If it’s on the internet, it must be true: Part III

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.


One thought on “If it’s on the internet, it must be true: Part III

  1. These “facts” are a big problem. There’s a quote about the financial gain from cybercrime that’s bandied about, but appears to be spurious. Here’s the quote: “Last year was the first year that proceeds from cybercrime were greater than proceeds from the sale of illegal drugs, and that was, I believe, over $105 billion.” This is attributed to a US Treasury Cybercrime Advisor in 2005.

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