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It's apple pie. Like a pie chart. (Credit: DeAgostini/Getty Images)


Brian Wansink, a food scientist at Cornell University who gained fame for his headline-ready research, manipulated his poor data to produce false-positives and attention-grabbing results, writes Stephanie M Lee for Buzzfeed. Wansink is under investigation by Cornell for academic misconduct, and several papers have been retracted.

Why you should care: Wansink isn’t the only scientist to use sneaky statistics — they're not uncommon in food science, genetics and other fields. But Buzzfeed’s reporting shows that Wansink, one of the most well-known offenders, is also possibly one of the worst.

“He hadn’t really looked at the results critically and he was trying to make the paper say something that wasn’t true,” Krissika Kaipanen, a former graduate student in Wasink’s lab, told Lee. “That’s when I started feeling like, this is not the kind of research I want to do.”

What they did:

  • Gathering the data first, and then develop a hypothesis that fit that data. In science, you should have a hypothesis first and then design an experiment to test it.
  • “That was weird also,” Kaipanen told Lee, “to come up with some questions not based on any theory, just ‘What would be cool to ask?’, ‘What cool headlines could we get if we got some associations?’"
  • Slicing large datasets and ‘p-hacking’ to get statistically significant results.

It’s unclear if Wansink did this with malicious intent. His former lab members, even those who criticize his science, speak of him fondly. In fact, although Wansink’s science has been scrutinized for years, it wasn’t until he described his own research practices in a blog post that the criticism rolled in.

Sound smart: P-hacking is the practice of using large datasets to find spurious correlations. It works because a lot of statistics in science comes down to the p-value, which measures the statistical robustness of an experiment. It’s best described as the probability that your experiment’s results could have occurred by chance, if your hypothesis were false. It’s the likelihood of a false-positive. Most studies require a p-value of 0.05, or a 5% chance of the finding being a false-positive, to get published. But that means studies like Wasink’s that sometimes test thousands of variables will inevitably find associations that aren’t true.

Go deeper: Read the entire story at Buzzfeed, and their prior reporting on Wansink. FiveThirtyEight’s Christie Aschwanden has a great round-up of what p-hacking is, and why it’s so easy to find spurious correlations in food science (and certain types of genetics studies and social science studies).

Go deeper

DOJ: Capitol rioter threatened to "assassinate" Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Supporters of former President Trump storm the U.S. Captiol on Jan. 6. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A Texas man who has be charged with storming the U.S. Capitol in the deadly Jan. 6 siege posted death threats against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the Department of Justice said.

The big picture: Garret Miller faces five charges in connection to the riot by supporters of former President Trump, including violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds and making threats. According to court documents, Miller posted violent threats online the day of the siege, including tweeting “Assassinate AOC.”

Schumer calls for IG probe into alleged plan by Trump, DOJ lawyer to oust acting AG

Jeffrey Clark speaks next to Deputy US Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen at a news conference in October. Photo: Yuri Gripas/AFP via Getty Images.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Saturday called for the Justice Department inspector general to investigate an alleged plan by former President Trump and a DOJ lawyer to remove the acting attorney general and replace him with someone more willing to investigate unfounded claims of election fraud.

Driving the news: The New York Times first reported Friday that the lawyer, Jeffrey Clark, allegedly devised "ways to cast doubt on the election results and to bolster Mr. Trump’s continuing legal battles and the pressure on Georgia politicians. Because Mr. [Jeffrey] Rosen had refused the president’s entreaties to carry out those plans, Mr. Trump was about to decide whether to fire Mr. Rosen and replace him with Mr. Clark."

3 hours ago - World

Brazil begins distributing AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine

Containers carrying doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine arrive in Brazil. Photo: Maurio Pimentel/AFP via Getty Images

Brazil on Saturday began distributing the 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine that arrived from India Friday, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: Brazil has the third highest COVID-19 case-count in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The 2 million doses "only scratch the surface of the shortfall," Brazilian public health experts told the AP.