 Ig Nobel Prize “for exploring the seemingly boundless appetites of human beings, by feeding them with a self-refilling, bottomless bowl of soup.” He or she wondered whether the Ig Nobel committee will now strip Wansink of that honor.

We asked Ig Nobel founder Marc Abrahams, and he said:

The requirement to win an Ig Nobel Prize is simple: you’ve done something that makes people LAUGH, then THINK.

Here’s a case that, having already garnered an Ig Nobel Prize, keeps adding variety and heft to its qualifications.

Here’s Wansink’s entire statement:

I love Cornell, and I love it’s land grant mission and ethos. I have appreciated my time at the university and what we have been able to accomplish. However, comments made in their statement of investigation would be more meaningful if there were clarifications or illustrations.

The committee found that Professor Wansink committed academic misconduct in his research and scholarship, including . . .

• “Misreporting of research data “
In two papers, I mistakenly reported the wrong ages for preschool children (reporting them as being ages 7-9). Subsequent studies by others on this topic, however, have also shown the same results for all ages..

• “Problematic statistical techniques”
In the thousands and thousands of numbers I’ve published, there have been some typos, transposition errors, and some statistical mistakes. Importantly, none of these have changed the substantive conclusions of any of these papers, with only one debatable exception.

• “Failure to properly document and preserve research results”
This is true. We could have done a better job documenting and saving research results, and we came up with new standard operating procedures to correct this. Still, even though JAMA retracted 6 papers because we couldn’t provide the original paper and pencil surveys or coding sheets, if we could turn back the clock, we still wouldn’t have been able to keep every hard copy survey we have ever collected. Moreover, this isn’t required of other journals in which we’ve published .

• “Inappropriate authorship”
I see research as a collaborative effort and I have tended to be generous with authorship, especially with conference presentations. Some of these people might not have deserved to be coauthors by the standards of others.

The interpretation of these four acts of misconduct can be debated, and I did so for a year without the success I expected. There was no fraud, no intentional misreporting, no plagiarism, or no misappropriation.

I believe all of my findings will be either supported, extended, or modified by other research groups.

I am proud of my research, the impact it has had on the health of many millions of people, and I am proud of my coauthors across the world.

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 “Wansink admits mistakes, but says there was “no fraud, no intentional misreporting””

  1. I am not a person who likes to poke or make fun of the downtrodden, yet seeing the tumble of pride in an overplayed system of research elitists is a healthy correction for science. Still I worry that the field of healthy eating is the biggest loser, since the questions Brian Wansink posed are important, and future publications in this field are tainted for us less ambitious but statistically competent scientists.

  2. The claim that the children’s ages was misreported as 7-9 seems puzzling, since in all the articles and other documents I have seen, they were reported as either being “in daycare” or “aged 8-11”. Perhaps Dr. Wansink could provide us with a citation for the 7-9 figure, along with support for the claim that “Subsequent studies … have also shown the same results for all ages”.

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.