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Old-school Chicago Cheating

In Freakonomics, we talk a lot about catching cheaters using data. Based on a newspaper clipping that Stephen Stigler (a well-known professor of statistics at the University of Chicago, author of a wonderful book on the history of statistics, and son of the great Chicago economist George Stigler), there is a long history of using data to catch bad behavior in Chicago.

The newspaper clipping he sent me was from August 25, 1966 — even before I was born. It concerned a tainted exam for applicants to be operating engineers in the Cook County Sanitary District (whatever that is).

On the test, the newspaper reports that of 47 applicants, 15 scored between 90 and 95, 7 scored exactly 84, and 8 scored exactly 69. Superintendnt Vinton said the patterns “just didn’t look right.” A consultant was hired. He provided a 43 page report.

Some evidence in the consultant’s report:

1) Rumors of a cash transfer of $4,500.

2) When the consultant gave the test to Philadelphia sewage workers, no one scored
higher than 70.

3) A surprise retest was called, with the exam to be graded by the consultant. The top scorers sat arms crossed and refused to fill out the test. One man who had scored 95 retested with a 50 the second time around. Ten other suspected frauds
fell from 81.7 to about 50. Seven honest candidates scored about the same
on the retest.

The key breakthrough:

Each of the answer sheets had typing identifying them, done by Mrs. Peggy Regan before the exam and then she rubber stamped each of them. When they got out the microscope, it turned out the answer sheets of the suspected cheaters were cut from a different ream of paper, had typing from a different typewriter, and the
rubber stamp had been applied much more forcefully to the cheaters’ exam sheets.

The answer: the burly Ronald E. Huston had been paid to substitute answer sheets for the cheaters and had himself done the typing and rubber stamping on the falsified sheets.

And these cheaters didn’t go lightly. Superintendent Vinton’s automobile was subsequently firebombed!