The Cheating Pandemic: Have We Become A Nation Of Cheaters?

Pandemic: occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population (Merriam-Webster)

Leaders are dishonest and untrustworthy. Leadership trust is at an “all-time low. Leaders are two-faced liars. They cheat, they are not fair and they take advantage of their workers. People like this do not deserve to be in leadership positions! The problem is the next guy we put in there is no better.” We read these kinds of comments regularly about the state of leadership.

But before we go too far in berating perhaps we should examine ourselves. We should look at what is happening all around us . Is leadership like the canary in the coal mine? Maybe the old saying is true – we get the kind of leadership we deserve. If we are a nation of cheaters shouln’t we have untrustworthy leaders?

So what is happening? Cheating. Cutting Corners. Getting something that is not deserved. Everybody is doing it. And the problem is it appears to be getting worse.

This post attempts to provide documented sources detailing the pandemic of cheating and dishonesty that is sweeping our land. It is a long post because the amount of data on this topic is staggering. As the old song once stated, “Everybody’s doing it, doing it, doing it”!

I. Who Is Cheating?
A. Americans Cheat

One out of four Americans surveyed say it’s acceptable to cheat on their taxes.
An Internal Revenue Service (IRS) study based on special audits of randomly selected individual income tax returns for the 2001 tax year estimates that the “tax gap”—the difference between what the IRS estimates taxpayers should pay and what they actually pay—is some- where between $312 billion and $353 billion annually. These numbers translate into an overall noncompliance rate of 15% to 16.6%

B. Parents Cheat
Some 84 percent of parents lie to their kids in the name of good parenting, according to a study released by the International Journal of Psychology.

C. Politicians Cheat
An entire webpage is dedicated to listing politicians that were indicted for crimes. The list is too long to count.

D. Consumers Cheat
“Consumers behave in ways that are ethically questionable (Bagozzi 1995; Vitell 2003). In a survey conducted by Accenture (2003) on insurance fraud, 25% of U.S. adults approved of overstating the value of claims to insurance companies, and more than 10% indicated that submitting insurance claims for items that were not lost or damaged or for treatments that were not provided is acceptable. The Insurance Services Office estimates that the cost of fraud in the U.S. property and casualty industry is approximately 10% of total claims payments, or $24 billion annually.
Similar incidents of consumer fraud can be found in the retail industry. According to the National Retail Federation, “wardrobing,” or the return of used clothing, was estimated to cost approximately $16 billion in the United States in 2002.
The Office of the United States Trade Representative estimated intellectual property theft worldwide costs U.S. companies at least $250 billion a year, a staggering statistic considering that the copyright industries make up approximately 6% of the U.S. gross domestic product ($626 billion) and employ 4% of the U.S. workforce.”

E. Companies Cheat
The Brookings Institution estimated that the Enron and WorldCom scandals cost the U.S. economy approximately $37–$42 billion of gross domestic product in the first year alone (Graham, Litan, and Sukhtankar 2002).

F. Business Leaders Cheat
Former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski sends paintings he bought to a New Hampshire address to cheat New York State out of the sales tax.
Financier Allen Stanford of Houston was convicted and sentenced to 110 years in prison without parole for his part in a $7 billion Ponzi scheme. Bernie Madoff’s brother, Peter Madoff, sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy and falsifying books and records for his brother’s investment company. Former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta was found guilty of insider trading in one of more than 50 federal cases involving Wall Street misconduct.

G. Employees Cheat
One in five people admit to fibbing in the workplace at least once a week, according to a survey,. 25% of hiring managers say they’ve fired a worker for being dishonest.

H. Referees Cheat
Tim Donaghy, the former NBA referee at the center of a betting scandal that has rocked professional basketball, pleaded guilty to two federal conspiracy charges, acknowledging that he used inside information to predict the winners of NBA games and passed on his picks to a professional gambler in return for cash.

