Brian Wansink

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Brian Wansink
BRIAN435S6556 copy.jpg
Wansink in 2007
Born Sioux City, Iowa
Known for Food behavior and psychology
Awards Ig Nobel Prize (2007)
Scientific career
Fields consumer behavior, nutrition psychology
Institutions Cornell University

Brian Wansink is an American professor in the fields of consumer behavior and marketing research. He is the former executive director of the USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) (2007–2009) and holds the John S. Dyson Endowed Chair in the Applied Economics and Management Department at Cornell University, where he is director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.[1]

Wansink's lab does research about people's food choices and ways to improve those choices. Starting in 2017, problems with Wansink's papers and presentations were widely discussed in the media; these problems included conclusions not supported by the data presented, data and figures duplicated across papers, and questionable data, including impossible values and incorrect and inappropriate statistical analyses, including data manipulation via "p-hacking".[2][3] By March 2018, the lab had seven papers retracted (one twice) and had 15 corrections issued.[4][5]

Early life and education[edit]

Brian Wansink was born in Sioux City, Iowa.[6] He was raised in a blue-collar family and is the older brother of Craig Wansink,[7] a professor and chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Virginia Wesleyan.[8] Wansink received a B.S. in Business Administration from Wayne State College (Nebraska) in 1982 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]

Wansink is married and has three daughters. His wife is a trained chef.[9]


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 taught at the Wharton Graduate School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania (1995–1997), and was 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.[6][7]

Wansink's research focuses 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.[10] Another of his papers found that people who eat with someone who is fat will make worse food choices, which the UK NHS described as "not wholly convincing and does not prove this phenomenon exists in the general population."[11]

In 2005, Wansink's lab published experimental findings in a paper titled, "Bottomless bowls: why visual cues of portion size may influence intake". In the "bottomless bowls study", an apparatus was built which contained a tube that pumped soup into the bottom of a bowl at a steady rate as the participant ate. Participants who ate from the bottomless bowl consumed more soup than those whose bowls were filled manually (thus were aware of the amount they consumed).[12][13] In 2007, Wansink received the Ig Nobel Prize in Nutrition for the "bottomless bowls" study.[14] The experiment's data and analysis were challenged as part of the review of Wansink's body of work that started in 2017.[15]

In 2006, Wansink published Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.[10] It was described as a popular science book combined with a self-help diet book, as each chapter ends with brief advice.[16] The book details Wansink's research into what, how much, and when people eat.[10][17] The book was cited by the National Action Against Obesity as being helpful in effort to curb obesity in the United States.[18]

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.[19] In 2011, Wansink was elected to a one-year-term as president of the Society for Nutrition Education.[20]

In a 2009 paper, 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 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 problems with Wansink's paper, including counting a whole cake as a "serving" and comparing a recipe for a clear chicken soup with one for gumbo.[21]

Wansink's second book, Slim by Design was released in 2014. During 2014 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 never been produced.[22]

Retractions and corrections[edit]

Pizza papers[edit]

Panel from a 2011 xkcd cartoon explaining p hacking, in which scientists look for relationships between many colors of jelly beans and acne, and find a p value <0.05 only for green ones.[23]

Cited in New York Magazine piece about Wansink lab's p hacking.[2]

In January 2017, the validity of research from Wansink's labs was called into question by Jordan Anaya, Nicholas J L Brown, and Tim van der Zee, 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] Van der Zee, Anaya, and Brown analysed 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 the critics, requests for access to the original data were denied by Wansink, who cited privacy issues over 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]

In response, Wansink announced an in-depth review of the four disputed papers, after locating some of the original datasets,[24] and published a detailed response in March 2017.[3] A few days later, Cornell released a statement confirming 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][25]

Further corrections and retractions follow[edit]

Later in 2017, Anaya and his colleagues found errors 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.[26]

By March 2018, two more papers had been retracted and an additional correction made, bringing the totals to 7 (one of them retracted twice, so technically 8) and 15, respectively.[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.[27]

The following papers were retracted:[28][26][29]

