The continuing saga of the scientific implosion of the Wansink lab


How can anyone be this sloppy?

Originally published in JAMA Pediatrics in 2012, the study found that children were more likely to choose apples over cookies during lunch when the apples had a sticker of Elmo. Both the original and the replacement claimed that the study included 208 students “ranging from 8 to 11 years old” at seven schools in upstate New York.

But, as confirmed to BuzzFeed News by the leader of the study, Cornell University professor Brian Wansink, the data was actually collected while observing kids 3 to 5 years old.

“We made a mistake in the age group we described in the JAMA article. We mistakenly reported children ranging from 8 to 11 years old; however, the children were actually 3 to 5 years old,” Wansink told BuzzFeed News by email.

As the “leader of the study”, you’d expect someone to have some vague idea of the approximate ages of the subject…you’d at least know whether the school you were testing at was a pre-school or an elementary school. This is what you’d expect of a guy who is great at churning out papers and grant proposals, but is a bumbling incompetent at the science. Unfortunately, most of the rewards of science go to those who excel at the first set of skills, while the second has a low priority.

Comments

  1. says

    Getting the ages wrong in the publication is just bizarre, but this was not scientifically valid work anyway. The observers, it seems, in fact asked the kids what food they wanted and handed out the items. The bias is obvious. You wouldn’t accept that design from an undergraduate.

  2. Bill Buckner says

    This is what you’d expect of a guy who is great at churning out papers and grant proposals, but is a bumbling incompetent at the science. Unfortunately, most of the rewards of science go to those who excel at the first set of skills, while the second has a low priority.

    Way too crude of a generalization. Grants are a primary “reward”. Have you ever been on a grant review panel? I have been on review panels for the NSF. Though imperfect, it is quite serious and the panelists (in my experience) try their best to evaluate the scientific merits of the proposals impartially. Further, the panel’s evaluation is convoluted with the reviews of ad hoc reviewers (those who were sent the proposal prior to the convening of the panel.) Things going completely bad are the exceptions that prove the rule. It is nonsense to say that the science has a low priority. And while no doubt some researchers are overly focussed on publications to the detriment of their research–that again is not the norm. There is, I would argue, a strong positive correlation between one’s publication corpus and scientific productivity.

    Of course I only know about physics. Maybe the checks and balances in medicine are not as tight.

  3. devnll says

    You’d also expect anyone who’d actually met an 11-year-old to say “Elmo? Attracts 11-year-olds? I call BS…”

  4. puzzlecraig says

    I’m going to take a wild guess that “ages 3 to 5” got changed to “grades 3 to 5”. Children in those grades in the US are generally ages 8 to 11.

Leave a Reply