Cheating for Charity

New research indicates that people may be more likely to lie when a charity benefits from their dishonesty. A group of researchers led by Alan Lewis at University of Bath investigated this in their paper "Drawing the line somewhere: An experimental study of moral compromise" (ungated here). From the paper's abstract: 

In a study by Shalvi, Dana, Handgraaf, and De Dreu (2011) it was convincingly demonstrated that psychologically, the distinction between right and wrong is not discrete, rather it is a continuous distribution of relative ‘rightness’ and ‘wrongness’. Using the ‘die-under-the-cup’ paradigm participants over-reported high numbers on the roll of a die when there were financial incentives to do so and no chance of detection for lying. Participants generally did not maximise income, instead making moral compromises.

What to Do With Cheating Students?

I'm nearly certain that a pair of students cheated on my final exam—the probability they had so many identical answers on the multiple-choice exam is infinitesimal. If I pursue them, it takes me time, and there’s no assurance they will be found guilty. If I don’t, I’ll feel badly about giving them an undeserved grade. Even for fairly risk-averse students, cheating seems like a good idea. I doubt that most cheating is caught; and unless the penalty is very severe (expulsion) and/or the students’ costs of contesting the accusation are high, and both are very well-publicized, the incentive to cheat for students with weak consciences seems overpowering. To salve my own conscience I’ll report them, although it’s probably a waste of my time; but I doubt that reporting them will deter their future cheating or deter others very much.

More Odd News from the World of Sumo Wrestling

One of the few international topics covered in the original Freakonomics was the chapter describing how sumo wrestlers collude to throw matches. Over the years, the sport has provided plenty of odd fodder for the blog. By that measure, the latest bizarre scandal that's shaking the sumo world does not disappoint.

On Oct. 29, news broke that a top "sumo elder" was under investigation for abusing former apprentices. Details from The Japan Times:

Japan Sumo Association chief Hanaregoma has launched an investigation into allegations by a weekly magazine that sumo elder Naruto once beat a former apprentice with a block of wood and injected Czech-born wrestler Takanoyama with insulin in an attempt to increase his appetite so he could bulk up.

The article claims Naruto beat the apprentice wrestler with a block of wood if the taste of the protein-loaded "chankonabe" hot pot was not to his satisfaction. It also said he hit former sekiwake Wakanosato over the head with a shovel and injected Takanoyama with insulin to increase his appetite during the year before last, when he was in the third-tier makushita division.

Massive Teacher Cheating Scandal Erupts in Atlanta

An investigation into Atlanta's public school system has uncovered evidence that teachers and principals have been secretly erasing and correcting answers on students' tests for as long as a decade. A state investigation found that 178 educators at 44 of the district's 56 schools engaged in cheating. The report is a huge blow to an urban school district that for years was hailed as one of the country's most successful due to increased student performance.
From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Superintendent Beverly Hall and her top aides ignored, buried, destroyed or altered complaints about misconduct, claimed ignorance of wrongdoing and accused naysayers of failing to believe in poor children’s ability to learn.

For years — as long as a decade — this was how the Atlanta school district produced gains on state curriculum tests. The scores soared so dramatically they brought national acclaim to Hall and the district, according to an investigative report released Tuesday by Gov. Nathan Deal.

In the report, the governor’s special investigators describe an enterprise where unethical — and potentially illegal — behavior pierced every level of the bureaucracy, allowing district staff to reap praise and sometimes bonuses by misleading the children, parents and community they served.

The report accuses top district officials of wrongdoing that could lead to criminal charges in some cases.

Have D.C.'s "Best Schools" Been Cheating?

A handful of Washington D.C. schools are embroiled in a scandal over whether teachers corrected wrong answers to boost students' test scores, and thereby, increase their bonuses.

Eyeballing the Forbidden Fruit

Ordering your significant other to ignore the attractive person at the next table might backfire, according to a new study.

Cracking the Lottery Code

In Wired, Jonah Lehrer profiles Mohan Srivastava, a Toronto statistician who seemingly cracked the scratch-lottery ticket code. "The tic-tac-toe lottery was seriously flawed," writes Lehrer. "It took a few hours of studying his tickets and some statistical sleuthing, but he discovered a defect in the game: The visible numbers turned out to reveal essential information about the digits hidden under the latex coating. Nothing needed to be scratched off-the ticket could be cracked if you knew the secret code."

Sumo: More of the Same

I can't say that I am surprised by the latest sumo headline from the Associated Press.

Those Cheating Teachers! A New Freakonomics Marketplace Podcast

This year alone has seen teacher-cheating scandals in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Atlanta, and elsewhere; in this week's Times, Sharon Otterman reports how New York State is trying to curtail cheating and offers some specific instances of past cheating:

A charter school teacher warned her third graders that a standardized test question was “tricky,” and they all changed their answers. A high school coach in Brooklyn called a student into the hallway and slipped her a completed answer sheet in a newspaper. In the Bronx, a principal convened Finish Your Lab Days, where biology students ended up copying answers for work they never did.

This comes as little surprise to Steve Levitt, who several years ago recognized what most legislators and school administrators were unable (or unwilling?) to foresee: that the introduction of high-stakes testing would create incentives that might encourage some teachers (especially bad ones) to cheat on behalf of their students. So he developed an algorithm to catch cheaters, which was so successful that then-Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan brought Levitt in to help identify and fire cheating Chicago teachers.

The Ghostwriter

Have you ever wondered just who writes those papers handed in by cheating students? An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, written by a writer for a "custom-essay company," has some answers for you.