I. Athletes Cheat (And Rationalize It Away)
“Cheating is in the eye of the beholder … or flopper, or juicer. Many of the 83 athletes we spoke to anonymously (from MLB and the NBA, NFL, NHL and WNBA) attempted to massage the meaning of the term itself. “I wouldn’t use the word ‘cheating,’ per se,” says an MLB star. “It’s more like we do anything and everything possible to win and still be able to sleep at night with a clear conscience.” Then he chuckled: “And I’m fine with not even being able to sleep the whole night.”

J. Coaches Cheat (And Rationalize It Away)
Jim Boeheim drew a distinction Thursday between what he considers cheating in college sports and the violations for which Syracuse was punished with a postseason ban last year.
“When they say ‘cheating,’ that’s not true. Rules being broken are a lot different. Cheating to me is intentionally doing something, like you wanted to get this recruit so you arranged a job for him, or you went to see him when you shouldn’t. You called him when you shouldn’t to gain an edge in recruiting to get a really good player. That’s cheating.”

“The NCAA investigated Syracuse for nearly eight years, ruling last March that Boeheim failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance and monitor his staff. Included in the case were charges that a Syracuse director of basketball operations completed coursework for a player to keep him eligible, that the school ignored or violated its own drug testing program and that a booster provided more than $8,000 in extra benefits for two basketball and three football players tied to volunteer work at the YMCA.”

K. Scientists Cheat
In 2011, the pharmaceutical company Bayer looked at 67 blockbuster drug discovery research findings published in prestigious journals, and found that 75% of them weren’t right. Looking at sixty-seven recent drug discovery projects based on preclinical cancer biology research, they found that in more than 75 % of cases the published data did not match up with their in-house attempts to replicate.

A study of cancer research found that only 11% of preclinical cancer research could be reproduced.

Even in physics, supposedly the hardest and most reliable of all sciences, “two of the most vaunted physics results of the past few years …have now been retracted, with far less fanfare than when they were first published.”

In a 2011 survey of 2,000 research psychologists, over 50% admitted to selectively reporting those experiments that gave the result they were after. Around 10% of research psychologists have engaged in outright falsification of data, and more than 50% have engaged in “less brazen but still fraudulent behavior such as reporting that a result was statistically significant when it was not., ”

L. Educators Cheat
“A state investigation implicated more than 180 educators at 44 schools, according to media reports. Charges were originally brought against nearly three dozen Atlanta public school employees, many of whom took plea deals.”

“According to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing reports that “the cheating scandal in Atlanta is “just the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to cheating on standardized tests in our nation’s schools.

FairTest has found documented cases of cheating in 39 states and the District of Columbia, over the last five years alone. The organization has also identified more than 60 methods administrators and teachers have used to alter student scores on these tests, from urging low-scorers to be absent the day of the test, to shouting out and otherwise indicating correct answers during testing.

In Philadelphia two former school principals were arrested and charged with orchestrating cheating in their schools.

In El Paso, the former superintendent… served a jail sentence, courtesy of the FBI, which discovered a systematic pattern of excluding likely low scores from their schools, to avoid having them tested, and/or jumping kids over tested grades in order to keep them out of the test scores.

A State investigation found that leaders of the Columbus, Ohio School System manipulated school records by arbitrarily declaring kids who were likely to score low as absent or un-enrolled on the days on which tests were administered.”< "In a 2013 report, the Government Accounting Office reported 33 states had at least one incident of school officials cheating on tests in the prior two years." M. Students Cheat
A survey of 14,000 undergraduates over the past four years found two-thirds of students admitted to cheating on things like tests, homework and assignments.

Nearly three-quarters of college students surveyed admitted to cheating on tests or plagiarizing papers at least once during high school, according to research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.

Studies show that cheating has grown significantly during the past 60 years.
• 20% of college students admitted to cheating to some capacity in high school in the 1940s.
• Today the percentage of college students who admit to cheating in high school is between 75 and 85%.”

“A national survey by Rutgers’ Management Education Center of 4,500 high school students found that 75 percent of them engage in serious cheating.”

In surveys of high school students, the Josephson Institute of Ethics, which advises schools on ethics education, has found that about 60% admit to having cheated in the previous year — 80% of them say their own ethics are above average.