  • Wansink, Brian; Park, Se-Bum (November 2002). "Retracted: Sensory Suggestiveness and Labeling: Do Soy Labels Bias Taste?". Journal of Sensory Studies. 17 (5): 483–491. doi:10.1111/j.1745-459X.2002.tb00360.x. 
"Retraction Statement: 'Sensory suggestiveness and labeling: Do soy labels bias taste?' by B. Wansink and S.-B. Park". Journal of Sensory Studies. 32 (2): e12259. April 2017. doi:10.1111/joss.12259. 
  • Wansink, Brian; Westgren, Randall (December 2003). "RETRACTED: Profiling taste-motivated segments". Appetite. 41 (3): 323–327. doi:10.1016/S0195-6663(03)00120-X. 
  • Wansink, Brian; Just, David R.; Payne, Collin R. (1 October 2012). "Can Branding Improve School Lunches?". Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 166 (10): 967. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2012.999.  (retracted and republished then retracted again)
Wansink, Brian; Just, David R.; Payne, Collin R. (21 September 2017). "Notice of Retraction and Replacement. Wansink B, Just DR, Payne CR. Can Branding Improve School Lunches? 2012;166(10):967-968. doi: 10.1001/archpediatrics.2012.999". JAMA Pediatrics. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.3136. 
Wansink, Brian; Just, David R.; Payne, Collin R. (1 December 2017). "Notice of Retraction. Wansink B, Just DR, Payne CR. Can Branding Improve School Lunches? 2012;166(10):967-968". JAMA Pediatrics. 171 (12): 1230. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.4603. PMID 29053760. 
  • Wansink, Brian; Just, David R.; Payne, Collin R.; Klinger, Matthew Z. (October 2012). "RETRACTED: Attractive names sustain increased vegetable intake in schools". Preventive Medicine. 55 (4): 330–332. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2012.07.012. PMID 22846502. 
  • Siğirci, Özge; Wansink, Brian (19 November 2015). "RETRACTED ARTICLE: Low prices and high regret: how pricing influences regret at all-you-can-eat buffets". BMC Nutrition. 1 (1). doi:10.1186/s40795-015-0030-x. 
Siğirci, Özge; Wansink, Brian (15 September 2017). "Retraction Note: Low prices and high regret: how pricing influences regret at all-you-can-eat buffets". BMC Nutrition. 3 (1). doi:10.1186/s40795-017-0195-6. 
  • Sigirci, Ozge; Rockmore, Marc; Wansink, Brian (6 September 2016). "How Traumatic Violence Permanently Changes Shopping Behavior". Frontiers in Psychology. 7. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01298. 
"Retraction note: How Traumatic Violence Permanently Changes Shopping Behavior". Frontiers in Psychology. 8. 27 November 2017. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02140. 
  • Vuorinen, Anna-Leena; Strahilevitz, Michal Ann; Wansink, Brian; Safer, Debra L. (March 2017). "Withdrawn: Shifts in the Enjoyment of Healthy and Unhealthy Behaviors Affect Short- and Long-Term Postbariatric Weight Loss". Bariatric Surgical Practice and Patient Care. 12 (1): 35–42. doi:10.1089/bari.2016.0036.  (Withdrawn March 2018)[5]

Science and popular media coverage expands[edit]

The New York Magazine article and a February 2018 article in Vox each discussed the data analysis practices of Wansink's lab in the context of the replication crisis that has been especially acute in social science and psychology research.[2][30]

An investigation by Buzzfeed News revealed an extensive series of emails, from 2008 through 2017, between Wansink, his lab team, and collaborators at other universities, in which they attempted to implement ways of manipulating datasets in order to yield impressive results, which were not present in the absence of data dredging.[4] Wansink and his team also discussed a potential strategy of publishing sub-par studies in lower-quality journals, and how to enhance the likelihood of their research findings going viral.[4]


  • Sudman, Seymour; Wansink, Brian (2002). Consumer Panels (2nd ed.). Chicago, Ill.: American Marketing Association. ISBN 0-87757-297-6. 
  • 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 0-7879-7088-3. 
  • Wansink, Brian (2004). Marketing Nutrition : soy, functional foods, biotechnology, and obesity (First Illinois paperback ed.). Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-02942-9. 
  • Wansink, Brian (2006). Mindless Eating : why we eat more than we think. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-80434-0. 
  • Wansink, Brian (2014). Slim by Design : mindless eating solutions for everyday life. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0062136526. 

