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Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino, an academic known for her studies on dishonesty, is at risk of losing her position at the University over allegations of data fraud. Now, Gino’s former co-authors are working to keep the rest of her research honest.
This Monday, six of Gino’s co-authors — professors Max H. Bazerman, Julia A. Minson ’99, Don Moore, Juliana Schroeder, Maurice Schweitzer, and Uri Simonsohn — released the “Many Co-Authors Project,” a compilation of raw data from all of Gino’s past studies. By providing an avenue for academics to review Gino’s work, they hope to correct the scientific record and protect Gino’s co-authors from allegations of misconduct.
“We see it as our professional and moral obligation to provide information about the data provenance and data custody for those papers,” the project’s mission states.
This past spring, the data analysis blog Data Colada alleged there was fraudulent data in four of Gino’s studies. Simonsohn, one of the organizers behind the Many Co-Authors Project, is also a writer for Data Colada. The site’s findings prompted an HBS investigation into Gino’s work, which culminated in Gino being placed on unpaid administrative leave earlier this year.
After she was placed on leave, Gino leveled a $25 million lawsuit against the Business School, Data Colada, and HBS Dean Srikant M. Datar. Gino maintained that she was innocent and accused the defendants of conspiring to damage her reputation, alleging gender discrimination in the school’s handling of her case.
In a public statement following the release of the Many Co-Authors Project, Gino’s team voiced concerns that the project could interfere with the lawsuit.
“Instead of enhancing research practices of the field at large, the project is a witch hunt for one woman, instigated by the very people and groups involved in the lawsuit,” said Andrew T. Miltenberg, an attorney for Gino.
The six researchers emailed 143 academics across 138 published papers co-authored by Gino, asking whether Gino had been involved in the data collection of each paper. If the co-authors confirmed or were unsure of Gino’s involvement, the Many Co-Authors team requested access to the papers’ raw data. The project’s website catalogs Gino’s involvement in each of these studies and links the raw data when available.
The project also emailed Gino a spreadsheet with questions on the 138 publications, which they said they would publish if Gino provides a response. In the spreadsheet, the six researchers asked about Gino’s involvement in data collection, whether the data was collected on Qualtrics, and for collaborators with authorization to Qualtrics for each study.
Gino criticized the Many Co-Authors Project for a lack of transparency, claiming the group kept her “in the dark” and only invited her to participate two weeks before it went public.
“I have deep reservations with the way the project was structured,” Gino wrote. “For months, I was kept in the dark about the details of the MCAP.”
According to the website, the Many Co-Authors Project will make all information it receives publicly available, and studies’ authors are encouraged to caption their articles with updates on the presence or absence of apparent data manipulation. These “living documents” can be changed as academics reexamine the validity of the studies they co-authored with Gino.
Per the project’s website, its living format means Gino is able to participate in the project at any time, noting that “if she sends relevant information back we will post an updated spreadsheet.”
The site’s living documents have encouraged some co-authors to reflect on the importance of transparency in academia.
In reflections included in one such document, Michael Yeomans, a professor at Imperial College London, described feeling “shocked and saddened” when he became aware of the fraud allegations against Gino. He said the Many Co-Authors Project is a much-needed effort to set the scientific record straight.
“We think our work comes to important conclusions, and it is important to be sure those conclusions are based on sound evidence,” Yeomans wrote. “This is also a good opportunity to improve and reflect on the processes by which we add to our field’s body of knowledge, individually and collectively.”
The allegations against Gino have led some to question the larger research practices of her field — behavioral science, the study of human behavior and decision-making.
Even before the fraud allegations against Gino, behavioral science had been criticized for utilizing gimmicky research methods. Recently, several prominent behavioral scientists’ work has been cast into doubt, including Gino.
Some participants said the Many Co-Authors Project could help restore perceptions of the field’s data collection and peer review standards.
“As a field, we are still engaged in discussions about best practices for how to handle publications for which co-authors don’t currently have the data,” wrote Kathleen D. Vohs, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, in her living document. “This author team would like to learn from these discussions.”
However, not all participants view the Many Co-Authors Project as strictly positive — some have voiced concerns the project could contribute to a culture of over-policing in academia.
One co-author recalls feeling reservations about submitting their data to the Many Co-Authors project but believed refusing to participate “would be perceived as an admission of guilt” because the Many Co-Authors website explicitly displays which co-authors chose to submit data and which did not.
“The framing basically made it feel like people who are not going to participate have something to hide,” they said. “It feels to me that they were bullying people into participating.”
The Many Co-Authors Project did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Out of the 143 authors whom the researchers emailed, 111 had fully completed the questionnaire as of Tuesday. Over the next few months, the Many Co-Authors Project intends to continue updating its website with additional data.
—Staff writer Jennifer Y. Song can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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