Bill Wingell / The New York Times

Prof. Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, pictured here in 2006, faced claims of 150 data inconsistencies across four of his publications.

November 28, 2017

Cornell Food Researcher Retracts Fourth Study Due to ‘No Empirical Support’

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Brian Wansink, the director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab who has come under fire over the past year for using questionable methods of data analysis, co-authoring papers that include more than 150 data inconsistencies and re-using text in multiple publications, has just retracted a fourth study.

The retracted publication is the food researcher’s fourth full retraction this year, along with at least eight corrections published or forthcoming and a slew of misconduct allegations facing at least 50 of Wansink’s studies.

The food psychology professor has faced heavy scrutiny since adding a now-deleted blog post to his personal website in November 2016 in which, according to critics, he endorsed shoddy research practices and encouraged graduate students to cherry-pick from insignificant data sets in order to advance their careers.

In March, Wansink dismissed additional accusations of self-plagiarism made by a Ph.D. student in the Netherlands who showed instances in which Wansink reused his own text in separate publications.

The fourth retracted paper, published in 2016 in the journal Frontiers of Psychology, examines the shopping habits of World War II veterans and claims that people exposed to heavy trauma are more price conscious and less loyal to brands.

Following complaints regarding the validity of the article’s findings, Frontiers editors posted a retraction note on Friday concluding that there was “no empirical support for the conclusions of the article.”

Editors did not cite specific errors in the study’s raw data, however, Frontiers ethics and integrity manager Gearóid Ó Faoleán indicated that Wansink will release the data himself, Buzzfeed reported.

“However, Prof Wansink has stated that he will be releasing this data following the conclusion of outstanding discussions with other journals / publishers,” Faoleán said by email.

In June, Wansink allegedly wrote to his collaborators that several data entries in a patch of papers about World War II veterans — including Friday’s retracted paper — were duplicates or “mismatched.”

Wansink advised that the group contact the journal about the data problems, write a correction and “avoid the Veteran version of PizzaGate,” BuzzFeed News reported.

Wansink did not respond to requests for comment from The Sun.

In January, three scholars published a paper  — titled “Statistical Heartburn: An Attempt to Digest Four Pizza Publications from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab” — investigating four papers Wansink co-authored on pizza-eating habits and listed 151 claims of data inconsistencies involving incorrectly calculated statistics, sample sizes and standard deviations.

Wansink responded directly to the “Statistical Heartburn” paper, issuing a 16-page response to each of the authors’ 151 claims.

More recently, JAMA Pediatrics retracted a similar study co-authored by Wansink, which reported that children are more likely to choose an apple over a cookie if the apple included an Elmo sticker, but contained numerous statistical errors.

The same day the JAMA publication was retracted, Wansink and his co-authors published a replacement version, which still contained flaws, as both the original and the replacement claimed that the study included 208 students ranging from eight to eleven years old at seven schools in upstate New York. But in fact, the data collected observed kids from three to five years old, Wansink told Buzzfeed News.

In April, Cornell conducted an internal investigation of Wansink’s publications and determined in initial reviews that while Wansink handled data inappropriately, his errors “did not constitute scientific misconduct,” said a University statement.

Since then, Vice President for University Relations Joel Malina said in a statement that Cornell is taking “the questions raised about Professor Wansink’s work quite seriously,” and that an internal investigation is underway “in compliance with our internal policies and any external regulations that may apply.”

The latest forthcoming correction, BuzzFeed News reported earlier this week, was about the habits of household cooks. A ninth publication, about vegetable-naming, also stands to be corrected or retracted.