A letter signed by over 30 academics from around the world is calling on Cornell to release its investigation report of food science researcher Brian Wansink, who resigned in September after the University’s investigation into his academic misconduct
The investigation, which was conducted for over a year, found that Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab’s founder “committed academic misconduct in his research and scholarship,” The Sun previously reported. Wansink has also retracted a total of 13 published research papers and issued multiple formal corrections.
The authors started drafting the letter after Provost Michael Kotlikoff announced the conclusion of the investigation and that Wansink will not be permitted to teach or research at the University, and will retire at the end of the academic year.
Cornell alum Prof. Todd B. Kashdan ’96, psychology, George Mason University, is among the signatories of the letter but did not respond to The Sun’s request for comment. There are no current Cornell professors who have signed onto the letter, which is being shared via Google Docs.
The University was unaware of the letter as of Wednesday afternoon, according to spokesperson John Carberry.
On the day after the publication of Cornell’s investigation, Wansink said his mistakes didn’t change the outcome of his papers, “with only one debatable exception.” It is unclear which paper the food science researcher was referring to.
Wansink’s response to the investigation was surprising,co-author of the letter Nicholas Brown from the University of Groningen in Strasbourg, France told The Sun.
The signatories accuse Wansink of not accepting responsibility for his errors and of characterizing his mistakes as trivial.
“I find it hard to imagine that an Ivy League school would require an endowed-chair professor, whose picture used to be on the front page of the business school’s web site, to resign on that basis,” Brown said.
Given that Wansink has nearly 500 published pieces, the University’s lack of transparency has caused collateral damage to other researchers in the same field, according to Brown.
“I’ve seen online reactions to Dr. Wansink’s case [with] people using it to suggest that researchers working on vaccines or the climate cannot be trusted,” Brown said.
Students who worked with Wansink called his research “dodgy,” The Sun previously reported, and said his scandals tarnished the University’s reputation. Ellen Ransley ’19 left the lab after a year because she didn’t want to continue her association with it.
Both Wansink’s and the University’s statements following the investigation are “incompatible,” according to the letter.
“Either Dr. Wansink’s description of your [the University’s] findings is inaccurate, and severely minimizes the nature of the problems uncovered, or the investigation at Cornell has reached a conclusion that is unjustified by the nature of the evidence uncovered,” the letter states.
Wansink did not respond The Sun’s request for comment.
The letter also noted that Wansink’s spoiled research was not featured on the website of the Office of Research Integrity, which is under the Department of Health & Human Services. The website posts summaries of research misconduct incidents.
The call for transparency follows administrative flip-flop.
The University first investigated Wansink’s work in 2017. Wansink was found to have had instances of inappropriate statistical analysis but hadn’t engaged in scientific misconduct, according to an April 2017 statement from Carberry.
A second investigation, opened last October, concluded with Kotlikoff’s statement in September. Now, Wansink isn’t allowed to teach or conduct research, although he is still listed as director on the Food and Brand website. He will assist the University in a review of his research, according to Kotlikoff.
Wansink, whose work promoted smaller soup bowls and encouraged 100-calorie snack packs, has been cited over 26,991 times, according to Google Scholar. His most recent published work was a Sept. 1 correction to his paper on cooks’ influence on their consumers’ palates.
The letter will stop accepting signatures on Oct. 29.