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Gino Suggested BU Prof. Manipulated Data, Harvard Business School Report Shows

The Baker Library lies on the Harvard Business School's main campus along the Charles River in Allston. HBS professor Francesca Gino suggested that Nina Mažar, a Boston University professor, tampered with her data.
The Baker Library lies on the Harvard Business School's main campus along the Charles River in Allston. HBS professor Francesca Gino suggested that Nina Mažar, a Boston University professor, tampered with her data. By Michael Gritzbach
By Benjamin Isaac, Crimson Staff Writer

Updated March 19, 2024, at 8:49 p.m.

Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino — who came under fire for allegations of data manipulation — suggested that Boston University professor and co-author Nina Mažar tampered with her data, according to an internal HBS report.

Mažar, whose name has not been previously reported, was identified in the report as one of two female co-writers with Gino on a prominent 2012 study, following which The Crimson confirmed her identity. The copy of the report was unsealed by a judge on Thursday with redactions of Mažar’s name throughout the document.

“I was stunned to learn of Professor Gino’s false claims about me,” Mažar wrote in a statement Tuesday evening.

“Those claims have no basis in reality,” Mažar added. “I am nevertheless grateful that Harvard undertook the work necessary to spell out all the reasons that her allegations amount to nothing but an unfortunate attempt to shift the blame and focus from her.”

Last June, three business school professors — the authors of Data Colada, a data investigation blog — publicly accused Gino of data falsification in at least four papers.

Following the allegations, the Business School launched an internal investigation — which produced the nearly 1,300-page report released Thursday — and Gino was barred from campus and stripped of her endowed faculty title. The next month, Gino also received notice from Harvard’s Office of the President that her tenure was under review for revocation.

According to the report, Gino provided two initial defenses in response to the investigation: that the data anomalies were due to honest error, and that someone other than her tampered with the data.

The 2012 study Gino co-authored with Mažar and three other prominent business school professors was retracted in 2021 following allegations that the paper contained fraudulent data. The infamous study claimed to show that asking respondents to sign a form before filling it out reduced the likelihood that they would lie.

The HBS report indicated that Gino specifically pointed to Mažar as “the most likely actor with malicious intentions,” as well as both the means and motive to manipulate the data.

Andrew T. Miltenberg, an attorney representing Gino, wrote in a Tuesday statement following this article’s publication that it is “important to remember that Prof. Gino was limited in her ability to defend herself as Harvard prevented her from finding out what really happened.”

“They gave her little time to digest the analyses from the consultant HBS hired, and did not provide her any forensic experts,” Miltenberg added. “Since then, Prof. Gino has since been able to hire forensic expert support, and we are excited to present this information in a court of law as a part of her defense.”

Gino claimed the act was in retaliation for her allegedly insufficient defense of Mažar from criticisms about the 2012 study. According to the report, Gino claimed Mažar had access to her Qualtrics account, the platform used to collect and access data from the study.

Gino cited correspondence indicating tension between the five co-authors of the 2012 study after they began trying to replicate its findings one year before the first allegations of data fraud. According to the report, Gino claimed that Mažar had said to her, “You’re going to hurt as much as I do.”

Still, the Business School report concluded that though it was possible the discrepancies were due to a malicious actor, the evidence indicated that it was not plausible.

The report said that Gino “provided no evidence that anyone accessed her Qualtrics account or her computer’s hard drive for the purposes of falsifying data at any time” and that there was no evidence that Mažar, “her prime suspect, had any of her login credentials or access to her laptop.” Additionally, the report noted that Gino was the only person involved in all four studies under examination.

The investigation concluded that Gino had “engaged in multiple instances of research misconduct,” and the faculty committee called for a correction of the scientific record, an audit of Gino’s work, and that HBS Dean Srikant M. Datar immediately place Gino on unpaid leave and initiate proceedings to terminate her from the University.

Gino has rejected all allegations of research misconduct against her. “I just need to say that I did not — ever — engage in academic fraud,” Gino said in a statement on her website on Friday.

In the statement, Gino slammed the case against her as “weak” and composed of “bogus allegations.”

Gino is currently engaged in a $25 million legal battle against Harvard and Data Colada, accusing the University of gender discrimination and alleging that Harvard and Data Colada conspired to damage her reputation with false accusations.

The lawsuit awaits its first major ruling.

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

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