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A Harvard professor raking in over $1 million a year who specialized in ‘dishonesty’ was accused of fabricating research. 3 retractions have already occurred



On June 16, Harvard Business School put one of its most celebrated professors on leave after an internal investigation into accusations that she had falsified her research. Francesca Gino was a popular behavioral scientist who was known for prolific publishing and a schedule packed with speaking gigs and expensive corporate trainings. Harvard paid her over $1 million a year while companies paid tens of thousands more to book her for their private events. 

Gino’s record of publishing over 10 journal articles a year, in contrast to the faculty average two or three, seemed too good to be true—and as is now coming to light, it may have been. A four-part investigation by the independent academic watchdog site Data Colada alleges that Gino has fabricated some of her high-profile research over at least a decade and as recently as three years ago. It claims to have found at least four times that data in her studies were manipulated. The watchdog believes it is likely that Gino carried out the alleged fraud without assistance from her collaborators.

Harvard soon afterward launched a similar investigation and, since June, three journals have retracted three articles at Harvard’s request. Harvard has concluded its investigation, but it has not yet publicly commented on the findings, nor has it said whether it will do so.

Harvard declined to comment on the matter, and Gino did not immediately respond to Fortune‘s request for comment.

“The evidence of fraud detailed in our report almost certainly represents a mere subset of the evidence that the Harvard investigators were able to uncover about these four articles,” Data Colada’s report read. “For example, we have heard from some HBS faculty that Harvard’s internal report was ~1,200 pages long, which is 1,182 pages longer than the one we sent to HBS.”

Much of the behavioral scientist’s research has focused on dishonesty, including extensive research on student cheating in school. For example, Gino co-authored a well-known study that found students were more likely to cheat if they had seen a peer from their same school cheating, and another study that found dishonesty leads to higher creativity. 

Her most recent book is also titled Rebel Talent: Why it pays to Break the Rules At Work and Life (2018). It discusses how contrarians, troublemakers, and chaos-raisers are the world’s real innovators and thought leaders, and that there’s a rebel inside each of us.

A rebel talent?

Gino has built an academic empire, including her professorship at Harvard, dozens of journal articles, and two books.

In addition to putting her career on hold, the accusations also may tarnish the careers of Gino’s research collaborators, of which there are more than 100. While Gino has made a name for herself, accrued big paychecks, and academic success, the scholars she worked with risk being hit hard by the consequences. 

Coauthoring an academic journal article, especially in those in the highest tiers, as Gino usually did, can majorly contribute to the future success of often young researchers. For now, Gino’s collaborators are not accused of anything by Data Colada: “To the best of our knowledge, none of Gino’s co-authors carried out or assisted with the data collection for the studies in question.” 

Gino’s alleged falsification comes just after a similar investigation into Marc Tessier-Lavigne, the Stanford University president and neuroscientist who will step down on August 31. A George Polk Award-winning investigation by The Stanford Daily, the school newspaper, found that studies he authored included extensively flawed research.

Stanford and Tessier-Lavigne did not immediately respond to Fortune‘s request for comment.

After the articles, Stanford launched an internal investigation that led to Tessier-Lavigne stepping down. At least four journal articles, of which the neuroscientist is the principal author, were found to have included manipulated results. Although he was cleared of accusations of fraud, he resigned from the university presidency because his work fell below standards of scientific rigor. 

The Stanford journalist who wrote about Tessier-Lavigne started digging into the story after reading an anonymous comment on PubPeer, an online discussion forum for academics, about Tessier-Lavigne’s research. Similarly, Data Colada, the site that revealed Gino’s now suspect research, is independently run by three professors. Gino and Tessier-Lavigne are both among the most prominent researchers in their fields, worked at top universities, and made big money compared to other academics. The fact that both were flagged by informal outside oversight suggests that additional verification of academic research may be needed, such as institutional funding to create operations like Data Colada that do not have to operate part-time or pro bono.

Gino has responded only vaguely since the drumbeat of accusations started. In her most recent post on LinkedIn, she said: “Many of you have reached out asking about recent reports concerning my work. As I continue to evaluate these allegations and assess my options, I am limited into what I can say publicly. I want to assure you that I take them seriously and they will be addressed.”

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