Tuesday, January 6, 2009

CMU students are cheaters!!

Ok, not really. However, Dr. Free-Ride just posted an interesting little ditty about an interview that referenced a study on cheating that was done at Carnegie Melon University (CMU).

During this study, they hired an acting student from CMU to blatantly cheat, to see what kind of effect this would have on the other students. The results?
Dan Ariely, Duke University: We ran this at Carnegie Mellon, in Pittsburgh. And in Pittsburgh there are two universities: Carnegie Mellon, University of Pittsburgh. All the students who participated were Carnegie Mellon students. If the cheating student, the acting student, was wearing a Carnegie Mellon sweatshirt, he basically got people to cheat more. But if he was wearing a University of Pittsburgh sweatshirt, he got people to cheat less. What is basically happening here is that when he stood there with a Carnegie Mellon sweatshirt, he gave a social justification for a new social norm to emerge about cheating. But when he was wearing a University of Pittsburgh sweatshirt, all of the sudden people said, "This is cheating. This is what the other people in the bad school are doing. This is not what we're doing." And therefore cheated actually less.
Since Adventures in Ethics and Science is all about, well, scientific ethics, Dr. Free-Ride's analysis tackles how these findings apply to cheating in the sciences. As she puts it, "[C]onsider what this result suggests about how people evaluate whether cheating is permissible: If someone from my group is doing it, it's OK for me to do it."*

I generally think that this tendency is a broader failing of "human reason" to topple our primate thought processes. It saddens and aggravates me every time I hear of people who, in all seriousness, aggrandize the people who belong to their affiliated tribe** or tear down those who belong to an "opposing" one. Say what you will about the various institutions; CMU may be the MIT of Pittsburgh, but it doesn't make CMU's students morally superior to Pitt's students. It makes CMU engineering grads slightly more likely to get into a good grad school or good job position. That is all.

And I'm saying this as a person who is currently attending Pitt while dating a CMU alum. My dude occasionally joshes me about my university, and I sometimes poke fun at his. But when it comes down to it, we know that CMU and Pitt are basically equivalent (though CMU has an absolutely superior engineering department, and Pitt has a more well-rounded curriculum and a stronger sports presence).

And since it's discouraged at Dr. Free-Ride's blog, you are more than welcome here to bitch about how Duquesne or Carlow or Point Park wasn't included as one of "Pittsburgh's two universities". Or about how any serious Pitt/CMU rivalry is pretty silly.


* As I posted in a comment on Dr. Free-Ride's post: As an up-and-coming scientist, if I knew that a "successful" scientist at my University had consciously cheated to get there, I would not consider that person a success, especially not a success in science. It's about getting closer to the truth, not about having the longest CV.

** Tribe = city, state, country, neighborhood, school, major, program, sports team, fan club, religion, denomination, church, etc.

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