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Monday, September 4, 2023

Amid Uncertainty About Francesca Gino’s Research, the Many Co-Authors Project Could Provide Clarity

Evan Nesterak
Behavioral Scientist
Originally posted 30 Aug 23

Here are two excerpts:

“The scientific literature must be cleansed of everything that is fraudulent, especially if it involves the work of a leading academic,” the committee wrote. “No more time and money must be wasted on replications or meta-analyses of fabricated data. Researchers’ and especially students’ too rosy view of the discipline, caused by such publications, should be corrected.”

Stapel’s modus operandi was creating fictitious datasets or tampering with existing ones that he would then “analyze” himself, or pass along to other scientists, including graduate students, as if they were real.

“When the fraud was first discovered, limiting the harm it caused for the victims was a matter of urgency,” the committee said. “This was particularly the case for Mr. Stapel’s former Ph.D. students and postdoctoral researchers, whose publications were suddenly becoming worthless.”

Why revisit the decade-old case of Stapel now? 

Because its echoes can be heard in the unfolding case of Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino as she faces allegations of data fraud, and her coauthors, colleagues, and the broader scientific community figure out how to respond. Listening to these echoes, especially those of the Stapel committee, helps put the Gino situation, and the efforts to remedy it, in greater perspective.


“After a comprehensive evaluation that took 18 months from start to completion, the investigation committee—comprising three senior HBS colleagues—determined that research misconduct had occurred,” his email said. “After reviewing their detailed report carefully, I could come to no other conclusion, and I accepted their findings.”

He added: “I ultimately accepted the investigation committee’s recommended sanctions, which included immediately placing Professor Gino on administrative leave and correcting the scientific record.”

While it is unclear how the lawsuit will play out, many scientists have expressed concern about the chilling effects it might have on scientists’ willingness to come forward if they suspect research misconduct. 

“If the data are not fraudulent, you ought to be able to show that. If they are, but the fraud was done by someone else, name the person. Suing individual researchers for tens of millions of dollars is a brazen attempt to silence legitimate scientific criticism,” psychologist Yoel Inbar commented on Gino’s statement on Linkedin. 

It is this sentiment that led 13 behavioral scientists (some of whom have coauthored with Gino) to create a GoFundMe campaign on behalf of Simonsohn, Simmons, and Nelson to help raise money for their legal defense.