A Dishonesty Expert Stands Accused of Fraud. Scholars Who Worked With Her Are Scrambling.
To Maurice Schweitzer, a University of Pennsylvania professor, it seemed logical to team up with Francesca Gino, a rising star at Harvard Business School. They were both fascinated by the unseemly side of human behavior — misleading, cheating, lying in order to profit — and together, they published eight studies over nearly a decade.
Now, Schweitzer wonders if he was the one being deceived.
Gino is on administrative leave at Harvard amid allegations that research she co-authored contains fabricated data,
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To Maurice E. Schweitzer, a University of Pennsylvania business professor, it seemed logical to team up with Francesca Gino, a rising star at Harvard Business School. They were both fascinated by the unseemly side of human behavior — misleading, cheating, lying in order to profit — and together, they published eight studies over nearly a decade.
Now, Schweitzer wonders if he was the one being deceived.
Gino is on administrative leave from Harvard amid allegations that research she co-authored contains fabricated data, as The Chronicle reported last Friday. The next day, a trio of academics wrote on their blog that they’d found “evidence of fraud” in four of her papers, which they said Harvard was seeking to have retracted. But “we believe that many more Gino-authored papers contain fake data,” they added, without specifying. “Perhaps dozens.”
The revelations have shaken and saddened the behavioral-science community. Gino’s collaborators have been poring through old papers, spreadsheets, computers, and emails, calling each other, and organizing a mass data audit on the fly. One told The Chronicle that he no longer stands by his work with her.
And some are looking with suspicion at the dishonesty researcher they once knew and trusted, a deeply disorienting sensation. A prolific body of studies, a record of headline-grabbing results, a dedication to running experiments on her own: These once looked like the hallmarks of a model scholar. What if they were warning signs?
“There’s so many of us who were impacted by her scholarship, by her leadership in the field,” Schweitzer told The Chronicle, “and as a co-author, as a colleague, it’s deeply upsetting.”
Gino did not return requests for comment. A Harvard spokesman declined to comment.
Clearly we need to be more vigilant and less trusting than we’ve been.
Research-misconduct controversies are hardly new in the behavioral sciences. Diederik Stapel, a Dutch social psychologist, made up and manipulated data in at least 50 papers. Brian Wansink, whose lab studied the psychology behind eating habits, resigned after Cornell University found he’d committed scientific misconduct including data impossibilities and inappropriate statistical practices. Other research has failed to be replicated for a variety of reasons — not necessarily outright fraud, which is thought to be relatively rare — and sparked a “replication crisis” over the past decade.
But Gino’s ties in the field are especially extensive, making the potential fallout that much greater. By one count, she has 148 collaborators. According to her résumé as of August 2022, she has published more than 135 articles since 2007, many of them in the field’s top journals, and served on dissertation committees for more than 30 students.
So far, two of the four papers investigated by Harvard have been identified. One of them, which found that signing an honesty pledge at the top of a form discouraged cheating, was already retracted in 2021 due to fraudulent data in one experiment. It’s now a different experiment in that 2012 paper, handled this time in part by Gino, that is prompting Harvard to request that the retraction notice be updated, according to one of Gino’s co-authors.
“Two different people independently faked data for two different studies in a paper about dishonesty,” wrote the trio of academics known collectively as Data Colada: Joseph Simmons of the University of Pennsylvania; Uri Simonsohn of the Esade Business School, in Spain; and Leif Nelson of the University of California at Berkeley.
On Tuesday, they wrote about alleged signs of data tampering in the second paper, which found that experiencing inauthenticity leads people to feel immoral and impure. It was published in 2015 by Gino, along with Maryam Kouchaki, a management professor at Northwestern University, and Adam D. Galinsky, a professor of leadership and ethics at Columbia University. (The Data Colada bloggers noted that “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.”) Kouchaki and Galinsky are among Gino’s most frequent collaborators, having worked on, respectively, at least 14 and seven papers with her. Neither responded to requests for comment. The editor of Psychological Science, the journal that published the 2015 study, declined to comment, saying that the process was confidential.
The growing concerns have already led to at least one canceled public appearance. On Wednesday, the organizers of an upcoming business conference in Oslo said that they were removing Gino from the speaker lineup.
After finishing her Ph.D. in her native Italy in 2004, followed by a postdoctoral appointment at Harvard, Gino took positions elsewhere — visiting assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — before returning to Harvard in 2010 in a tenure-track role. In 2014, she was named the Tandon Family Professor of Business Administration, a chaired position. (That title was recently removed, according to her faculty website.)
From late 2016 to 2019, Gino was the editor of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, where she characterized herself as a proponent of “open science” efforts to solve her field’s replication crisis. Two years ago, when discussing the “painful” discovery of fraud in the now-retracted 2012 study — the one that she too is now said to have fabricated — she wrote: “I start all my research collaborations from a place of trust and assume that all of my co-authors provide data collected with proper care and due diligence, and that they are presented with accuracy.”
Gino’s dozens of papers about ethical leadership and workplace behavior, done with other scholars at elite business schools, led to countless speaking and consulting gigs with Fortune 500 corporations, from Disney to Google. That work also informed her 2018 book, Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life. Along the way, though, were hints that the foundational research may have been shaky.
