I was away for most of this week so I’m just getting to this now, but Brian Wansink has announced he’s retiring at the end of this academic year after a series of investigations in to his work. I’ve blogged about the Wansink saga previously (also here and here and here) , and have even had to update old posts to remove research of his that I referenced.
Christopher B passed along a good summary article from the AP , which I was pleased to see included a note that they had frequently used him as a source for stories. The New York Times followed suit, and this article mentions that he was cited as a source in at least 60 articles since 1993.
While the initial coverage was mostly shock, I’ve been pleased to see how many subsequent articles point to the many bigger problems in science (and science reporting) that led to Wansink’s rise.
The New York Times article I just cited delves in to the statistical games that the field of nutrition often plays to get significant results, and how the press generally reports them uncritically. For those of you who have been following this story, you’ll remember that this whole drama was kicked off by a blog post Wansink wrote where he praised a grad student for finding publishable results in a data set he admitted looked like it had yielded nothing. While this wouldn’t be a problem if he had admitted that’s what he was doing, his papers never corrected for multiple comparisons or clarified that they were running hundreds of different comparisons to try to find something significant.
The Atlantic put up a good piece about the “scientist as celebrity” angle, discussing how we should think about scientists who get a lot of attention for their work. The “buzz cycle”, where we push findings we like and scientists respond by trying to generate findings that will be likable. This is a good point, as many people who don’t know Wansink’s name know of his findings (health halos, use small plates, we eat more from bottomless soup bowls, etc).
This Washington Post op-ed has an interesting discussion of science education, and wonders if we did more to educate kids about scientific mistakes and fraud if we’d be more skeptical about scientific findings in general. It’s an interesting thought…we do hear science mostly presented as an unbroken march towards truth, not always hearing how many side roads there are along the way.
Overall it’s a fascinating and sad story, made slightly worse by the fact that it appears to have come to a head at the same time that Wansink’s mother died and his father broke his hip. While this is a good reminder to limit any gratuitous potshots against him as a person, it still raises many interesting discussion points about how we got here. Any other articles, feel free to pass them along!