Brian Wansink

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Brian Wansink
Wansink in 1998
Born (1960-06-28) June 28, 1960 (age 63)
Alma materWayne State College (BS)
Drake University (MA)
Stanford University (PhD)
AwardsIg Nobel Prize (2007)
Scientific career
Fieldsconsumer behavior, nutrition psychology
InstitutionsCornell University, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Brian Wansink (born June 28, 1960) is an American former professor and researcher who worked in consumer behavior and marketing research. He was the executive director of the USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) from 2007 to 2009 and held the John S. Dyson Endowed Chair in the Applied Economics and Management Department at Cornell University, where he directed the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.[1]

Wansink's lab researched people's food choices and ways to improve those choices. Starting in 2017, problems with Wansink's papers and presentations were brought to wider public scrutiny. These problems included conclusions not supported by the data presented, data and figures duplicated across papers, questionable data (including impossible values), incorrect and inappropriate statistical analyses, and "p-hacking".[2][3][4][5][6][7] As of 2020 Wansink has had 18 of his research papers retracted (one twice). Seven other papers have received an expression of concern, and 15 others have been corrected.[8] On September 20, 2018, Cornell determined that Wansink had committed scientific misconduct and removed him from research and teaching activities; he resigned effective June 30, 2019.[6]

Early life and education[edit]

Brian Wansink was born in Sioux City, Iowa.[9] He was raised in a blue-collar family and is the older brother of Craig Wansink,[10] a professor and chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Virginia Wesleyan.[11] Wansink received a B.S. in business administration from Wayne State College (Nebraska) in 1982, where he was a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity, and an M.A. in journalism and mass communication from Drake University in 1984, followed by a Ph.D. in marketing (consumer behavior) in 1990 from Stanford Graduate School of Business.[1][12]


Cornell Food and Brand Lab outreach


Wansink's first academic appointment was to the faculty of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College (1990–1994). He then taught at the Wharton Graduate School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania (1995–1997) and went on to a position as a marketing, nutritional science, advertising, and agricultural economics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1997–2005) before moving to the Department of Applied Economics and Management in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University in 2005.[1] He set up a nonprofit foundation to support his work in 1999.[9][10]


Wansink's research focused on ways people make choices—for example, how portion sizes affect food intake. Some of his work led to the introduction of mini-size packaging.[13] Another of his papers found that people who eat with someone who is overweight will make worse food choices, which the UK National Health Service described as "not wholly convincing and does not prove this phenomenon exists in the general population."[14]

In 2005, Wansink's lab published experimental findings in a paper called "Bottomless bowls: why visual cues of portion size may influence intake". In this study, the lab built an apparatus containing a tube that pumped soup into the bottom of a bowl at a steady rate as the participant ate. Those who ate from the bottomless bowl ate more soup than those whose bowls were filled manually, thus making them more aware of the amount they ate.[15][16] In 2007, Wansink received the Ig Nobel Prize in nutrition for the "bottomless bowls" study.[17] The experiment's data and analysis were challenged as part of the review of Wansink's body of work that started in 2017.[18]

In 2006, Wansink published Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.[13] It was described as a popular science book combined with a self-help diet book, as each chapter ends with brief advice on eating.[19] The book details Wansink's research into what, how much, and when people eat.[13][20] The book was cited by National Action Against Obesity as being helpful in efforts to curb obesity in the United States[21] and the National Institute of Health's Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research produced a "Brian Wansink Spotlight" video regarding this research in March 2016.[22]

In a 2009 paper retracted in 2018,[23] a team led by Wansink described their finding that calorie counts in The Joy of Cooking had gone up around 44% since the cookbook's first edition in 1936, and related this to the obesity epidemic. Over time this finding became a shorthand way to refer to the supposedly unhealthy Western pattern diet. The publisher of Joy of Cooking, John Becker, noticed that Wansink's sample size was small, consisting of only 18 recipes out of about 4500 that were published during the study time interval, and did his own analysis of changes in calories in the recipes. In 2017, after news of Wansink's research practices became widely discussed in the media, Becker sent his results to several statisticians, including James Heathers, a behavioral scientist at Northeastern University. Heathers found Wansink's conclusions to be invalid, and found a number of other problems with Wansink's paper, including counting a whole cake as a "serving" and comparing a recipe for a clear chicken broth with one for gumbo.[24]

Wansink's second book, Slim by Design, was released in 2014. In the same year he ran a Kickstarter campaign and raised around $10,000 to fund a coaching program based on the book; as of February 2018 the program had not been produced.[25]


Wansink was appointed as the executive director of the USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion from November 2007 through January 2009. He was responsible for oversight of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans,, and various other food-related programs administered by the USDA.[26]

