Winners never cheat (we hope)

Tag: Winners never cheat (we hope)

Competition in High Tech

That’s the topic for the Spring Reading Group, featuring Liebowitz and Margolis’ Winners, Losers, and Microsoft: Competition and Antitrust in High Technology. For those of you who plowed through the book in IO, I am compiling an auxiliary set of readings to complement (and update) the Liebowitz and Margolis book.   

We will meet Thursdays from 11:10 to 12:15 in Briggs 217. The sign-up sheets are posted on the board outside of Professor Gerard and Professor Galambos’ office. 


In this remarkable video, a professor at tells his students that he has used a statistical analysis and has determined rampant cheating in his class. I’m pretty sure what he did wasn’t a statistical analysis, but he did offer the offending students a chance to redeem themselves.

Jeff Ely from Northwestern offers some thought-provoking discussion:

So he is offering a deal to his students.  They can individually confess to cheating, attend a 4 hour ethics course and receive amnesty, or they can take the risk that they will not be caught.  What would you do?

  1. Professor Quinn’s speech reveals that the only evidence for cheating is an anonymous tip plus a suspicious grade distribution.  Based only on this the only signal that you cheated was that your score was high. But it’s not credible to punish people just for having a high score.
  2. If Professor Quinn expects his gambit to work and for cheaters to turn themselves in, then he should believe that everyone who doesn’t turn himself in is innocent.  So you should not turn yourself in.
  3. The biggest fear is that someone who you collaborated with turns himself in and he is induced to rat you out.  Then as long as you are not sure who knows you were in on the scam you should turn yourself in.
  4. It’s surprising that this possibility was never mentioned in Professor Quinn’s rant because without it, his threat loses much of its force.
  5. The fact that he didn’t raise this possibility reveals that he is not so interested in rounding up every last cheater but simply to get a large enough number to confess.  That way he can say that a lesson was learned.  This suggests that you should confess only if you think that your confession will just push the total number of confessions over that threshold.  Unlikely (unless everyone is thinking like you.)

What would you do, indeed?

Well, as it turns out, about a third of the class (200 students) threw themselves on the mercy of the court.  The sheer magnitude propelled the story into the headlines in the first place, making Professor Quinn something of a YouTube icon.

But the plot thickens.

As it turns out, the “cheating” involved was for students to get access to a test bank and studying from that.  The folks over at techdirt (techdirt?) think this sounds kind of fishy.

But watching Quinn’s video, it became clear that in accusing his students of “cheating” he was really admitting that he wasn’t actually writing his own tests, but merely pulling questions from a testbank. That struck me as odd — and I wasn’t really sure that what the students did should count as cheating. Taking “sample tests” is a very good way to learn material, and going through a testbank is a good way to practice “sample” questions. It seemed like the bigger issue wasn’t what the students did… but what the professor did.

The question seems pertinent given that Professor Quinn claimed that he wrote his own questions (video here).

Now, my guess is that the students knew that Professor Quinn used a test bank, and so their faux innocence seems kind of ridiculous.  On the other hand, I spend a lot of time writing my own tests.  Indeed, even when I taught large sections of intro (150+), I wrote my own multiple choice questions, so I’m not so sure how much sympathy is due for Professor Quinn here. And it’s not clear whether the ground he is on is all that high.

I’m not sure what the moral of the story here is, but it certainly is a remarkable case.

Caveat Emptor

It might shock, shock many honor-bound Lawrentians that there are college students out there that don’t do their own work.  In fact, as many of you are likely aware, there is a robust market for term papers out there that allow you to buy papers from levels from high school to Ph.D. on topics ranging from, well, from Moses Abramovitz to Frederik Ludvig Bang Zeuthen.  It appears the going rate is about $10-$15 per page depending on how soon you need it.

This is certainly not a new phenomenon.  Years back, Seth Stevenson surveyed the market and gave a few pointers for cheaters and lazeabouts to choose the right site to purchase a paper, and he looks at some of the market characteristics.  For example, a custom paper is about twice as expensive as an off-the-rack piece.

But that was nearly 10 years ago, and certainly the market has matured by then.  For a more recent treatment, behavioral economist Dan Ariely dipped his toe in to see what he could find, and what he found was well worth reading. Here are a few snippets:

We ordered a typical college term paper from four different essay mills, and as the topic of the paper we chose…  (surprise!) Cheating…  We submitted the four essays to, a website that inspects papers for plagiarism and found that two of the papers were 35-39% copied from existing works.

Someone plunks down $100 for a paper, and still gets dinged for cheating?  Now that smarts.  Exactly what recourse do you have in that situation?  I guess you ask for your money back:

We decided to take action with the two largely plagiarized papers, and contacted the essay mills requesting our money back. Despite the solid proof that we provided, the companies insisted that they did not plagiarize. One company even tried to threaten us by saying that they will get in touch with the dean at Duke to alert them to the fact that we submitted work that is not ours.

I like their moxie — deny, deny, deny, threaten.

The comments to Ariely’s post are also interesting.