A fake data scandal is rocking the world of behavioral science after a star Harvard professor—and an expert on dishonesty—was accused of manipulating data.
Last week, Psychological Sciences, an academic journal, withdrew two papers from Francesca Gino, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, at the university’s request, reports the Financial Times.
The retractions are the first confirmation that the university is taking seriously the allegations against Gino that were first raised last month.
The papers retracted by Psychological Science—“Evil Genius? How Dishonesty Can Lead to Greater Creativity” and “The Moral Virtue of Authenticity: How Inauthenticity Produces Feelings of Immorality and Impurity,” from 2014 and 2015 respectively—were the subject of a takedown last month by Data Colada, a blog that analyzes the reliability of data in the social sciences.
The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology is also retracting another Gino-authored study accused of fraud by Data Colada, reports the Financial Times.
Fraud accusations against Gino were first raised in mid-June, when the Chronicle of Higher Education first reported that one of the Harvard professor’s studies—which had already been retracted due to concerns about its data—had broader flaws than previously reported.
Data Colada later revealed that they raised concerns about Gino’s work to Harvard Business School as early as fall 2021. The blog suggested at the time that more dubious papers may be out there. “Perhaps dozens,” wrote the blog’s authors: Joseph Simmons from the University of Pennsylvania; Uri Simonsohn from the Esade Business School and Leif Nelson from the University of California at Berkeley.
Gino has been on administrative leave from Harvard Business School since June 15 at the latest, according to archived versions of the school’s website. The Harvard Business Review website published work by Gino as late as May 25.
Neither Harvard Business School nor Gino immediately responded to Fortune’s request for comment.
“I am limited [in] what I can say publicly,” Gino wrote in a LinkedIn post last month, yet said she took the allegations “seriously.”
Gino’s lawyers said the professor “viewed the retraction as necessary,” yet disagreed with the accusation that there were discrepancies between the published and original data, “stating that ‘there is no original data available’, according to the retraction notice from Psychological Sciences.
Who is Francesca Gino?
Gino was a celebrated expert in workplace dynamics, leadership and honesty in the growing field of behavioral science. Her most recent book, published in 2018, was titled Rebel Talent: Why it Pays to Break the Rules in Work and Life. The Harvard professor was widely cited by her fellow researchers and by the media.
Gino was a scholar with “so many collaborators, so many articles, who is really a leading scholar in the field,” Maurice Schweitzer, a behavioral economist at the Wharton School and one of her many co-authors, told the New York Times after the allegations against Gino were first raised.
Yet there were already rumblings of data issues with Gino’s work as early as 2021. A 2012 study, co-authored by Gino, was retracted based on manipulated data. The Harvard professor was not responsible for the experiment in question, and she wrote at the time that she started “all my research collaborations from a place of trust,” and hoped ”that all of my co-authors provide data collected with proper care and due diligence, and that they are presented with accuracy,” according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
More recent allegations now highlight issues with that 2012 paper that implicate Gino.
As many as 148 researchers have co-authored papers with Gino, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
“To the best of our knowledge, none of Gino’s co-authors carried out or assisted with the data collection for the studies in this series,” wrote Data Colada’s authors in their commentary on Gino’s work.
The replication crisis
The fake data is another knock against the work of behavioral scientists, who investigate whether small changes in design or the environment can alter a person’s behavior. Often this research claims that small “nudges” can help people work more effectively, productively, or ethically.
Yet further studies show the effects of these nudges may not be as large as claimed.
Scientists have worried about a “replication crisis,” as researchers fail to get the same results as high-profile studies. One 2015 effort to replicate 100 psychology papers was only able to reproduce the results from 39 of them.
Academics blame the pressure to publish a lot of revolutionary papers quickly for the rise in low-quality research, as well as the lack of prestige from—and funding for—testing someone else’s work.