Cheating to Be Hot

Is Freakonomics too cynical?

I don’t think so, but some people do. Occasionally we hear from readers who say it’s a shame that we’ve called attention to so much deceit, trickery, and cheating among sumo wrestlers, school teachers, tax filers, and online daters. I could argue back and say, “Hey, don’t we also call attention to people who don’t cheat, like the office workers who eat Paul Feldman‘s bagels?”

The point isn’t that you can divide people into piles of good people or bad people, cheaters or non-cheaters. The point is that people’s behavior is determined by how the incentives of a particular scenario are aligned.

So it was interesting to see this article on Salon‘s Machinist by Farhad Manjoo about a contest run by the website Fishbowl DC to decide Washington’s two hottest media folks. While agreeing that the winners were indeed a comely pair, Manjoo reports that the contest was a total rig job:

[The winners] Capps and Andrews acknowledge that they won only because their online friends — without their express encouragement, they both say — built software “bots” that voted thousands of times for each of them. The bots were distributed on Unfogged, a humorously wonky blog and discussion site popular with D.C. types, within a day of the poll’s opening. If you downloaded and ran the software, your machine began tallying up votes for Capps and Andrews faster than a Diebold rigged for George W. Bush.

Which makes me say:

1. The stakes don’t have to be very high for people to cheat.
2. When no punishment exists for cheating, it’s pretty damn appealing.
3. We have been accused of stuffing a ballot box or two ourselves, although there were no bots involved (that I know of).
4. Can you please point me in the direction of the Diebold folks who rigged those machines? I would love to interview them.

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  1. Mario Ruiz says:

    Hello Stephen.

    “The point is that people’s behavior is determined by how the incentives of a particular scenario are aligned.” You said in your post.

    This can be a endless debate with profound implications. We can even end up in religion and politics.

    My opinion is that there is a relationship between incentives and behavior to a point. My professor of Business Ethics in my MBA (a fellow with a PhD from Harvard) used to tell us, that “in a meeting a gay approaches a very distinguished lady: would you make love to me for 5 million dollars? And the lady answered, of course! The guy asked again: For 500? The lady immediately replied: do you think I am a h…? The gay finalized saying, yes, we are just fixing the price.”

    We always have a choice, no matter how good the reward is.

    Mario Ruiz
    @ http://www.oursheet.com

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  2. Mario Ruiz says:

    Hello Stephen.

    “The point is that people’s behavior is determined by how the incentives of a particular scenario are aligned.” You said in your post.

    This can be a endless debate with profound implications. We can even end up in religion and politics.

    My opinion is that there is a relationship between incentives and behavior to a point. My professor of Business Ethics in my MBA (a fellow with a PhD from Harvard) used to tell us, that “in a meeting a gay approaches a very distinguished lady: would you make love to me for 5 million dollars? And the lady answered, of course! The guy asked again: For 500? The lady immediately replied: do you think I am a h…? The gay finalized saying, yes, we are just fixing the price.”

    We always have a choice, no matter how good the reward is.

    Mario Ruiz
    @ http://www.oursheet.com

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  3. Greg Palast says:

    SD:

    For more information on Bush’s voter fraud, check Greg Palast’s excellent work “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.” The research is meticulous and the analysis is on point.

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  4. Greg Palast says:

    SD:

    For more information on Bush’s voter fraud, check Greg Palast’s excellent work “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.” The research is meticulous and the analysis is on point.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  5. Michael says:

    I once saw a poll about the Boston Mooninite scare. It had some serious options and a joke option, “What’s a lite-brite?”

    Someone constructed a few lines of code to repeatedly vote for this option and posted it to an internet forum; members of the forum ran the code until (after rounding) 100% of the vote was for the joke option and 0% for other options. This entailed casting around 100,000 votes.

    Why do this? I gather mostly because it was funny, and cost the participants nothing. I’ve got to say, the benign absurdity of the nonsensical attack did tickle me.

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  6. Michael says:

    I once saw a poll about the Boston Mooninite scare. It had some serious options and a joke option, “What’s a lite-brite?”

    Someone constructed a few lines of code to repeatedly vote for this option and posted it to an internet forum; members of the forum ran the code until (after rounding) 100% of the vote was for the joke option and 0% for other options. This entailed casting around 100,000 votes.

    Why do this? I gather mostly because it was funny, and cost the participants nothing. I’ve got to say, the benign absurdity of the nonsensical attack did tickle me.

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  7. jldugger says:

    We actually had a gentleman Andrew Appel come down last semester to give a talk on election machines. His angle is a bit computer sciency, as that’s what we do, but I hear his latest research is something you might very well appreciate: fraud detection using probabilistic means.

    As an aside, it turns out that possessing the software run on voting machines is illegal in the state I live in, so he was perhaps skirting the edge of the law when showing voting equipment and flaws in voting technology. They have a web site you can hit up at Princeton.

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  8. jldugger says:

    We actually had a gentleman Andrew Appel come down last semester to give a talk on election machines. His angle is a bit computer sciency, as that’s what we do, but I hear his latest research is something you might very well appreciate: fraud detection using probabilistic means.

    As an aside, it turns out that possessing the software run on voting machines is illegal in the state I live in, so he was perhaps skirting the edge of the law when showing voting equipment and flaws in voting technology. They have a web site you can hit up at Princeton.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0