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15 July, 2024
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Harvard professor of 'honesty' faces fraud allegations in startling twist

Francesca Gino, renowned expert on honesty, accused of data fraud in behavioral science studies

Source: The Guardian

In an ironic twist in the world of behavioral science, a Harvard professor who studies honesty has been accused of data fraud.

Over the last few weeks, allegations have surfaced against Francesca Gino, a prominent Harvard Business School (HBS) professor who has been accused of falsifying results in several behavioral science studies.

On 16 June, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Max Bazerman, an HBS professor and co-author who published a paper in 2012 alongside Gino, said that Harvard informed him that it believed one of the studies overseen by Gino had falsified results.

The paper in question is on findings published in – and later retracted by – the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and surrounds an experiment that asked participants to fill out tax and insurance paperwork.

“Many written forms required by businesses and governments rely on honest reporting. Proof of honest intent is typically provided through signature at the end of, eg, tax returns or insurance policy forms. Still, people sometimes cheat to advance their financial self-interests at great costs to society. We test an easy-to-implement method to discourage dishonesty: signing at the beginning rather than at the end of a self-report, thereby reversing the order of the current practice,” the paper’s abstract read.

The study claimed to have discovered that participants who were asked to sign truthfulness declarations at the top of the page were more honest than those who were asked to sign the declarations at the bottom of the page.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Bazerman said that the university provided a 14-page document that included “compelling evidence” of data falsification, including the discovery that someone accessed a database and added and altered data in the file. He went on to deny any involvement in the alleged data tampering, telling the Chronicle: “I did not have anything to do with the fabrication.”

A day later, a blog called DataColada and run by three behavioral science academics published a four-part series of posts that detailed extensive evidence of the alleged fraud in four academic papers co-authored by Gino.

“We discovered evidence of fraud in papers spanning over a decade, including papers published quite recently (in 2020),” the blog authors, ESADE Business School’s Uri Simonsohn, University of California, Berkeley’s Leif Nelson, and University of Pennsylvania’s Joseph Simmons, wrote.

“In the fall of 2021, we shared our concerns with Harvard Business School. Specifically, we wrote a report about four studies for which we had accumulated the strongest evidence of fraud. We believe that many more Gino-authored papers contain fake data. Perhaps dozens,” the scholars said.

“We understand that Harvard had access to much more information than we did, including, where applicable, the original data collected using Qualtrics survey software. If the fraud was carried out by collecting real data on Qualtrics and then altering the downloaded data files, as is likely to be the case for three of these papers, then the original Qualtrics files would provide airtight evidence of fraud. (Conversely, if our concerns were misguided, then those files would provide airtight evidence that they were misguided),” they added.

To the best of their knowledge, none of Gino’s co-authors carried out or assisted with the data collection for the studies in question, the scholars said.

According to Gino’s HBS profile, she is currently on administrative leave.

Speaking to the New York Times, a man who identified himself as Gino’s husband said: “It’s obviously something that is very sensitive that we can’t speak to now.”

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