Her Research About Lying Was Cited 500 Times, But Is Her Research a Lie?

It would be difficult to find a professor in the field of business ethics who had not cited her research.  Francesca Gino, a Harvard professor, gave us the studies with results that businesses put into practices.

Her research concluded if you have folks sign an attestation of truthfulness on insurance forms at the top instead of the end, they are more honest in their responses. Another study concluded that having folks read the Ten Commandments before a test makes them  more honest.  The research did not include a warning of EEOC wrath that would would result from forcing a tenet of Christianity on test-takers.

Dr. Gino, along with co-authors, including Dan Ariely, burst onto TED talks, best-seller lists, and speaking tours with their nouveau science.  They were mixing behavioral research with economics to provide insights into decision-making processes.

Two years ago, Harvard received a notice from Data Colada, the blog that checks social science research for its validity.  The blog concluded  that there was fraud involved in the Gino research.  Gino denies the allegations.  Dr. Ariely is even more adamant that there is no fraud.  Noam Scheiber, “A Dishonesty Expert Is Labeled a Liar,” New York Times, October 1, 2023, p. A1.

Nonetheless, the bloggers found evidence that the data had been tampered with to make the results more impressive.  They also found that the data had been moved around to support the hypotheses of the research and articles.What we don’t know is who fooled around with the numbers.

Harvard investigated for two years, Dr. Gino is on leave, and she has filed a defamation suit against both the bloggers and Harvard.   There are so many folks involved in a single academic research project and resulting publication that “whodunnit” may be a terminal cold case.  There can be a dozen co-authors and heaven only knows how many grad assistants processed the data.

Nonetheless, the research conclusions published are not accurate.  That we even have a blog called “Data Colada” staggers the imagination. There have been 5,500 faculty publications retracted in 2022.  In 2002, there were 119.  Granted, we have more tools for detecting, analyzing, and reporting.  The bottom line is that one simply cannot trust social science research. Nidhi Subraraman, “Debunkers Bust Bad Scientists,” Wall Street Journal, September 25, 2023, p. A1.

The former president of Stanford, Dr. Marc Tessier-Lavigne,  left his position after PubPeer (yet another site that dissects research) criticized the data in his publications.  After a Stanford investigation, three of his studies were retracted.

These publications are peer-reviewed — those who know research and the field are supposed to catch flaws.  The Barometer has a skeptic screen:  If what the author [s] (often a dozen or so) concludes gives you a, “How could they possibly know that that from this study?”  then full speed ahead on applying those fraud detection skills.  In reporting the Ten Commandments study, the Barometer has added, “It remains unclear how you detect the honesty of those filling out the claim forms unless you had access to insurance company files and cases.”  The privacy aspects alone also stagger the imagination.

We now have professors whose expertise is actually fraud detection — in any field.  In short, the gatekeepers are slopp so entrepreneurial academics are doing their jobs.

Fun conclusions that make the news are good for authors, their institutions, news, and online hits, likes, and comments.  But fun conclusions do not a body of research make.  There is an old saying that my first department chair shared with me, “Figures don’t lie.  But liars do figure.”

There was another saying that a senior attorney gave to me during my first summer clerkship while in law school.  He had found a typo in a brief I had written.  I had corrected the typo in reviewing the hard-copy draft, but the mag card operator had neglected to enter it.  If you don’t know what a mag card is, tromp down memory lane on the history of technology and word processing. His response to me was simple, “Is your name on this brief?”  It was.  He then said, “Then it is your mistake.”

So it is with the long line of academic researchers.  They may be able to transfer blame and action to others but their names are on it.  Taking responsibility and self-correcting is always an alternative to defamation suits.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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One Response to Her Research About Lying Was Cited 500 Times, But Is Her Research a Lie?

  1. Dennis Lisonbee says:

    Could we take a clue here from President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address over a half-century ago?

    “The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

    Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

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