Courtesy of Cornell University

Food science researcher Brian Wansink faces two more paper retractions. Wansink resigned as a professor at Cornell University on Sept. 20, following previous retractions. His total number of retractions is 15.

October 25, 2018

Food Researcher Brian Wansink Faces Two More Retractions

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Food researcher Brian Wansink faces another sour result: two more retractions.

The two recent retractions were announced by Appetite, a peer-reviewed journal that focuses on food published by Elsevier.

His 14th retraction, a paper published in 2006, references a study that sampled 2,000 North Americans and yielded 770 responses. The now-defunct study claimed that people with sweet-tooth tendencies would be more interested in eating fruit than salty-snack lovers.

Nick Brown, of the University of Groningen, first spotted a fishy pattern in a blog post in 2017. In an interview with The Sun, Brown called it “unusual” for a researcher to send out surveys, and to continually receive the same number of responses.

In 2001, Wansink published a study on soy. He sent out 1,002 paper surveys. Again, 770 people responded. This was a response rate of 77 percent, a figure Brown called “remarkable.”

Exactly 770 individuals responded to Wansink in other paper surveys that he sent home, occasionally alongside a few dollars to incentivize responses. In 2003, twice in 2004 and in the now-retracted 2006 study, exactly 770 people — sometimes cooks, sometimes “North Americans”, sometimes random individuals — chose to respond to Wansink’s survey requests.

The 14th retraction was withdrawn due to “substantive errors in the reported methods,” according to the retraction statement published by Elsevier.

Another Wansink study concluded that WWII veterans who had participated in combat in China or Japan had an aversion to Chinese or Japanese food. The data in it was also scrutinized in other retracted Wansink papers. Its retraction brought Wansink’s count up to 15 retracted papers, according to Retraction Watch.

The Elsevier statement also said that Wansink’s study was retracted at the editors’ and authors’ request.

“I’m not sure why it said it was at our request,” Wansink told The Sun in an email. “Maybe it’s because we said they wanted to retract it and we said, ‘Whatever you decide.’”

Wansink told The Sun that the original data was collected with pencil and paper in 2003, but they “don’t have a policy of keeping [original data].”

These retractions follow Wansink tendering his resignation as a professor from Cornell University on Sept. 20. He retired after a University-led academic misconduct investigation found he had used “problematic statistical techniques.”

Wansink is not allowed to teach for the remainder of the academic year. He is now spending his time assisting the University review his past work, The Sun previously reported.

Now, an online “open letter,” co-authored by Brown, is being circulated. Signed by 39 academics worldwide, the letter calls for the University to release Wansink’s investigation report to the public, The Sun previously reported.

“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.

Following the 15th retraction, some on Twitter expressed dismay. Stephanie Lee, a reporter for Buzzfeed, extensively reported on Wansink prior to and following his cascade of retractions. After the 15th retraction, she tweeted, “I can’t keep up.”