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Harvard Business School Investigation Report Recommended Firing Francesca Gino

A Harvard Business School report detailing its internal investigation into allegations of data fraud by professor Francesca Gino found her responsbile for research misconduct and recommended her firing.
A Harvard Business School report detailing its internal investigation into allegations of data fraud by professor Francesca Gino found her responsbile for research misconduct and recommended her firing. By Sami E. Turner
By Benjamin Isaac, Crimson Staff Writer

An internal report from the Harvard Business School revealed that the faculty committee charged with leading the investigation into allegations of data fraud against professor Francesca Gino found her responsible for the alleged misconduct and recommended her termination.

The report, a nearly 1,300-page document detailing the Business School’s process for investigating allegations of research misconduct against faculty members, became public after a federal judge ordered it unsealed in a ruling on Tuesday.

Late last year, the University filed to make the investigation report widely available and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the New Yorker intervened in the case to request the document be placed on the public record. Gino’s legal team, however, opposed making the document public.

Andrew T. Miltenberg, Gino’s attorney, wrote in an emailed statement on Thursday that the report was a “one-sided, unreliable, and confidential HR document” and its release came “without opportunity for my client to dispute the factual allegations through the normal process of litigation and discovery.”

The Crimson has reached out to HBS for comment.

The document was produced by three HBS faculty members and lies at the heart of a $25 million defamation lawsuit filed by Gino against Harvard over its investigation into the data fraud allegations. Gino has rejected all allegations of research misconduct against her.

While HBS Dean Srikant M. Datar revealed a few details from the report in an August 2023 email to faculty defending the school’s handling of the allegations against Gino, the full document pulls back the curtain on how Harvard conducts investigations into claims of research misconduct — a highly confidential and opaque process.

Data Colada — a data investigation blog run by three business school professors that first publicly accused Gino of data fraud in a series of posts in June — said it contacted HBS about Gino’s alleged misconduct in fall 2021. The internal report revealed that around the same time, on Oct. 12, 2021, the school received an anonymous complaint against Gino, also alleging research misconduct.

Three days later, Datar initiated an official inquiry into the allegations.

The inquiry concluded that the allegations warranted a full investigation, which launched an 11-month process in which the three-member HBS faculty committee conducted transcribed interviews with Gino and witnesses, a forensic analysis by an external firm that specializes in research misconduct evaluations, and a review of Gino’s own electronic files.

In its March 2023 final report to Datar, the committee wrote that Gino had two main defenses against the allegations. The first, the report read, was honest error, likely by her research assistants. However, the report concluded that Gino “does not provide any evidence of RA error that we find persuasive in explaining the major anomalies and discrepancies.”

Gino’s second explanation was that “someone other than herself tampered with the data,” according to the report.

The report says that Gino asserted that “an unknown actor with malicious intentions was a more plausible explanation than honest errors or intentional data falsification by herself.”

The report says that Gino named a professor who collaborated with her on several research projects as the person she believed intentionally falsified her data.

While the professor’s name was redacted from the public copy of the report, the person was identified as a female co-author on a 2012 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed journal. That article has since been retracted and is among the four papers in which Gino has been accused of committing data fraud.

The report indicated that though the committee determined that although the professor may have had negative feelings toward Gino and the ability to manipulate the data, the committee did not find the malicious actor explanation plausible, because in their view Gino failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove it.

The committee also recommended that Datar immediately place Gino on unpaid leave and initiate proceedings to terminate her from the University.

In June, three months after the committee concluded its investigation into June, Data Colada released its series of blog posts about Gino. Around the same time, she was barred from campus and stripped of her endowed faculty title.

Harvard’s Office of the President notified Gino in late July that her tenure was under review for revocation. If she is stripped of her tenure, it would be an unprecedented move by Harvard, as there are no known cases of the University revoking a professor’s tenure.

On Aug. 2, Gino took legal action against Data Colada and Harvard, accusing the University of gender discrimination and alleging that Harvard and Data Colada conspired to damage her reputation with false accusations.

Datar, however, wrote in his August 2023 email to faculty members that after reviewing the committee’s report he “could come to no other conclusion, and I accepted their findings.”

“I ultimately accepted the investigation committee’s recommended sanctions,” Datar wrote. “The sanctions reflect a shared belief that the misconduct represented a significant violation of academic integrity and that the evidence not only met but surpassed the applicable preponderance of evidence standard.”

The investigation concluded that Gino had “significantly departed from accepted practices of the relevant research community and committed research misconduct intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly.”

In addition to the sanctions against Gino, the report also recommended an audit of “other published empirical studies by Professor Gino, beyond the four studies at issue in these allegations.”

Miltenberg, Gino’s attorney, slammed the report and Harvard’s investigation, writing that while he opposed the report’s release, “the silver lining is that people can see for themselves that this investigation was a charade.”

“Harvard found no evidence that Prof. Gino modified data, not a single co-author or research assistant interviewed believed she did it, and their own forensics firm did not claim they proved Prof. Gino’s guilt,” Miltenberg added.

Gino’s $25 million lawsuit against Harvard awaits its first major ruling on whether most of the claims filed by Gino will proceed or be immediately dismissed.

—Staff writer Benjamin Isaac can be reached at benjamin.isaac@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @benjaminisaac_1.

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