These B-School Professors Have Raised More Than $300K To Defend Themselves From Francesca Gino’s Lawsuit

Francesca Gino and Harvard Business School

The Data Colada bloggers: Joe Simmons from Wharton (left), Leif Nelson from UC-Berkeley Haas, and Uri Simonsohn from ESADE

The three business school professors behind the blog Data Colada have now raised more than $300,000 in a GoFundMe campaign for their legal defense of a lawsuit filed by Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino.

Launched on Aug. 21–19 days after Gino filed a $25 million lawsuit against the bloggers, Harvard, and Harvard Business School Dean Skikant Datar, the campaign attracted 2,000 donors and met its initial goal of $250,ooo in two days. As of today, Sept. 1, the effort has garnered support from 2,700 donors who have pledged a total of $317,017 to the legal fund.

The professors–Leif Nelson from UC-Berkeley Haas, Joe Simmons from Wharton, and Uri Simonsohn from ESADE–published a series of blog posts raising concerns about the integrity of the data in four papers co-authored by Gino. The post–the result of what the authors say was over 1,000 hours of work–went public after a three-person investigation committee concluded that Gino was guilty of research misconduct and HBS Dean Skrikant Datar put Gino on an unpaid administrative leave and began the extraordinary process of stripping her of tenure. If the dean’s tenure review is successful, Gino would be the first professor at Harvard University to have her tenure forcibly revoked. Datar also took away her healthcare benefits, banned her from campus and from publishing on Harvard’s publishing platforms, and notified the journals in which her research had been published of the school’s actions.

FRANCESCA GINO’S LAWSUIT CLAIMS HER REPUTATION WAS DESTROYED 

Harvard Business School's Francesca Gino

Francesca Gino could be the first person ever to be stripped of tenure at Harvard University

In Gino’s lawsuit, alleging defamation, breach of contract, and gender discrimination, she strongly maintains that she did nothing wrong. Any errors found in the datasets behind those articles, claims Gino, were unintentional,  innocent mistakes made not by her but by her researchers. Every witness during the Harvard Business School investigation testified to her high integrity and standards.

The controversy has generated widespread commentary and divided the faculty at Harvard Business School. Many professors believe that Dean Datar mishandled the allegations and has unfairly and harshly dealt with Gino. In his one and only meeting with Gino, the dean immediately told her not to speak and then read his disciplinary actions against her from a piece of paper as she wept.

One source told Poets&Quants that a third of the faculty are horrified by the treatment Gino has received and support her entirely. Another third are undecided, while the remaining third are backing Dean Datar. In fact, one of the organizers of the crowdsourcing campaign is Harvard Business School Professor Max Bazerman.

DONORS TO THE LEGAL FUND INCLUDE NOBEL LAUREATES & SENIOR FACULTY

After Gino lawyered up to defend herself, hiring a fierce litigator who gained national prominence defending college men accused of sexual assault, the bloggers worried that they could easily be drained of their life savings by the litigation.

In a blog post published today (Sept. 1), the Data Colada authors said they were “immensely grateful” for the funding support they received on GoFundMe. “That campaign, and the outpouring of support it precipitated, represents the most affirming (and surprising) moment of our careers,” they wrote. “It arrived at one of our most disheartening and unfamiliar moments. We are not an institution, we have no special resources, and we are not legal experts.  We are, as one commentator described us, just ‘three relatively unknown guys.’ But we are now three guys being backed by thousands of others. It’s a big difference.”

Among the donors are social scientists, life scientists, health scientists, computer scientists, statisticians, and engineers, including Nobel laureates, senior faculty, junior faculty, lecturers, postdocs, PhD students, and non-academics. “It includes extremely wealthy people, and, most touchingly, students making just enough to get by,” the bloggers added. “It includes many people who have supported our past efforts or initiatives. And, perhaps most tellingly, it also includes many people who professionally disagree with us. Those people might not always support Data Colada, but they are even less supportive of using lawsuits as a cudgel to stamp out good-faith scientific criticism. Indeed, the popularity of the fundraising effort is not about our popularity. This is not about supporting us, this is about supporting a core scientific principle: our ability to seek the truth using facts and analyses.”

DATA COLADA SAYS IT HAS HIRED ‘AN EXCELLENT LEGAL TEAM’ TO DEFEND THEM AGAINST FRANCESCA GINO’S DEFAMATION CHARGES

Many of the donations are in small amounts, though at least two supporters have written checks for $10,000 each, the highest single donations.

Attorney Andrew Miltenberg, who is representing Gino, claims that her lawsuit is “not an indictment on Data Colada’s mission.” In a statement, he said, “What the lawsuit demonstrates is how both Data Colada and Harvard deviated from their stated processes and treated Professor Gino’s investigation differently from other misconduct investigations.”

The bloggers noted that they have now hired “an excellent legal team” but did not identify the law firm.

FRANCESCA GINO’S LAWSUIT HAS HAD ‘A CHILLING EFFECT’ ON THE REPORTING OF RESEARCH MISCONDUCT

Simine Vazire, a professor at the University of Melbourne who is one of the fundraiser’s organizers, said that Gino’s lawsuit has had a “chilling effect” on the reporting of research misconduct. The crowdfunding effort, Vazire told the Crimson, is also an attempt to “put some pressure on Harvard and on the three data quality researchers’ universities to step up and support” Data Colada. “Many of us are really shocked that the universities involved are kind of leaving them out to dry,” added Vazire, who tossed in the first donation, a $1,000 gift to kick off the campaign..

The Data Colada authors, however, say they have also received initial support from the three academic institutions that are their employers. “(We) are learning some of the stuff that legal TV shows skip over because it is boring,” they added. “Our three employers have at this point indicated that they will support us for at least the initial stage of the process, and we are grateful for that. We understand that the process is likely to be long, measured in months or even years. Nevertheless, responding to the accusations in the lawsuit is not an entirely new experience for us, or you. It’s not unlike when a reviewer who does not bother to understand your analysis recommends rejection, and you have to explain to the editor the shortcomings of that review, except in this case the editor is a court, and it costs a lot of money just to submit the cover letter.

‘WE DON’T PLAN TO CHANGE VERY MUCH’ DUE TO FRANCESCA GINO

“When it comes to the Data Colada blog, we don’t plan to change very much. We have some posts in the works, some of which are relevant to this ongoing crisis, and some of which are not. As in the past 10 years, we will try our best to make our posts informative, accurate, readable, and interesting, and we will post them as soon as we think they are ready, which has always been, and will continue to be, much later than we would like.”

The campaign will remain open, even though the goal has long been reached. The bloggers promised to return any unused funds for its legal defense to donors. “Regardless of how much of the money we will need – if things end early we will need little, if things drag on we may need a lot – the GoFundMe response has, right now, given us the freedom to make decisions about how to proceed in this case without worrying about how much our legal fees will accrue,” the Data Colada bloggers wrote. “We can pursue what’s right instead of what’s most affordable. We cannot stress enough how important that is.

“Beyond that, your response has sent a message, to us, to our universities, to each other, and to the world: It is not OK to use the legal system to punish scientists for drawing reasonable conclusions from stated facts. We don’t know what is going to happen next, but we are confident that ultimately we will win this case, and that we will do so without having to pay much, if any, of our own money for our legal defense.”

DON’T MISS: HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL DEAN SRIKANT DATAR HAS SOME EXPLAINING TO DO or THE ACADEMIC MOB COMES FOR A HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL THOUGHT LEADER

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