Cornell finds food researcher Brian Wansink guilty of academic misconduct

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

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©iStock
Famous food marketing researcher Brian Wansink admits failings but denies fraud, plagiarism and intentional misreporting as a Cornell University committee finds him guilty of academic misconduct.

Wansink’s research into food psychology and consumer behaviour and the work done by his team at the research lab he founded in 1997, the Cornell Food and Brand lab, has been highly publicised over the years, reported in many media outlets including FoodNavigator.

However, after a 2016 blogpost about one of his graduate students sparked questions about his research methods and lack of academic rigor, scientists began to pick holes in a number of his studies, resulting in multiple retractions.

According toRetraction Watch’s database​, Wansink has had 13 papers retracted and at least 15 corrected. Others have noted ‘expressions of concern’.

The Journal of the American Medical Association​ (JAMA​) issued six retractions last week.

Cornell University has been reviewing allegations of misconduct against Professor Brian Wansink over the past year, but federal regulations and university policy requiring fairness and confidentiality, meant it remained tight-lipped on the process.

Last week, however, the university’s Provost Michael Kotlikoff said the Professor has been found guilty of misconduct.

“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."

Wansink has resigned from Cornell, which will take effect at the end of this academic year in June 2019.

He has been removed from all teaching and research positions, however, and all work will involve cooperating with the university in its review of his prior research.

In a statement published in Retraction Watch​, Wansink admitted several failings but said 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," ​his statement reads. “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 co-authors across the world.”

 One publication published in January last year, Statistical heartburn: An attempt to digest four pizza publications from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab​,​ claimed to find around 150 inconsistencies in statistical analysis in four studies.

Kotlikoff added: "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.”

Over the years, FoodNavigator has reported on many studies led by Wansink, and the possible significance for the food industry.

These include:

The psychology of the adventurous - and unadventurous - eater

Food and drink ‘sizes’ affect how much we buy and eat, finds study

When it comes to diet advice 'do' messages are better than 'don't' 

Pictures of big portions lead to overeating, study warns

Cornell study validates the ‘See food (and eat it)’ diet…

Three ways to encourage healthy eating anywhere

A history of food, art, Instagram - and unintended consequences

Related topics: R&D

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