Pseudo science, faking it and cheating

There have been several articles circulating on Twitter and Facebook about pseudo (neuro) science, academic cheating by academics themselves and the ongoing challenges of cheating students.

It is certain that this isn’t a recent thing. The tools have become more sophisticated but the actions of some to take a short cut in order to sell more, get published, obtain fame or get a diploma is not a new development.

Fortunately, there are plenty of die hard science critics who are constantly monitoring the validity of others’ publication, such as Ben Goldacre and Steven Pool. Then again, others argue that these writers are too critical and that the translated message is like a dish served in a restaurant: We as consumers don’t need to know if 2 eggs were used or 3. They like the work of people like David Rock, who dilutes/processes research for us so we can develop ourselves, using evidence based management.

As for academic cheating, be it by academics or students. There are discussions going on why it’s done. Is it the rat race? Too much pressure to publish or perish? Alok Jha explores the reasons behind academic cheating. Certainly in our department colleagues have circulated stories via email about retractions etc. Some of us feel better when we didn’t quite make the REF or that 4* journal this year.

Then, there is the cheating by students, which has become more and more difficult to detect via tools such as Turn It In because students can now purchase bespoke essays and reports via websites such as Freelancer. Some companies are so bold to come onto campus and hand out flyers. As a reality check, academics should enter their course work instructions into Google and see what comes up.

Apparently an investigation was due to be launched back in 2006. I tweeted that link to the Guardian Higher Education and Times Higher Education accounts but it doesn’t seem that the global HE industry is shaking on its foundations (it should – we are unleashing frauds as graduates on a mass scale – if you think that’s an exaggeration, check the bank balance of the founders of essay writing services that students can use for ‘guidance’).

The problem is that students think that the end product is what’s desired and they delegate the responsibility. Some are amazed to hear that skills such as searching for sources, reading, being able to summarise, process, critique is what we’d like to see and a course work is evidence of the student having obtained those skills. This year, I’ll ask students to do work in seminars that they can hand in at the end of each session, which will count as attendance and activity (not just bum on seat) and that will be included in the portfolio with the final course work product.

So as I am continuing to read articles on the spectrum of fakery and falsifying it occurs to me that there is a need to shift from outcome focus to process focus. Reward students and professionals (also outside academia) for the process as much as for the outcome. This requires a culture shift. It’s cognitively tasking to monitor a process. It’s easier to reward the outcome, regardless of how that was achieved. But, as the economic crisis has taught us, it is necessary to be vigilant and observe who does what when and on what intelligence this is based.

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