Cornell Is Investigating the Head of Its Famed Food Lab for Scientific Misconduct

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Wansink demonstrating the “bottomless bowl” that won him an Ig Nobel Prize. Photo: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Cornell University says it’s going to take a harder look at the controversial work of Brian Wansink, a nutritional-sciences professor who runs the school’s influential Food and Brand Lab. Wansink’s popular books (Mindless Eating, Slim by Design) and headline-grabbing studies (“This Is Probably the Least You’ll Weigh All Year. Sorry,” “Wine Labels Can Ruin a Restaurant Meal”) on eating habits have won him and Cornell’s lab worldwide academic fame and money.

But after he ran what turned out to be a fairly self-incriminating blog post last November, critics began taking a closer look at his work, and have since discovered everything from minor inconsistencies to more problematic instances of impossible math, cherry-picked data, and self-plagiarism in at least 50 Wansink studies. Journals have yanked four of his articles so far, and corrected eight.

It’s not the first time his methods have raised eyebrows at Cornell, but the school no doubt feels the skepticism — very much still ongoing — of its high-profile professor justified a second round of scrutiny. “An internal investigation by the University is underway,” a Cornell vice-president tells BuzzFeed, declining to share further details, like how many of Wansink’s papers are being reviewed, or when the investigation began. Earlier this year, the university investigated four pizza-consumption studies that Wansink’s peers claimed contain 150 errors, but the internal reviewers ultimately decided “such errors did not constitute scientific misconduct.”

Wansink was asked Monday about errors in yet another paper, this one on the shopping habits of veterans, since that data set was also reused in other studies. He said his lab plans to “reanalyze” any connected papers to see if they have problems once “our classes are finished for the semester.”

Cornell to Probe Famed Food Lab’s Allegedly Shoddy Research