Charles Ponzi

Dishonest Research About Honesty

What is it about research into honesty that attracts such problems? Retractions of papers about honesty in human behavior are multiplying like tribbles. Harvard is seeking retraction of three papers written by a star of behavioral research – Professor Francesca Gino. Her research was all about honesty.

This is the most recent of a series of notable cases of integrity issues with research about honesty. Two years ago, Scientific Reports retracted research that claimed that people with obesity are more dishonest than others. After ConscienHealth and others raised questions about their analysis, the journal’s editors determined they could “no longer have confidence in the conclusions presented.”

Need we mention that more than a little irony is present here?


Folks from Data Colada started the process that led to Gino’s retractions. In the fall of 2021, they shared concerns with the Harvard Business School about potentially fraudulent data in a number of studies Gino authored. Describing the experience, they called it a “clusterfake.” Their analysis of four studies suggested that data had been falsified.

Now it seems that their suspicions were justified. Gino is on administrative leave and NPR reports that the Hartford Insurance Company confirms the falsification of data they provided for a 2012 paper which Gino co-authored. The Hartford told NPR:

“It is clear the data was manipulated inappropriately and supplemented by synthesized or fabricated data.”

This paper achieved an unusual level of fame in behavioral science before it was retracted. Now it is infamous.

We could go on, but we will leave you to read more about this tale of irony, amply covered by others. This merely strengthens our belief in the advice attributed Voltaire and others:

“Cherish those who seek the truth, but beware of those who find it.”

Click here, here, here, and here for more on the issues with honesty research from Professor Gino. For more on the retracted study of honesty and obesity, click here and here.

Charles Ponzi, photograph from the Boston Public Library / Wikimedia Commons

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August 1, 2023

One Response to “Dishonest Research About Honesty”

  1. August 01, 2023 at 9:31 am, Allen Browne said:

    Yup! – Voltaire had it right!