A R C H I V E S
Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|Is cheating getting worse?|
|10/04/03 at 10:32:06|
NEW YORK L. Dennis Kozlowski, the former chairman of Tyco International, is on trial, accused of looting his company and investors of $600 million. Schoolchildren are pirating music and films online. Renowned historians have plagiarized colleagues’ work.
‘‘You have almost an acceptance that humankind cannot resist the pressure to cheat, whether it’s Sammy Sosa in a slump or Kobe Bryant cheating on his wife,’’ said Michael Josephson, president of the Josephson Institute of Ethics, a nonprofit organization in Los Angeles that works with schools and businesses to advocate ethical behavior.
Josephson is among many Americans who have heard about Kozlowski’s trial and the corked bat used by the Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa and may believe that America is in the midst of a new cheating epidemic. It is nearly impossible to turn on the television or pick up a newspaper or magazine without hearing someone lament the current decline in morals. But is there any hard evidence that more people are more dishonest now than in the past?
For the most part, no. Several historians and ethicists say there is simply not enough data on cheating to draw conclusions; nor is there any way to make empirical comparisons about cheating over time. Rules, laws and mores constantly change in areas like finance, sports and politics.
The Securities and Exchange Commission regulations intended to keep accounting honest, for instance, were not created until the 1930’s. Random drug tests are relatively new to sports competition. As for sexual mores, surveys are notoriously unreliable and reflect changing moral standards.
Even David Callahan, a political scientist with a forthcoming book titled ‘‘The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans are Doing Wrong To Get Ahead,’’ concedes that ‘‘by its nature cheating is intended to go undetected, and trends in unethical behavior can be hard to document.’’
If there is one place where the moral flagmen have a case, it is student cheating, because studies have documented its rise in recent years. And there is broad agreement that the Internet has certainly made it much easier to plunder other people’s work. Yet even in this area educators, ethicists and lawmakers warn that the Internet has created a murky territory of outdated laws and shifting standards.
‘‘Law, technology and ethics are not in sync right now,’’ said Senator Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican who on Tuesday 9/30 held a hearing on illegal file sharing and privacy.
Ann Fabian, an associate professor of American studies and history at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, agrees. ‘‘The Web has changed notions of intellectual property, and we don’t have the norms to deal with it,’’ she said. ‘‘The language of cheating — which we think of a stable, moral point — has to evolve, too.’’
As for most other areas, previous ethical lapses can certainly compete with today’s. Sports? Even the very first game of baseball’s first modern World Series, in 1903, was tainted with rumors that the Boston Americans threw the game. Politics? Between Tammany Hall’s electoral fraud and Watergate’s dirty tricks, some historians have argued that politics is cleaner now than ever. Business? How do you think the robber barons got their name?
More recently the 1980’s featured spectacular financial scandals starring Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken, and enough cases of scientific fraud and plagiarism that Congress felt compelled to hold hearings on that problem, too.
To some historians the current outcry about increased cheating is not surprising. What is known as the declension view of history — dating back at least to the Puritans — always has one generation bemoaning the morals of its successor, said Louis Masur, a cultural historian at the City College of New York.
‘‘It’s a meditation, a debate, a discussion that goes way back,’’ he said. ‘‘Now what’s changed is the amount of coverage. It’s not that kids didn’t cheat at Yale 30 years ago, but now it’s easier to do so. The media coverage follows and inundates us and changes our sense of it, the pervasiveness of it.’’
Zachary Karabell, a historian who writes about American culture, agrees. ‘‘We go through these cycles where we’ve found the formulas for social cohesion and then cycles where we’ve gone to hell in a handbasket,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re in a hell in a handbasket phase.’’ People have had to deal with the sudden economic insecurity that followed the 1990’s bubble, he said, and ‘‘cheating touches a chord that we’ve lost something.’’
Like Karabell, some experts say the alarm about more cheating is tied to wider anxiety about social changes, like those that came after Sept. 11 or the new global economy. Transitional periods — a war, a recession, an economic boom — have historically caused people to pay more attention to their souls.
From the moment Massachusetts Bay preachers in the 1680’s warned against vice and moral turpitude, Americans have fretted about a growing lack of morality and virtue. The rise of the market economy and big cities in the 1820’s through the 1840’s added to that perception. A pervasive fear of confidence men gripped city dwellers, said Jackson Learscq, a professor of history at Rutgers.
The Gilded Age, those decades immediately following the Civil War, were marked by prosperity and growth but also by wretched excess and scandal of all kinds. In the Credit Mobilier Scandal of 1872-73, for instance, the Union Pacific Railroad sold or gave shares in its construction to influential congressmen, who approved federal subsidies for railroad construction.
Some of the New Deal legislation was spurred by bank and brokerage fraud in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the Securities and Exchange Commission finally established in 1934. ‘‘The distrust of Wall Street has been there from the beginning, as the distrust of unearned wealth,’’ Mr. Lears said. That distrust has long been a constant anxiety in American’s moral and commercial lives, he said, adding, ‘‘This anxiety built through the 19th century as we went though periods of boom and bust, and there was little government regulation.’’
Those who argue that cheating is more pervasive now are familiar with this history, but they counter that now there are more practitioners and less guilt.
Donald L. McCabe, a professor of management at Rutgers in Newark, has become known as a ‘‘cheating guru’’ for his widely reported surveys in the last 10 years of how and why high school and college students cheat. He has also looked at data going back to the 1960’s.
Not only is cheating significantly up since then, Mr. McCabe has found, but many students do not consider it a big deal, saying it was just a modern fact of life. His study this year of 16,000 undergraduates at 23 colleges and universities found that 38 percent had taken material from the Internet and passed it off as their own. Forty-four percent of all the students surveyed said it was no big deal. In a 2000 survey only 10 percent of students admitted to Internet cheating.
Some ethicists argue that student cheating — whether using the Internet to plagiarize or finding a rogue way to ace a classroom exam — is the ‘‘canary in the mine,’’ about the extent of wider cheating now and in the future.
‘‘There is no question that students point to things in the larger society as rationale and justification for their cheating, whether its Michael Milken, Bill Clinton or Enron or their parents cheating on taxes,’’ said Donald L. McCabe, a professor of management at Rutgers in Newark, has become known as a ‘‘cheating guru’’ for his widely reported surveys in the last 10 years of how and why high school and college students cheat.
Josephson said his institute surveyed 12,000 high school students in 2002 and found that 74 percent admitted cheating on an exam at least once in the past year, compared with 61 percent in a 1992 survey. In 2000 34 percent of high school students agreed with the statement ‘‘A person has to lie or cheat sometimes in order to succeed,’’ compared with 43 percent who agreed in a 2002 survey.
To Callahan, whose book is one of the first scholarly attempts to evaluate the current bout of cheating, new economic pressures for those at the bottom and more goodies for those at the top is partly responsible. He writes, for example, about Sears auto-repair workers who cut corners because their jobs were at stake. He based his argument on interviews, surveys and studies in fields like accounting and law.
Rushworth Kidder, president of the Institute For Global Ethics, a nonprofit think tank in Camden, Maine, points to Americans’ increasing disillusionment with public institutions as one reason for more cheating. ‘‘You’ve got a pervasive decline in trust,’’ he said. Since established institutions can no longer be relied on to behave honestly or set standards, everything — including ethics — becomes ‘‘individual and negotiable.’’
As for Josephson, he acknowledges that the question of whether there is more cheating cannot be definitively answered. But he is grim nonetheless. ‘‘Whether there’s more cheating or not, it’s bad enough,’’ he said.
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