In 2011, Wansink was elected to a one-year-term as president of the Society for Nutrition Education.[27]

Retractions and corrections[edit]

Pizza papers[edit]

In January 2017, the validity of research from Wansink's labs was called into question after Wansink had written a blog post about asking a graduate student to "salvage" conclusions from a study which had null results, subsequently producing five papers from it, all published with Wansink as co-author.[3] Statisticians Tim Van der Zee, Jordan Anaya, and Nicholas Brown analyzed four of the five papers (referred to as "the pizza papers"), and found conclusions not supported by the data presented, and a total of 150 questionable numbers, such as impossible values, incorrect ANOVA results, and dubious p-values.[2][3] According to critics, requests for access to the original data were denied by Wansink, who cited privacy issues regarding the anonymity of the participants. A February 2017 article in New York Magazine described the pizza papers as "shockingly unprofessional" and expressed concern over the journals that published them.[2][28]

In response, Wansink announced an in-depth review of the four disputed papers, after locating some of the original datasets,[29] and published a detailed response in March 2017.[3] A few days later, Cornell released a statement that the university administration had conducted a preliminary investigation of Wansink's four pizza papers, and had not found evidence of scientific misconduct. The investigation did find multiple cases of self-plagiarism and confirmed "numerous instances of inappropriate data handling and statistical analysis", requiring Wansink to hire independent, external statistical experts to check and reanalyze his own review of the papers.[3][30]

Further corrections and retractions[edit]

Later in 2017, errors were found in six other papers published by members of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. As of December 2017, six papers had been retracted and 14 corrections had been issued.[31]

By March 2018, two more papers had been retracted and an additional correction made, bringing the total counts to 8 retractions (one paper retracted twice) and 15 corrections.[5] In April 2018, JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) issued a "Notice of Expression of Concern" about all six articles authored by Wansink in JAMA and JAMA network specialty journals, to alert the scientific community of concerns about the validity of Wansink's research; the notice included a request for Cornell to have the validity of the papers independently assessed.[32] In September 2018 JAMA retracted six papers by Wansink.[33]

Seventeen other papers authored or co-authored by Wansink were retracted.[34][31][35][7]

Cornell's investigation[edit]

In September 2018, Cornell determined that Wansink had committed scientific misconduct and removed him from all teaching and research positions; he was only allowed to help in investigations of his published work. He also resigned from the university, effective June 30, 2019.[6] After the announcement of his misconduct and resignation, Wansink acknowledged in emails to Buzzfeed that there had been some problems with his publications but also wrote, "There was no fraud, no intentional misreporting, no plagiarism, or no misappropriation."[6] Cornell released a summary of its investigation, in which it stated, "The practices identified included data falsification, a failure to assure data accuracy and integrity, inappropriate attribution of authorship of research publications, inappropriate research methods, failure to obtain necessary research approvals, and dual publication or submission of research findings."[36]


  • Sudman, Seymour; Wansink, Brian (2002). Consumer Panels (2nd ed.). Chicago, Ill.: American Marketing Association. ISBN 978-0-87757-297-8.
  • Bradburn, Norman M.; Sudman, Seymour; Wansink, Brian (2004). Asking Questions: The Definitive Guide to Questionnaire Design for Market Research, Political Polls, and Social and Health Questionnaires (Rev. ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 978-0-7879-7088-8.
  • Wansink, Brian (2004). Marketing Nutrition: Soy, Functional Foods, Biotechnology, and Obesity (First Illinois paperback ed.). Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-02942-4.
  • Wansink, Brian (2006). Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0-553-80434-8.
  • Wansink, Brian (2014). Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 978-0062136527.


