Two summers ago, we published a post (Colada 98: .htm) about a study reported within a famous article on dishonesty (.htm). That study was a field experiment conducted at an auto insurance company (The Hartford). It was supervised by Dan Ariely, and it contains data that were fabricated. We don’t know for sure who fabricated those data, but we know for sure that none of Ariely’s co-authors – Shu, Gino, Mazar, or Bazerman – did it . The paper has since been retracted (.htm).
That auto insurance field experiment was Study 3 in the paper.
It turns out that Study 1’s data were also tampered with…but by a different person.
That’s right: Two differentpeople independently faked data for two different studies in a paper about dishonesty.
The paper’s three studies allegedly show that people are less likely to act dishonestly when they sign an honesty pledge at the top of a form rather than at the bottom of a form. Study 1 was run at the University of North Carolina (UNC) in 2010. Gino, who was a professor at UNC prior to joining Harvard in 2010, was the only author involved in the data collection and analysis of Study 1 .
Author(s): Uri Simonsohn, Leif Nelson, and Joseph Simmons
Economists are often reminded by well-meaning friends and strangers that economics is flawed for assuming people are rational when they’re not. It’s not always clear what these skeptics mean by rational — often it’s a propensity for making bad decisions. And there’s truth in that. People struggle to make sense of probabilities, especially in the midst of uncertainty. Just look at the difficulty most people have had understanding the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines.
We humans also tend to exaggerate remote risks and ignore more likely events. Even when we accurately assess risk, sometimes we procrastinate doing what’s in our best interest or make snap decisions we regret later.
But generally, the idea we could nudge people to make better choices by exploiting their behavioral biases was always oversold. It’s hard to persuade people to do something they don’t want to do, especially when you don’t fully understand their unique motives. And if data isn’t presented clearly and honestly, attempts to nudge people can be self-defeating when they don’t trust you.