Harvard Professor Who Studies Honesty Is Accused Of Falsifying Data Results

Published June 26, 2023

Professor Francesca Gino of Harvard University's Business School has come under scrutiny after the university informed one of her co-authors that their study contained fabricated data.

Francesca Gino Linkedin

LinkedInProfessor Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School.

A Harvard professor studying honesty was accused of fabricating her study data in a surprising turn of events.

Harvard has placed Francesca Gino, a professor of behavioral sciences, on administrative leave after three other researchers alleged that she falsified data results.

Gino, whose reputation at Harvard was prestigious and long-standing, studied cheating, lying, and dishonesty. Since beginning her work at Harvard over a decade ago, Gino and her research have appeared in the media several times.

However, other researchers began questioning Gino’s research two years ago over a 2012 study in which she evaluated the impact of honesty pledges at the beginning and end of forms. Her study found that honesty pledges at the beginning of forms led to greater honesty in self-reporting.

The study asked participants to solve 20 puzzles in a certain amount of time. For each puzzle solved, the participant would receive $1. At the end of the study, participants were asked to self-report how many puzzles they solved and receive their prize money.

Another study asked participants who have filled out tax and insurance information to admit to the truth of their honesty. This study also included honesty pledges at either the beginning or end of the forms.

In Gino’s study, honesty pledges at the beginning of the study were found to lead to greater honesty among participants, but other researchers wonder whether this data is accurate.

A June 16 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the study reported that one of the other co-authors, Max Bazerman, had been informed by Harvard that the study seemed to have falsified numbers.

The concern has spread beyond just one study. According to the New York Times, Maurice Schweitzer, a former colleague of Gino’s, is now going through the process of reviewing eight previous studies he worked on with the Harvard professor for any signs of fraud.

He told the New York Times that the allegations have created “reverberations in the academic community [because she is someone with] so many collaborators, so many articles, who is really a leading scholar in the field.”

Harvard placed Gino on administrative leave this month in light of the claims and subsequent investigations.

Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School, where Professor Gino worked as a behavioral sciences professor.

Only a day after Gino went on leave, three researchers, Uri Simonsohn, Joseph Simmons, and Leif Nelson, revealed that the study’s data wasn’t just false but that Gino knew and still published it.

Part of their evidence included metadata from the Excel spreadsheet used to document study data. The trio found that researchers edited the data to skew it to strengthen the study’s conclusion.

Interestingly, the trio had sent concerns about Gino’s unethical activities to Harvard in 2021, but the university did not take punitive action until this month. However, following a 2021 post focusing on a separate author who had falsified results, the journal that published the 2012 study, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, retracted it.

“That’s right: Two different people independently faked data for two different studies in a paper about dishonesty,” the trio wrote on their blog DataColada, where they listed evidence to support their claims.

“In the fall of 2021, we shared our concerns with Harvard Business School. Specifically, we wrote a report about four studies for which we had accumulated the strongest evidence of fraud. We believe that many more Gino-authored papers contain fake data. Perhaps dozens,” the scholars said, as per The Guardian.

After reading about honesty professor Francesca Gino, discover the story of nine crooked cops who became criminals themselves. Then, dive into the story of nine of history’s biggest con artists.

Amber Breese
Amber Breese is an Editorial Fellow for All That's Interesting. She graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in political science, history, and Russian. Previously, she worked as a content creator for America House Kyiv, a Ukrainian organization focused on inspiring and engaging youth through cultural exchanges.
Matt Crabtree
Matt Crabtree is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. A writer and editor based in Salt Lake City, Utah, Matt has a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Utah State University and a passion for idiosyncratic news and stories that offer unique perspectives on the world, film, politics, and more.