Wansink is married and has three daughters.[37] His wife trained as a chef at Le Cordon Bleu.[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Wansink, Brian (June 7, 2017). "Wansink Vita" (PDF). Dyson Cornell SC Johnson School of Business.
  2. ^ a b c Singal, Jesse (February 8, 2017). "A Popular Diet-Science Lab Has Been Publishing Really Shoddy Research". New York magazine. Retrieved February 20, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e O'Grady, Cathleen (April 24, 2017). ""Mindless Eating," or how to send an entire life of research into question". Ars Technica.
  4. ^ Lee, Stephanie M. (February 25, 2018). "Sliced And Diced: The Inside Story Of How An Ivy League Food Scientist Turned Shoddy Data Into Viral Studies". BuzzFeed.
  5. ^ a b "Caught Our Notice: Retraction eight as errors in Wansink paper are "too voluminous" for a correction". Retraction Watch. March 19, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d "Cornell Just Found Brian Wansink Guilty Of Scientific Misconduct And He Has Resigned". BuzzFeed News. September 20, 2018. Archived from the original on September 20, 2018. Retrieved September 20, 2018.
  7. ^ a b Oransky, Ivan (December 5, 2018). "The Joy of Cooking, vindicated: Journal retracts two more Brian Wansink papers". Retraction Watch. Retrieved December 5, 2018.
  8. ^ "Retraction Watch Database". Retraction Watch. Center for Scientific Integrity. Retrieved June 5, 2020.
  9. ^ a b "Brian Wansink Ph.D." HealthCorps. Archived from the original on October 19, 2017. Retrieved June 8, 2017.
  10. ^ a b Jenkins, Robin Mather (March 30, 2005). "The wizard of why". Tribune Digital. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  11. ^ Jiggetts, Jennifer (November 27, 2010). "Teaching, preaching: Norfolk man has two callings". Virginian-Pilot. Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  12. ^ "Distinguished Alumni". Tau Kappa Epsilon. Retrieved November 11, 2023.
  13. ^ a b c Severson, Kim (October 11, 2006). "Seduced by Snacks? No, Not You". The New York Times.
  14. ^ "Behind the Headlines: Eating with a fat friend 'makes you eat more'". National Health Service. October 6, 2014.
  15. ^ Schachtman, Todd; Reilly, Steve (2011). Associative learning and conditioning theory: human and non-human applications. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199735969. OCLC 664352638.
  16. ^ Leonhardt, David (May 2, 2007). "Your Plate Is Bigger Than Your Stomach". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 26, 2017.
  17. ^ "Ig Nobel Prizes Stranger Than Fiction". Science. October 5, 2007.
  18. ^ Etchells, Pete; Chambers, Chris (February 16, 2018). "Mindless eating: is there something rotten behind the research?". The Guardian.
  19. ^ Ross, Madeline K.B. (October 25, 2006). "Why Do I Keep Super Sizing Me?". The Harvard Crimson.
  20. ^ Kennedy, Jack L. (October 31, 2006). "Joplin Independent: Mindless Eating is a nourishing read". Joplin Independent.
  21. ^ "MeMe Roth And National Action Against Obesity Name 2006 Heroes and Villains in U.S. Fight Against Obesity". PRWeb. December 19, 2006. Retrieved April 1, 2018.
  22. ^ "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think | Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research". March 10, 2016. Retrieved December 21, 2023.
  23. ^ "Study that took aim at 'Joy of Cooking' is retracted". NBC News. Associated Press. December 6, 2018. Retrieved December 7, 2018.
  24. ^ Rosner, Helen (March 21, 2018). "The Strange, Uplifting Tale of "Joy of Cooking" Versus the Food Scientist". New Yorker.
  25. ^ Lee, Stephanie (February 23, 2018). "An Ivy League Scientist Raised $10,000 On Kickstarter For A Weight-Loss Program That Never Launched". BuzzFeed.
  26. ^ Lang, Susan S. (November 20, 2007). "Wansink accepts 14-month appointment as executive director of USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion : Cornell Chronicle". Cornell Chronicle.
  27. ^ "Past Presidents". SNEB. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  28. ^ Dahlberg, Brett (September 26, 2018). "Cornell Food Researcher's Downfall Raises Larger Questions For Science". Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  29. ^ Bartlett, Tom (March 17, 2017). "Spoiled Science". The Chronicle of Higher Education.
  30. ^ "Cornell University Statement Regarding Questions About Professor Brian Wansink's Research | Cornell Chronicle". April 7, 2017. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  31. ^ a b "Another retraction to appear for Cornell food scientist Brian Wansink". Retraction Watch. December 28, 2017.
  32. ^ Bauchner, Howard (2018). "Expression of Concern: Wansink B, Cheney MM. Super Bowls: Serving Bowl Size and Food Consumption. JAMA 2005; 293(14):1727-1728". JAMA. 319 (18): 1869. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.4908. PMID 29710107.
  33. ^ "JAMA journals retract six papers by food marketing researcher Brian Wansink". Retraction Watch. September 19, 2018.
  34. ^ "Retraction Watch Database: Wansink". Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  35. ^ "Retract, replace, retract: Beleaguered food researcher pulls article from JAMA journal (again)". Retraction Watch. October 20, 2017.
  36. ^ Dahlberg, Brett (November 6, 2018). "Cornell finds laboratory head falsified data". Retrieved December 6, 2018.
  37. ^ Richtel, Matt (June 20, 2012). "Putting the Squeeze on a Family Ritual". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved August 13, 2020.
  38. ^ Butler, Kiera (March 2015). "This fast-food-loving, organics-hating Ivy League prof will trick you into eating better". Mother Jones. Retrieved July 16, 2018.

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