What A New York Times Reporter Came Away With After Spending Five Hours Interviewing Francesca Gino

After interviewing embattled Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino, a New York Times reporter came away from the experience thinking that her arguments that she did not commit research fraud seems “plausible.”

In a lengthy article entitled The Harvard Professor And The Bloggers, writer Noam Scheiber was able to gain the first interview the professor has granted since she was placed in June on an unpaid administrative leave by Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar who has also started the process of trying to strip the professor of tenure (see The Rise & Fall Of A Harvard Business School Super Star).

“During more than five hours of conversation with Dr. Gino, she was proud of her accomplishments, at times defiant toward her accusers and occasionally empathetic to those who, she said, mistakenly believed the evidence of fraud,” writes Scheiber. “I would ask a question; she would provide a plausible answer. Often the replies were detailed and specific: She recalled dates and dialogue and the names of obscure colleagues. She did not present as a fraud. But, then, what would a fraud sound like anyway?”

THE NEW YORK TIMES COMES TO NO CONCLUSION ABOUT HER INNOCENCE OR GUILT

The Times found that several of her colleagues at Harvard Business School are supporting Gino. “Even in the midst of her professional disgrace,” writes Scheiber, “Dr. Gino finds herself with some sympathetic colleagues, who are outraged at their employer’s treatment of a tenured professor. Five of Dr. Gino’s tenured colleagues at the business school told me that they had concerns about the process used to investigate Dr. Gino. Some found it disturbing that the school appeared to have created a policy prompted specifically by her case, and some worried that the case set a precedent allowing other freelance critics to effectively initiate investigations.”

Among other things, the Times reveals that the day almost two years ago when Harvard Business School informed Gino that she was being investigated for data fraud also happened to be her husband’s 50th birthday. “An administrator instructed her to turn in any Harvard-issued computer equipment that she had by 5 p.m.,” according to the Times. “She canceled the birthday celebration she had planned and walked the machines to campus, where a University Police officer oversaw the transfer.’We ended up both going,’ Dr. Gino recalled. ‘I couldn’t go on my own because I felt like, I don’t know, the earth was opening up under my feet for reasons that I couldn’t understand.’”

The Times comes to no conclusion about her innocence or guilt and does not refer to a recent letter she sent to her Harvard Business School colleagues or a new website she has created in an effort to prove her innocence.

‘I FEEL THIS SENSE OF GREAT SADNESS’

“In conversation,” the reporter adds, “Dr. Gino can come across as formal. The slight stiltedness of her nonnative English merges with the circumlocution of business-school lingo to produce phrases like ‘the most important aspect is to embrace a learning mind-set’ and ‘I believe we’re going to move forward in a positive way.’

“But she also exhibits a certain steeliness. ‘I am a well-organized person — I get things done,’ she told me at one point. She added: ‘It can take forever to publish papers. What’s in my control, I execute at my pace, my rigor.’”

The reporter notes that Gino has been secluded with much of her time trying to disprove the allegations of research misconduct. “Dr. Gino’s life these days is isolated,” he writes. “She lost access to her work email. A second mass-market book, which was to be published in February, has been pushed back. One of her children attends a day care on the campus of Harvard Business School, from which she has been barred. ‘I used to do the pickups and drop-offs, and now I don’t,” she told me. “And the few times where I’m the one going, I feel this sense of great sadness,” she said. “What if I run into a colleague and now they report me to the dean’s office that somehow I’m on campus?'”

Scheiber seems skeptical of Gino’s claims that in one of her studies there were suspicious responses from a scammer who filled out her survey for the $10 gift cards she offered participants. He writes that
“it’s strange that the scammer’s responses would line up so neatly with the findings of her paper. When I pointed out that she or someone else in her lab could be the scammer, she was unbowed.
‘I appreciate that you’re being a skeptic,’ she told me, ‘since I think I’m going to be more successful in proving my innocence if I hear all the possible questions that show up in the mind of a skeptic.’”

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