“16.5% of those who admitted to cheating felt no guilt whatsoever for their breach of ethics.”

“In a study of 1,800 college students,
• 15% turned in a fake term paper (either from a mill or a website),
• 84% cheated on written assignments and
• 52% plagiarized one or more sentences for a paper.”

1. Men and Women Cheat
“Numerous studies have been conducted trying to decipher whether cheating is more common among males or females. The conclusion is that there is almost a balance of cheaters by gender, with males just barely out-cheating females.”

2. The Top and Bottom Cheat
“McCabe and Hanson agree that while students at all levels resort to cheating, it’s those at the top and at the bottom who tend to cheat more.
“The top’s cheating to thrive, the bottom’s cheating to survive,” McCabe says, “and those in the middle are content with their grades and just go along in life and are happy.”

“A poll conducted at Fordham University noted a significant gap between the GPAs of cheating students and their honest counterparts. Cheaters, on average, boast a 3.41 average. Non-cheaters average at 2.85.”

8 Astonishing Stats on Academic Cheating

3. All Degrees Cheat!
“As for graduate education, a recent study found that 56% of MBA students admitted cheating, along with 54% of graduate students in engineering, 48% in education, and 45% in law.”

III. Why Do Students Cheat?
A. It’s Required For Success

According to a survey conducted by US News & World Report, 85 % of students believed that some cheating was necessary to get ahead.

“A dog-eat-dog mentality begins in high school, notes. Of 23,000 students surveyed in 2012, 45 percent of males and 28 percent of females agreed that a person must lie and cheat “at least occasionally” to succeed.” (Josephson Institute of Ethics).

B. I’m Ok, You’re OK, Cheating Is Too!
“Some 50% of survey respondents said they don’t think copying questions and answers from a test is even cheating. Survey participants responded with comments like:
• “”I actually think cheating is good. A person who has an entirely honest life can’t succeed these days”.
• “”We students know that the fact is we are almost completely judged on our grades. They are so important that we will sacrifice our own integrity to make a good impression.”
• “I believe cheating is not wrong. People expect us to attend 7 classes a day, keep a 4.0 GPA, not go crazy and turn in all of our work the next day. What are we supposed to do, fail?”

C. Everyone Does It So It Can’t Be Wrong
“20% of males and 10% of females also believe that “it is not cheating if everyone is doing it.”

D. Nobody Cares If I Cheat
“A U.S. News and World Report survey noted that 90% of those polled didn’t believe that they or others would get caught — and subsequently punished — for their actions.”

8 Astonishing Stats on Academic Cheating

“An Ohio State University investigation found that 70 percent of instructors had seen some form of academic misconduct. However, only 40 percent referred suspected cheating incidents to the institution’s judiciary committee, according to “The Ohio State University Weekly.”

“In an ABCNEWS Primetime poll of 12 to 17-year-olds, seven in 10 say at least some kids in their school cheat on tests. Six in 10 have friends who’ve cheated. About one in three say they themselves have cheated, rising to 43 percent of older teens. And most say cheaters don’t get caught

E. Situational Ethics: It’s Ok In This Situation
“91% of 63,700 U.S. and Canadian undergraduates surveyed by Rutgers University professor Donald L. McCabe rated plagiarism as serious or moderate cheating. Those margins dropped to 57% for copying material without attribution from an Internet source and 32% for collaborating on assignments that required individual work…such behavior is easy to rationalize for students trying to juggle academic, extracurricular and career obligations.”

F. It’s Easier Than Studying
“Why would a student who regularly gets A’s decide to cheat, since they cannot receive anything better than an A? The answer is that academic dishonesty acts as a shortcut. Even if a plagiarized paper receives a relatively low grade, that grade is high given how much time and effort went into the paper.
A researcher concluded that the students used crib notes as alternatives to studying, rather than as compliments to studying, and thus spent less time preparing for the exam.
Academic dishonesty is more of a way to get by without having to work hard than a shortcut to success.”

G. Too Much To Do
“Kirk Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, thinks the No. 1 rationalization for cheating is a heavy workload.”

