Harvard Honesty Expert Accused Of Academic Dishonesty

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A prominent behavioral scientist from Harvard University — who once led a study on honesty — is facing allegations of academic dishonesty after investigations into her research have reportedly indicated the results might have been fabricated.

Francesca Gino, a co-author on multiple behavioral science studies published in peer-reviewed journals, has been accused of fabricating the findings in a 2012 paper co-authored with three of her peers, The Chronicle reported. In the study, Gino purportedly found that when people made a pledge of honesty at the beginning of a form versus at the end, they were less likely to be dishonest when filling it out, the outlet explained.

In 2020, three of the co-authors on that study, including two other researchers, presented the science world with a new study, calling into question the results of the 2012 findings as they had been unable to replicate its results. In 2021, three investigators indicated the results of at least one of the experiments in the 2012 study pointed to fraud, The Chronicle reported.

Pointing specifically to an experiment conducted for the 2012 study, Uri Simonsohn of ESADE Business School in Barcelona, Leif Nelson of the University of California, Berkeley and Joseph Simmons of the University of Pennsylvania alleged the data had been manipulated, The New York Times reported.

The experiment involved 100 participants being promised $1 for every puzzle they solved on a worksheet containing 20 puzzles. The participants were led to believe cheating would be undetectable, when in fact researchers could verify if they had solved the puzzles and how many. The study purported that those who had pledged to be honest at the top of the form were more honest than those who had pledged honesty at the bottom of the form, the outlet stated.

Citing a digital record of the study’s findings, Simonsohn, Nelson and Simmons found that subsequent data collected by researchers had been manipulated in the Excel spreadsheet. In August 2021, the same three data investigators found another experiment carried out by Gino in the same study also contained questionable data. In that study, customers were asked to report the mileage of their cars to their insurance company. Yet again, Simonsohn, Nelson and Simmons concluded the data purported to have been collected by respondents had been instead created by someone connected to the research.

The allegations left Gino’s co-authors “stunned and surprised,” leading co-author Dan Ariely of Duke University to retract the 2012 paper, according to The New York Times. Maurice Schweitzer, a behavioral scientist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, told the outlet that because Gino has worked with so many collaborators over the years and is considered a “leading scholar in the field” of behavioral science, the allegations of fraud are being felt throughout the academic community. (RELATED: Texas A&M Professor Arrested For Allegedly Lying About China Ties While Accepting NASA Funding) 

For his part, Schweitzer told The New York Times he was combing through eight studies he co-authored with Gino to look for any indication of fraud, noting other scholars were following suit.

According to Gino’s faculty page at Harvard Business School, she is currently on administrative leave.