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A Scientist Who Worked Closely With Brian Wansink Is No Longer At His Job

Collin Payne has come under fire for his studies with Brian Wansink, a renowned food marketing scientist at Cornell University. As of January, Payne is no longer a professor at New Mexico State University.

Posted on February 28, 2018, at 7:18 p.m. ET

National Press Foundation / Via Flickr: nationalpress

Collin Payne in 2016.

A New Mexico State University professor embroiled in a scandal over his scientific research is no longer employed by the school, BuzzFeed News has learned.

Collin Payne left the New Mexico State faculty in January, a university spokesperson said, declining to comment on whether Payne was terminated or resigned. He was an associate marketing professor, according to a cached version of his faculty page, and had been there since August 2008, according to his now-deleted LinkedIn profile.

Reached for comment through his university email address and phone, Payne did not respond.

Payne has written about two dozen studies about healthy eating with Brian Wansink, the leader of Cornell’s famed Food and Brand Lab. For years the lab’s scientists, Payne included, have sliced and diced data beyond scientifically sound practice, often with the explicit goal of gaining media coverage.

Over the past year or so, independent researchers have called into question dozens of the lab’s studies, and Cornell has launched an investigation.

Wansink has corrected 13 studies and retracted six, and three of these were coauthored with Payne. (Before joining New Mexico State University, Payne was a postdoctoral researcher at the Food and Brand Lab from 2005 to 2008, according to the lab’s website.)

The most recent retraction, published on Monday, was for a study about getting kids to eat more vegetables with catchy names like “X-ray vision carrots.” Payne, Wansink, and David Just, another Cornell professor, previously admitted that part of the study had not been conducted on 8- to 11-year-olds as reported, but on preschoolers.

In the fall, the same trio retracted (twice) a similar paper, this one about enticing kids to eat apples adorned with Sesame Street stickers instead of cookies.

As BuzzFeed News reported this week, Payne’s emails, obtained through public records requests, revealed years of discussion of aggressive data manipulation. Payne once wrote of running 400 statistical tests to find a desired relationship in an experiment’s data, a practice described by one outside expert as “p-hacking on steroids.” When looking over data for the study on apples and cookies, he indicated that the connection he was looking for wasn’t as strong as he’d hoped:

“Do not despair. It looks like stickers on fruit may work (with a bit more wizardry).”

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.