Cornell review finds academic misconduct by food researcher

Brian Wansink will step down from Cornell University after an investigation reportedly uncovered misconduct

Six diet "truths" touted by research whiz Brian Wansink were sunk this week when JAMA's editorial board retracted studies co-authored by the so-called nutrition guru.

The university sent a statement to the journal network said it could not verify the results because it did not have access to the original data.

In his career, Wansink appeared in multiple news outlets, including CNN, and oversaw such initiatives as the 2010 dietary guidelines and the food pyramid guide.

Plate size influences portion sizes: This study presented the concept of "portion distortion", which suggested a person eating from a larger plate or serving bowl would eat more food.

In a statement published today, Howard Bauchner, MD, editor in cief of JAMA, said the journal opened its investigation after concerns were raised in May, and finally received word from Cornell University that they can not support Dr Wansink's work.

The university revealed the findings of its investigation Thursday.

Cornell spokesman John Carberry said the university has conducted a comprehensive review of "allegations of academic misconduct" and will issue a statement about its outcome on Friday.

Wansink, a marketing professor at Cornell's business college who was the director of the university's Food and Brand Lab, will retire at the end of the academic year, the school said. He has been removed from all teaching and research.

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Cornell said that Wansink will not teach or participate in research in his remaining time at the university, but will cooperate in an ongoing review of his work.

Before Kotlikoff's statement was released, Wansink told CNN that the latest retractions caught him off-guard. "What we did not keep over the past 25 years are the original pencil and paper surveys and coding sheets that were used in these papers. As I told my coauthors, I've very proud of all of these papers, and I'm confident they will be replicated by other groups".

But problems started to bubble up in 2016, after Wansink wrote a blog post about his research that drew wide criticism, according to BuzzFeed. The articles in JAMA, JAMA Internal Medicine, and JAMA Pediatrics have therefore been retracted. A 2017 review of four of Wansink's studies said that the "attempt to digest" them was "statistical heartburn".

Thursday's announcement comes a day after six more of Wansink's papers were retracted. Topping Retraction Watch's "leaderboard" are scientists with 183, 96 and 58 retractions.

Wansink said he is leaving his position June 30, 2019.

Reports have pointed to "a surge in withdrawn papers" over the years, underscoring what experts say are "weaknesses in the system for handling them", according to a 2011 paper in Nature.

Wansink has had seven papers retracted (one twice) and at least 15 corrections, according to the Retraction Watch website. Still, the paper led to some parents not vaccinating their children for measles, mumps and rubella.


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