Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"The top's cheating to thrive, the bottom's cheating to survive"

An NPR story on plagiarism concludes with a quote from Don McCabe, a professor at Rutgers University Business School :

"The top's cheating to thrive, the bottom's cheating to survive, and those in the middle are content with their grades and just go along in life and are happy."

That analysis doesn't apply to Adam Wheeler, a person with so-so SAT scores, who cheated his way into Harvard by faking
a high school background at Phillips Andover and by manufacturing 1600 SAT scores. Wheeler cheated because he could get away with it, and, if had left well enough alone, he would have gotten away with it. [This Everyready Bunny observation resonates with the concern expressed by Kirk Hanson: "Unfortunately, if you adopt that kind of convenience rationalization when you're in college, it will carry over as part of your character into later life."]

The analysis of McCabe also doesn't apply to Glenn Poshard, who likely copied stuff into his Ph.D. thesis just to save time, rather than to thrive or to survive.

The analysis also doesn't apply to Joe Biden when he copied five pages from a law review into his first year paper at Syracuse Law School. Biden could not have thrived by doing this, and almost didn't survive.

The analysis hardly applies to those physics students at MIT who copied their homework faster than they could have read the problems. That was just saving time, and had nothing to do with thriving or surviving.

The landscape is much more complicated than McCabe's soundbyte would indicate.

Further, there is a relationship to the old problem with song downloading from the internet. Unless people really think it's morally wrong to do it, then ethics arguments don't work. The DMCA and NET laws, with the criminal punishment, coupled with actual enforcement, put the dent in (some) downloading issues. There's no comparable economic push on student plagiarism issues, so that problem is going in a different direction.

***As a footnote, note the article The Middle Class in America Is Radically Shrinking. Here Are the Stats to Prove it which includes:

The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer at a staggering rate. Once upon a time, the United States had the largest and most prosperous middle class in the history of the world, but now that is changing at a blinding pace.


The reality is that no matter how smart, how strong, how educated or how hard working American workers are, they just cannot compete with people who are desperate to put in 10 to 12 hour days at less than a dollar an hour on the other side of the world. After all, what corporation in their right mind is going to pay an American worker 10 times more (plus benefits) to do the same job? The world is fundamentally changing. Wealth and power are rapidly becoming concentrated at the top and the big global corporations are making massive amounts of money. Meanwhile, the American middle class is being systematically wiped out of existence as U.S. workers are slowly being merged into the new "global" labor pool.

What do most Americans have to offer in the marketplace other than their labor? Not much. The truth is that most Americans are absolutely dependent on someone else giving them a job. But today, U.S. workers are "less attractive" than ever. Compared to the rest of the world, American workers are extremely expensive, and the government keeps passing more rules and regulations seemingly on a monthly basis that makes it even more difficult to conduct business in the United States.

So corporations are moving operations out of the U.S. at breathtaking speed. Since the U.S. government does not penalize them for doing so, there really is no incentive for them to stay.

What has developed is a situation where the people at the top are doing quite well, while most Americans are finding it increasingly difficult to make it. There are now about six unemployed Americans for every new job opening in the United States, and the number of "chronically unemployed" is absolutely soaring. There simply are not nearly enough jobs for everyone.

The giant sucking sound of 1992 was about Mexico and NAFTA, but the ultimate job sink is in Asia.

The US needs to foster an environment for people with really new ideas. Copying/cheating to get into Harvard is a wash, because most of those guys are fungible (once in at Harvard, Wheeler got decent grades). The uncreative jobs are going to Asia, and aren't coming back. Giving the "little guy" with a new idea a chance in the patent system will help the US economy.

***Looking back to 1990, within Krugman's "The Age of Diminished Expectations,"

"Meanwhile, unemployment will probably drift down. As the labor force gets older and more experienced, the NAIRU will be lower. By the end of the decade, the unemployment rate could be between 4 and 5 percent." [Chapter 16, page 192]

***UPDATE. Of handling tests "too fast" [MIT], note of the recent FBI problem:

The Justice Department is investigating whether hundreds of FBI agents cheated on a test of new rules allowing the bureau to conduct surveillance and open cases without evidence that a crime has been committed.
In some instances, agents took the open-book test together, violating rules that they take it alone. Others finished the lengthy exam unusually quickly, current and former officials said.

from FBI scrutinized over test cheating [28 July 2010]


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