"Fraud is the daughter of greed." --Jonathan Gash, The Great California Game
Sometimes it seems like not a day goes by without new allegations of cheating. Recent headlines highlighted allegations that 20 percent of the Air Force personnel in charge of the maintenance and operation of our nuclear weapons shared proficiency exam answers or knew someone who had and had looked the other way.
On Feb. 4, the Navy said it had suspended 30 instructors at its base in Charleston, South Carolina, after a sailor reported that he had been offered answers to a written test used to qualify sailors in the operation of nuclear reactors.
Also on Feb. 4. the Senate held a hearing into allegations that recruiters for the National Guard had received a total of $29 million for signing up recruits they had no part in recruiting.
Lest you think I'm picking on the armed forces: On Feb. 5. it was announced that the whistle-blowing lawyer who uncovered the mortgage industry robo-signing scandal has filed another suit, this time alleging that tens of thousands of mortgage claims submitted to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) were fraudulent because critical documents had been forged.
If your only source of information is the media, you might conclude that fraudulent activities like this are relatively rare. From that and, based on what you know of yourself and your own moral compass, you might also conclude that most people are honest. Unfortunately, you'd only be half-right.
Dan Ariely is a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University and the author of The Honest Truth About Dishonesty. How We Lie to Everyone--Especially Ourselves. In an April 2012 appearance on National Public Radio's TED Radio Hour, Ariely discussed a series of studies in which test subjects were given 20 relatively simple math problems with a reward of $1 per correctly answered question. Neither the control nor the test groups were given enough time to complete all of the problems.
In the control samples, at the end of the test period the answer sheets were collected and graded. The average reward paid out was $4. In the test groups, the papers were not collected and the subjects were allowed to self-report the number of correct answers. The average payout to the groups that had the opportunity to cheat was $7.
Ariely said he'd run nearly 30,000 people through these tests over the years. He found that there were only about a dozen people who "cheated by...