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 d e Singal, Jesse (2017-02-08). "A Popular Diet-Science Lab Has Been Publishing Really Shoddy Research". New York magazine. Retrieved 2017-02-20. 
  3. ^ a b c d e O'Grady, Cathleen (24 April 2017). ""Mindless Eating," or how to send an entire life of research into question". Ars Technica. 
  4. ^ a b c 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 c "Caught Our Notice: Retraction eight as errors in Wansink paper are "too voluminous" for a correction". Retraction Watch. 19 March 2018. 
  6. ^ a b "Brian Wansink Ph.D." HealthCorps. Retrieved 2017-06-08. 
  7. ^ a b Jenkins, Robin Mather (30 March 2005). "The wizard of why". Tribune Digital. Retrieved 16 July 2018. 
  8. ^ Jiggetts, Jennifer (27 November 2010). "Teaching, preaching: Norfolk man has two callings". Virginian-Pilot. Retrieved 20 April 2018. 
  9. ^ Butler, Kiera (March 2015). "This fast-food-loving, organics-hating Ivy League prof will trick you into eating better". Mother Jones. Retrieved 16 July 2018. 
  10. ^ a b c Severson, Kim (11 October 2006). "Seduced by Snacks? No, Not You". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ "Behind the Headlines: Eating with a fat friend 'makes you eat more'". National Health Service. October 6, 2014. 
  12. ^ Schachtman, Todd; Reilly, Steve (2011). Associative learning and conditioning theory: human and non-human applications. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199735969. OCLC 664352638. 
  13. ^ Leonhardt, David (2007-05-02). "Your Plate Is Bigger Than Your Stomach". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-06-26. 
  14. ^ "Ig Nobel Prizes Stranger Than Fiction". Science. 5 October 2007. 
  15. ^ Etchells, Pete; Chambers, Chris (16 February 2018). "Mindless eating: is there something rotten behind the research?". the Guardian. 
  16. ^ Ross, Madeline K.B. (October 25, 2006). "Why Do I Keep Super Sizing Me?". The Harvard Crimson. 
  17. ^ Kennedy, Jack L. (October 31, 2006). "Joplin Independent: Mindless Eating is a nourishing read". Joplin Independent. 
  18. ^ "MeMe Roth And National Action Against Obesity Name 2006 Heroes and Villains in U.S. Fight Against Obesity". PRWeb. 19 December 2006. Retrieved 1 April 2018. 
  19. ^ 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. 
  20. ^ "Past Presidents". SNEB. Retrieved 18 March 2018. 
  21. ^ Rosner, Helen (21 March 2018). "The Strange, Uplifting Tale of "Joy of Cooking" Versus the Food Scientist". New Yorker. 
  22. ^ Lee, Stephanie (February 23, 2018). "An Ivy League Scientist Raised $10,000 On Kickstarter For A Weight-Loss Program That Never Launched". BuzzFeed. 
  23. ^ "Significant". xkcd. 2011-04-06. 
  24. ^ Bartlett, Tom (17 March 2017). "Spoiled Science". The Chronicle of Higher Education. 
  25. ^ "Cornell University Statement Regarding Questions About Professor Brian Wansink's Research | Cornell Chronicle". 7 April 2017. Retrieved 16 July 2018. 
  26. ^ a b "Another retraction to appear for Cornell food scientist Brian Wansink". Retraction Watch. 28 December 2017. 
  27. ^ Bauchner, Howard. "Expression of Concern: Wansink B, Cheney MM. Super Bowls: Serving Bowl Size and Food Consumption. JAMA 2005; 293(14):1727-1728". JAMA. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.4908. 
  28. ^ "Retraction Watch Database: Wansink". Retrieved 18 March 2018. 
  29. ^ "Retract, replace, retract: Beleaguered food researcher pulls article from JAMA journal (again)". Retraction Watch. 20 October 2017. 
  30. ^ Resnick, Brian; Belluz, Julia (28 February 2018). "Why the Joy of Cooking is going after a Cornell researcher". Vox. 

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]