Courtesy of Cornell University

Dr. Brian Wansink had six articles retracted on Wednesday. The new retractions bring his retraction total to 13 papers in 18 months.

September 20, 2018

Wansink Sinks Lower with 6 Study Retractions in A Day

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Six more of Prof. Brian Wansink’s papers were retracted Wednesday, increasing the Cornell Food and Brand Lab founder’s total number of retracted papers over the last 18 months to 13.

Wansink is a well-known researcher whose research has been featured in many news organizations, and he previously led a White House food program in 2010. Many of his areas of research focus on subtle, situational shifts that allegedly affect individual eating habits, like whether being hungry can affect a grocer’s habits or the impact of plate size on eating habits.

“This was quite a surprise,” wrote Wansink in an email to The Sun. “From what my coauthors and I believed, the independent analyses of our data sets confirmed all of our published findings.”

The papers retracted Wednesday were written between 2008 and 2014, according to Retraction Watch. They were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and were investigated following an “Expression of Concern” published this past May, according to a JAMA news release Wednesday. The May statement expressed concern about the validity of all JAMA papers authored by Wansink.

“The decision to retract these articles follows the previously issued notices of Expression of Concern and was based on notification received from Cornell University that its investigation was unable to provide assurance that the results of the studies were valid,” a statement from JAMA Network said. “We appreciate Cornell University’s evaluation and assistance in addressing the important concerns about these articles.”

Wansink’s work was initially criticized after writing a blog post that supposedly promoted questionable research practices in November 2016, The Sun previously reported. In January 2017, three researchers published a paper criticizing apparent statistical inconsistency.

Alumnae and former lab researchers characterized his repeatedly retracted work as stains to the reputation of themselves and the University, The Sun previously reported.

Food science major Dean Hauser ’17 found that Wansink’s “dodgy” research hurt the department’s reputation, and was frustrated by the association of scandal with Cornell Food Science, when Wansink isn’t a part of the department.

Wansink has degrees in business administration, journalism and mass communication, and marketing — not food science — according to his CV.

Wansink called the recent retractions “unjust” in an email to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

According to a press release by JAMA, the University informed them that “since we do not have access to the original data, we cannot assure you that the results of these studies are valid.”

Wansink said that the study can’t be reproduced from scratch because “there was no scratch.”

“What [my coauthors and I] did not keep over the past 25 years are the original pencil and paper surveys and coding sheets that were used in these papers,” Wansink wrote in an email to The Sun, saying that after combining the data in spreadsheets, they “tossed the pencil and paper versions.”

The University first opened an investigation into Wansink’s work in 2017, and concluded that there were “instances of inappropriate data handling and statistical analysis,” but that there wasn’t “scientific misconduct,” John Carberry, a University spokesman, said in 2017, The Sun previously reported.

Since then, 12 papers have been retracted. The recent retractions cite reasons of “unreliable” data and results, and investigations by the institution and publisher, according to Retraction Watch.

Wansink’s papers have been widely circulated. According to Google Scholar, Wansink’s work has been cited 26,733 times. Aside from being featured on media sites like Vox, Wansink also directed the 2010 United States Dietary Guidelines and promoted, a dietary guidance resource. His work extended to “behavior change programs” for Google, the U.S. Army and other organizations.

The University opened a second investigation into Wansink’s work last October. Currently, he is still a professor, and is listed as an instructor for students conducting graduate-level, masters and Ph.D. research on the online Class Roster.

“Cornell University has conducted a comprehensive review of allegations of academic misconduct raised in relation to the work of Professor Wansink,” Carberry said. He said the University will release a full statement Friday.

“I’ve very proud of all of these papers,” Wansink said. “I’m confident they will be replicated by other groups.”