H. Success is More Important Than Integrity
“Competitive pressures placed on children at a very young age carry on with them through high school and college. With so much pressure to stand out as the smartest in a class, some students may give in to the opportunity to succeed at the price of integrity.

38% were ready to cheat if a scholarship was at stake followed by 35% who cited fear of disqualification from a study program or the university. 30% felt justified cheating if they were running out of time on an assignment. 15 and 20%, respectively, would cheat if other students did or because the instructor ignored the behavior.”

I. This Is What The Real World Does To Succeed
“It has also been claimed that business scandals in the real world make students believe that dishonesty is an acceptable method to attain success in contemporary society. Academic dishonesty, in this case, would be practice for the real world. For these students, there would be a dichotomy between success and honesty, and their decision is that: “It is not that we love honesty less, but that we love success more.”

J. It’s About Grades, Not Learning
“According to research presented published in the “The Psychology of Academic Cheating” (Elsevier, 2006), high school students cheat more when they see the teacher as less fair and caring and when their motivation in the course is more focused on grades and less on learning and understanding.”

IV. The Consequences of Cheating: I Cheat Now But Won’t Later
“Yes. We are a society of cheaters. Of course we are. As a nation, we worship one thing even more than God and country. We revere winners. We love our winners for breakfast, lunch, and dinners (I think there is a limerick in there somewhere). Our society is so focused on results that we are training our children to become results machines.”

“Kirk Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, tells Conan that sort of thinking can set cheaters up for a lifetime of cutting corners.
“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,” Hanson says.” “

“Some research even suggests that academic cheating may be associated with dishonesty later in life. In a 2007 survey of 154 college students, Southern Illinois University researchers found that students who plagiarized in college reported that they viewed themselves as more likely to break rules in the workplace, cheat on spouses and engage in illegal activities (Ethics & Behavior, Vol. 17, No. 3).

A 2009 survey, also by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, reports that people who cheat on exams in high school are three times more likely to lie to a customer or inflate an insurance claim compared with those who never cheated.

High school cheaters are also twice as likely to lie to or deceive their boss and one-and-a-half times more likely to lie to a significant other or cheat on their taxes.”

V. What Stops People From Cheating?
A. It’s Not The Fear Of Being Caught!

“In particular, people seem willing in some cases to simply ignore the cost of getting caught. In a set of experiments carried out in 2005 by the economists Nina Mazar and Dan Ariely, of MIT, and On Amir, a marketing expert at the University of California at San Diego, subjects were given a timed test of general-knowledge questions and paid for each correct answer.
They varied the setup of the experiment and found that people would tend to cheat when given the chance, but that the risk of being discovered did not deter them.” NY Times, October 4,2007

B. It Is The Constant Reminder Of Moral Values and Personal Accountability
“There’s evidence that focusing on honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility and promoting practices such as effective honor codes can make a significant difference in student behaviors, attitudes and beliefs, according to a 1999 study by the Center for Academic Integrity.

Honor codes seem to be particularly salient when they engage students, however…Participants who passively read a generic honor code before taking a test were less likely to cheat on the math problems, though this step did not completely curb cheating. Among those who signed their names attesting that they’d read and understood the honor code, however, no cheating occurred.” The Importance Of Culture
“Robert Kurzban, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, has found that players in a game he created are less likely to behave selfishly when they know that other players aren’t behaving selfishly, even though being the only player to behave selfishly actually increases one’s winnings at the game. That would suggest that most people, if they could be assured no one else was cheating, would not to cheat.”

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  1. An interesting (and disturbing) catalogue.

    I have been teaching and researching Public Sector Ethics for couple of decades, and my conclusion is this: we cheat (disrespecting others) to get ahead – ultimately out of a sense of individualist entitlement, which itself precludes shame at wrongdoing.

    That said, this helpful piece of research should be on your reading list: ‘The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead’. Callahan, David. Harcourt Books, 2004. Worth a read!

  2. If we are taught that we can do anything we want, then we must look for who is at fault when we fail. Seldom do we look at ourselves as the reason why we fail.

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