First, the good news:an investigation into Brian Wansink’s research practices “found no fraud, no theft, no plagiarism, and no sexual misconduct or Title IX issues.” We ought to recognize the reality of that, that most men have no incident in their past of wrestling unwilling women down and trying to rape them, so we should notice that, especially when some men are trying to pretend that attempted rape and sexual assault are just a phase that all boys go through. By all accounts I’ve seen, Wansink seems to be good, collegial, helpful person, and not a US senator.
But now the bad news: he’s not a very good scientist.
Cornell University has been investigating his research since November. In a statement, the university told BuzzFeed News that Wansink was found to have “committed academic misconduct in his research and scholarship, including misreporting of research data, problematic statistical techniques, failure to properly document and preserve research results, and inappropriate authorship.”
The news came a day after six of Wansink’s papers were retracted, giving him a total of 13 retractions.
Now it’s all over. Wansink has announced his retirement. Just as well, since his idea of research was to take ideas about diet that people wanted to be true, do lots of experiments and observations, and then when they turned out not to be true, finagle the statistics until he got the results everyone wanted to hear.
Under his leadership, the Food and Brand Lab produced studies that reinforced a theme: Simple environmental cues can help people lose weight and eat healthier, without the need for rigorous dieting and intense exercise. It was a theme that earned him coverage everywhere from Good Morning America to O, the Oprah Magazine, to the New York Times. He once led the USDA committee on dietary guidelines. He oversees a $22 million federally funded program to promote “smarter lunchrooms” in nearly 30,000 schools.
But for years, the Food and Brand Lab massaged shoddy data into published, peer-reviewed studies in a brazen ploy for media coverage, as BuzzFeed News has reported.
I guess winning the approval of Oprah and not trying to rape anyone isn’t the same as doing good science.