I’ve been on a treasure hunt for the source of a “fact” on the internet: that 75% to 98% of college students cheat. These numbers appear on numerous websites, if in slightly different forms: they refer to college students cheating in college or high school or both. Where did this come from?
As I’ve written previously, a principal source seems to be a campaign, Cheating is a Personal Foul, that was run by the ETS and the Ad Council in the 1990s. One page includes this:
According to Stephen Davis, a psychology professor at Emporia State University in Kansas: “about 20% of college students from across the nation admitted to cheating in high school during the 1940’s. That percentage has since soared, with no fewer than 75% and as many as 98% of 8,000 college students surveyed each year now reporting cheating in high school – and the majority admitting doing it on several occasions.”
Professor Davis retired over a decade ago, but I was able to get his email address from Emporia State and wrote him to ask for the source of his information. He couldn’t be much help–this was a while ago and, well, he’s retired–but he did lead me to an article from 1941 that he thought could be the basis of the assertion that 20% of college students admitted to cheating in high school during the 1940s, but in fact it did not. I’m not sure it’s worth it to keep looking.
A significant problem with any discussion of cheating among students is the difficulty in coming up with a verifiable measure of prevalence. That’s the topic of another discussion.
For now, the point is that the internet allows data to leap from place to place and leave a trail of connective tissue. Before you know it, someone’s sloppy or selective reporting morphs into truth.