Youth Culture of Misconduct

Update: The 5th annual Junior Achievement/Deloitte Teen Ethics Survey finds that 38% of teens who “feel fully prepared to make ethical decisions when they enter the workforce” also believe it is sometimes necessary to cheat, plagiarize, lie or even behave violently in order to succeed. Among all teens surveyed, 24% think cheating on a test is acceptable on some level, and 54% give their personal desire to succeed as the rationale.

Perhaps research on research integrity needs to take a page from the NSF playbook and start during the K-12 period.

In June 2007, nine 17-year-old male students from Hanover High School (NH) used stolen keys to break into a teacher’s filing cabinet and take final exams first from various high-level math courses; chemistry final exams were stolen in like manner five days later. About 50 students are suspected to have participated directly in the theft, as look-outs, and/or as recepients of ill-gotten exam answers. Because the incident involved breaking and entering, it was reported to the police, much to the fury of parents, who feel the misdemeanor charges will impact their children’s acceptance at desirable colleges.

Apparently, mere cheating isn’t worth a second thought. Honor system? When it doesn’t interfere with ambitious plans perhaps. In an interview on NPR All Things Considered, Aine Donovan, executive director of the Dartmouth College Ethics Institute, said “kids today are more apt to rationalize their behavior as a means to an end; and they seem to have invented their own particular code of right and wrong.”

The Detroit Free Press published statistics from a Josephson Institute of Ethics report that found “entrenched habits of dishonesty” among young people. About 28% of 36,122 public and private high school students who were surveyed admitted stealing from a store within the past year; 23% said they stole something from a parent or other relative; 82% said they lied to a parent about something significant; 60% said they cheated on a test.”

I went to a pretty high-powered college that made a huge deal about its honor system, and I personally knew of no incidents of cheating or other academic misconduct among the students. My roommates each failed a course freshman year, and I swallowed a huge dose of reality. And we all took the humbling grade point hit rather than try to better our average in a less than honorable manner. This was well before these kids were born, though, and these are the sort who would seek admittance at my alma mater. One wonders whether current students are willing to accept grades below a B … or an A … or if they take “justifiable” steps to better their standing for their future good.

So they get over the hurdle of admission to Harvard or Princeton and years later face the pressure of getting “good” data to publish and support a grant application – with the same ingrained rationalizations in tow. Consider this “foundation” in light of new data suggesting mentoring has the potential to increase misconduct or recent discussion of plagiarism as a “victimless crime” at the First World Conference on Research Integrity.

Is RCR (responsible conduct of research) training at the graduate school level too late perhaps?



  1. […] wrote an interesting post today on Youth Culture of MisconductHere’s a quick […]

  2. PhysioProf said

    My prep school had an honor system, and the entire 10 years I attended (third through twelfth grades) I can only remember one incident of cheating, and it was in second grade. My recollection is that two kids collaborated on a take-home math test. I’m not sure if my university or graduate schools had honor systems, but I cannot recall even a single publicized incident of cheating or plagiarizing at either.

    My impression is that at the high-school and college levels, the temptation to plagiarize has become overwhelming for some students because of its dramatic ease via the Internet.

  3. […] data, etc. etc.) is to start raising awareness sooner … perhaps in kindergarten if the teen ethics headlines & survey results continue on their current disheartening downward […]

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