Courtesy of Cornell University

Prof. Brian Wansink, the director and founder of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, has made a series of retractions, which students who worked with him say stained their and Cornell's reputations.

March 20, 2018

Rotten Research: Cornell Professor Embroiled in Controversies Retracts Eighth Paper

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Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab founder Brian Wansink, currently embroiled in controversies surrounding his research, has just withdrawn an eighth paper investigating whether obese patients experience changes in their enjoyment of healthy behaviors after having bariatric surgery and whether these changes correlate with weight loss success.

The withdrawal marks Wansink’s eighth retraction — including two of the same paper, after the journal retracted a revised version — along with 15 other corrections.

Editors of Bariatric Surgical Practice and Patient Care withdrew Wansink’s paper, titled “Shifts in the Enjoyment of Healthy and Unhealthy Behaviors Affect Short- and Long-Term Postbariatric Weight Loss,” due to a “significantly high number of statistical errors” in various data tables.

The inaccuracies stemmed primarily from a number of statistical and formatting errors that were “too voluminous to be executed by issuing a correction statement,” editors wrote.

Six former members of the Food and Brand Lab previously told The Sun that Wansink urged his undergraduate students — some of whom had little or no experience — to use unethical research methods to produce findings that would bring publicity to the lab.

Some former members told The Sun they are embarrassed to have worked in the lab and said their research at Cornell is now stained by the heavy criticism and negative media exposure of the lab.

Arianna Ulloa ’16, who worked as an intern in the lab in 2014, previously told The Sun that she left the lab before the end of her internship because she was shocked by what she said were unethical research methods.

“I remember him saying it so clearly: ‘Just keep messing with the data until you find something,’” she recalled in an interview.

“All his methods are so unethical that I can’t understand how an institution like Cornell could keep him on as a professor and keep paying him,” Ulloa said. “It’s quite a bummer that he’s still employed by the University at all.”

Cornell conducted an internal review of Wansink’s research in 2017 and determined that while Wansink handled data inappropriately, the errors “did not constitute scientific misconduct,” John Carberry, a spokesperson, said on April 5 of last year. It’s unclear why that investigation failed to uncover the scope of Wansink’s questionable research.

Cornell opened another investigation in October and Carberry has declined to answer any questions about Wansink’s eighth retraction or the ongoing investigation.