A 2014 study, which found that networking leads people to feel physically dirty, failed to replicate in an attempt reported last year. In 2019, an outside team published a meta-analysis of studies about dishonesty, including several of Gino’s, and tried to obtain the original data for each of them. For 10 papers that listed Gino as the first author, the team doing the analysis reported being told that the underlying data was unavailable.
Schweitzer, a professor of operations, information, and decisions at the Wharton School, said that his studies with Gino are not among the four now in question. “But I’m worried about the credibility of my papers,” he said. “I am concerned, and I think we all are.”
Schweitzer said that their research together, which was published between 2008 and 2016, built on topics that he’d already been studying. “It was a collaboration of ideas,” he recalled. For some of their papers together, “we developed ideas and study methods and research design, and then she executed the studies and would show me the results. And then we would assemble the manuscript together.” She was, he added, “always very fast.”
He says he did with Gino what most academics do: trust each other. “I don’t tell my Ph.D. students, ‘Never plagiarize work, never make up data,’” he said. “I assume that’s obvious.” But in hindsight, he acknowledged that it would have been better to supervise the data collection more closely. “Clearly we need to be more vigilant and less trusting than we’ve been,” he said.
Schweitzer isn’t alone in having doubts. Don A. Moore, a management professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, says that he cannot vouch for his work with Gino. For their six experiment-based papers together, “I do not have the original data and I do not trust the results,” he told The Chronicle by email. He said that he plans to undertake a replication and post the results — but “I do not expect them to be publishable.”
On the other hand, Michael H. Yeomans, an assistant professor of strategy and organizational behavior at Imperial College Business School, in London, said by email that he stands by his four studies with her “100%.”
He said that his team has “documented everything,” and that Gino “was never near any data.” Yeomans added, “We did the work, at the time, to ensure our integrity throughout. Not because we had particular concerns about fraud, but because everyone makes human mistakes, and we think it matters whether what we say is true.”
Still others say they are reserving judgment until they finish digging into their past work. “I am waiting to learn more about this case,” Juliana Schroeder, an associate professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, and a seven-time collaborator with Gino, tweeted over the weekend. “It is extremely concerning.”
Lamar Pierce, a professor of organization and strategy at Washington University in St. Louis, published four experiment-based papers with Gino in 2009 and 2010. (A fifth did not rely on data collection, he said.) Pierce said that he and Gino have been close for a long time and that he never had any concerns about her scholarship.
Their roles, he said, were well defined: “She executed the experiments. I got the data, ran the analysis.” She was “very productive,” he recalled, the type who logged 18-hour days, seven days a week. Since their last data-driven paper together, they started several other projects, Pierce said, but killed each one because of a lack of results.
So far, Pierce said, he hasn’t found any errors in their studies — but he plans to have a third party review them, too, and to post the data online.
People need to step back and wait for that information to come out.
“This is blowing up in very widespread ways,” he said.
As editor in chief of the journal Organization Science, Pierce has also had to take stock of the research that Gino published there. When he contacted the collaborators on one of her papers, they told him that the data used came from another source, not from Gino. That’s a reminder, he said, for the field to take a breath: “People need to step back and wait for that information to come out.”
It is also important, he added, to avoid jumping to conclusions about the many scholars who have worked with Gino, some of whom may be early in their careers or soon to come up for tenure.
“We just know that it’s going to impact so many people’s different lives,” Pierce said. “We want to try to get to the best science we can have. We want to think about how to do so in a way that involves kindness and empathy.”
Protecting Young Researchers
Right now, several of Gino’s collaborators are scrambling to get a handle on the scope of the problem. In an auditing effort that’s taking shape by the day, a number of them are starting to compile a master list of published studies and their data sets. One goal “is to protect the work and careers of young researchers by promptly identifying published studies in papers co-authored by Gino, but for which she was not in charge of the data collection or analyses,” the Data Colada bloggers wrote this week.
And if data is missing? “I think that would unfortunately cast a shadow over that paper,” said Schweitzer, who is helping organize the project. “We could either try to replicate those findings or put a question mark around that paper or retract it. We’re still trying to figure out what exactly to do.” These conversations are taking place over lots of Zoom meetings, emails, and phone calls, Schweitzer says, and all 150 or so co-authors are being invited to join.
As far as he knows, there isn’t any precedent for what they’re trying to do. “Not that fraud is new, but this is a big scale,” he said. “As a community we’re figuring this out together, to address what we should do in the short term and what we should do in the long term.”
Over the past decade, psychology’s replication crisis has spurred the adoption of methods to improve the transparency and quality of research. They involve posting data and “preregistering” studies — publicly stating a plan for an experiment before it’s done, to curb the urge to retroactively craft a hypothesis that fits the result. It remains to be seen what lasting effects the scrutiny on Gino might have. Could her purportedly dishonest behavior be the biggest catalyst yet for promoting honesty in science?
If so, it could be an unexpected twist in a story that’s already overflowing with them. “The irony,” Schweitzer acknowledged, is “almost too delicious.”