In 2018, Adam Grant – the world-renowned organizational psychologist and superstar professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School – offered enthusiastic praise for the latest book by his colleague and research collaborator: “Francesca Gino is the best kind of rebel: the one who doesn’t just break the rules, but invents a better way.”
Perhaps the blurb was unintentionally prescient.
Gino, an award-winning behavioral scientist at Harvard Business School, has been accused of breaking the rules – quite brazenly – in at least four published research papers, and possibly many more. A spate of news articles in the last several days detail instances in which Gino is accused of fabricating data and manipulating results. And at least one paper – a study examining ways to elicit more honest responses – has since been retracted.
A PROLIFIC, AWARD-WINNING RESEARCHER
Gino’s profile at HBS now states that she is on administrative leave. If the accusations prove to have merit, it could mark the fall of a rising academic star blessed with the intelligence, innovative thinking, and an endearing Italian accent capable of charming both academics and titans of business alike.
Growing up in the small mountain town of Tione di Trento, Italy, Gino had little knowledge of the cut-throat ecosystem surrounding college rankings or the vaulted reputation of Harvard University, she wrote in a Linked-in post dated three months ago. She earned three economics degrees at two lesser known Italian universities: a BA from the University of Trento in 2001 and both an MS and PhD in economics and management from Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, Italy, in 2004.
So when she arrived at Harvard for the first time as a postdoctoral fellow, she wrote that she didn’t know enough to be intimidated.
“People cared about the research they were doing. They were unafraid to ask questions. I had remarkable professors. The fact that I didn’t realize how much of a prestigious place Harvard was meant I was very courageous. I would meet up with professors, and I asked all sorts of questions,” she wrote.
“But I was also very receptive to criticism. Sometimes my professors would tell me my papers were terrible and needed a lot of work. I was grateful for the feedback. All I wanted to do was understand how to make them better.”
Her visit to the U.S. was meant to last about nine months, but she ended up staying for two years at Harvard. She has since held a variety of academic positions at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, and London Business School, according to her 2022 CV posted on her HBS faculty profile.
Gino returned to Harvard in 2010, teaching negotiations while researching how and why people make decisions in the workplace. In 2014, she was named the Tandon Family Professor of Business Administration, a title that has since been removed from her Harvard profile, according to an article in The Harvard Crimson.
Her time at Harvard was the start of a prolific and decorated career.
Gino has authored or co-authored more than 100 academic and journal articles and racked up nearly 33,000 Google citations. Her work has been covered by media outlets like The Economist, The New York Times, Newsweek, Scientific American, Psychology Today, and The Wall Street Journal.
In her March 2021 Ted Talk, “The Power of Why: Unlocking a Curious Mind,” she talks about recapturing your inquisitive instinct with her charming Italian cadence. She’s been invited to talk to American Express, Google, and P&G, and created training programs for Goldman Sachs, Merck, and Walmart.
She’s been named one of the world’s 50 most influential management thinkers by Thinkers 50 three different times, most recently in 2021. She won the HBS Faculty Award by Harvard Business School’s MBA Class of 2015 and earned the 2013 Cummings Scholarly Achievement Award from the Academy of Management Organizational Behavior Division.
This is hardly an exhaustive list.
And her students seem to love her:
“Perhaps some people do have all the luck. Francesca is as warm and lovely as she is shrewd and intelligent. Being in her class was a true delight,” writes a former student, Tim Leach, HBS MBA ‘15, in this P&Q profile. “Francesca is as comfortable in heels as she is in her well-worn Converse sneakers and she loves nothing more than hanging out with students over lunch. Time at business school is a precious commodity but time spent with Francesca, in any setting, is time well spent. Can I take her course again?”
‘REBEL TALENT: WHY IT PAYS TO BREAK THE RULES’
In 2015, at age 36, Poets&Quants named Gino as one of our 40-Under-40 Best MBA Professors. In her profile, she writes that she knew she wanted to be a business school professor when she found herself writing a book based on her college thesis with her thesis advisor and another professor. “I loved the feeling of ‘making science’ and truly enjoyed writing about it with inspiring mentors. I wanted to have the type of impact on others that my mentors had on me!”
She’s written two books since, both best-sellers, including 2013’s “Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed and How We Can Stick to the Plan.” Handing a copy to her parents, translated into their native Italian, was one of the proudest moments of her career to that point. “They finally understood what I do for a living,” she wrote.
She followed that up with 2018’s “Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and Life,” named the best business books of the year by Strategy & Business. That’s the book that Adam Grant, with whom she collaborated on at least four research studies early in her career, offered that glowing blurb: “In this enthralling, carefully researched book, she shows you how to become one – and unleash the inner rebel in others too.”
Gino, according to her P&Q profile, loves making pasta from scratch and riding motorcycles. Driving the lab on the test track for Top Gear, her favorite television show, is on her bucket list.
And the professor she most admired at the time? Max Bazerman, an HBS professor and a co-author of her now controversial 2012 paper.
SEVERAL PAPERS NOW UNDER REVIEW
Headlines about the allegations could hardly be more enticing: A Harvard Business School professor that studies honesty is accused of fabricating data? You almost have to click. Over the last 10 days, the unfolding story has been covered by The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times, The Guardian and other leading news sites.
The allegations surfaced as far back as 2021 when Data Colada – a blog written by prominent data and behavioral scientists Uri Simonsohn (Professor of Behavioral Science at ESADE Business School), Leif Nelson (Ewald T. Grether Professor in Business Administration & Marketing at Berkeley Haas School of Business), and Joe Simmons (Dorothy Silberberg Professor of Applied Statistics At The Wharton School) — published a blog post alleging that an experiment in a 2012 paper likely included fraudulent data. The paper, “Signing at the beginning makes ethics salient and decreases dishonest self-reports in comparison to signing at the end,” was published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It has since been retracted.
On June 16, one of Gino’s co-authors, Max H. Bazerman, reported to the Chronicle that Harvard believed that one of the studies overseen by Gino in the paper had falsified results. A day later, Data Colada announced it is publishing a four-part series detailing fraud found in four of Gino’s papers. The first, titled “Clusterfake,” was published on June 17 and the latest, “The Cheaters Are Out of Order,” published on June 23. Each post in the series has detailed receipts for their allegations.
“It is worth reiterating that to the best of our knowledge, none of Gino’s co-authors carried out or assisted with the data collection for the studies in this series,” the authors wrote.
The authors say that they shared their concerns with HBS in fall of 2021, and the school appears to be investigating as Gino is now on administrative leave. “We believe that many more Gino-authored papers contain fake data. Perhaps dozens,” the authors wrote.
In response to a P&Q inquiry, Mark Cautela, director of communications for HBS, said the school is not commenting on Professor Gino at this time.
When asked via Linked-in for comment, Gino directed P&Q to a post she wrote two days ago: “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 (sic) what I can say publicly. I want to assure you that I take them seriously and they will be addressed.
“I am humbled and gratified by all of the outreach from those whom have reached out to check in – your steadfast support means the world to me,” she wrote on the post, for which comments have been turned off. “There will be more to come on all of this.”
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