Brian Wansink


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Brian Wansink is a former American professor and researcher who worked in 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 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.

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."

 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. 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.

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. He set up a nonprofit foundation to support his work in 1999.

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. 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."

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.

In 2007, Wansink received the Ig Nobel Prize in nutrition for the "bottomless bowls" study. The experiment's data and analysis were challenged as part of the review of Wansink's body of work that started in 2017.

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

In a 2009 paper retracted in 2018, 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 he 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.

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.

Best author’s book


Mindless Eating