Some of Our Best Culinary Tricks May Not Be Right.
Last year, when I was reviewing a book by food researcher Brian Wansink on how to force yourself to eat better, I noticed that the way he did some of his research seemed suspicious. The statistician agreed with me. But I posted a book review anyway.
Why? Because Vansink’s findings are mesmerizing . He says that we like expensive buffet dinners more than cheap ones , even if the food is the same. Children will behave better at dinner if you cut their food . You are more likely to overeat in a dirty kitchen than in a clean one.
No one in this area questioned his findings, so neither did we.
But it turns out that the research he leads, Cornell Food and Brand Lab, could be in serious trouble. A few months ago, Wansink was accused of pressured a student to get the results of a failed experiment that could be published. Cornell reviewed the four articles that emerged from this experiment and concluded that Wansink was guilty of “improper data processing,” but that his actions did not meet the definition of a scientific ethics violation . Wansink agreed that he would ask independent experts to review his work in the future.
We’ve published tips from the Wansink lab many times over the years – and now we’re not sure which ones are reliable. In addition to the four articles Cornell looked at, critics have questioned dozens more, saying sometimes the numbers don’t add up. This stems from a problem that the statistician and I noticed in Wansink’s book: he wandered through giant datasets in search of anything that stood out. This approach can lead to a lot of false positives – in other words, things thatseem significant but are just coincidences . (If that sounds confusing, this xkcd cartoon might help you figure it out.)
Since we have published so many life hacks developed in this lab, we think it is fair to tell you that they are suspicious. Below is a list of our posts, which are based in whole or in part on Wansink research. Let us know if we missed something.