Cheating refers to gaining an unfair advantage in a competitive situation. Generally it refers to an individual, keeping in mind that a company is usually viewed as an individual entity. Cheating is an act consciously taken to gain the unfair advantage. Wikipedia, defines three classes of cheating: (1) academic; (2) sports, video, and gambling; and (3) business. Accordingly, one can conclude that the government(s) does not cheat. Or does it?
Starting with academic cheating, if more than 50 percent of high school students do it, should we be concerned? I believe that Einstein said never remember anything you can look up. Do I really need to know what the Twelfth Amendment of the US Constitution is about? Maybe I do if I am a constitutional scholar or if I need to pass the course on government. Since it deals with the procedure for electing the President and the Vice President, it might have gotten your attention during the last presidential election, but on a day to day basis what is the importance of knowing it is the Twelfth Amendment? If you are taking the mandatory government course, it may be the difference in a letter grade, passing and, perhaps, class standing.
In contrast, assume you are an engineering student. Do you really need to know the difference between an integral and a differential? Probably yes and if you cheat to pass the course, a later error could be significantly consequential. While I do not condone academic cheating, I become perplexed in assessing a standard of punishment and ranking what should be included and tested for in course content.
In the post academic world, the issue is more complex and potentially more costly. Today there are more and more requirements for “certification” in more and more professions. Consequently, there are more and more offerings in test preparation, often based on analysis of previous tests and projections by the coaching companies of test content. Is this OK, or does it favor the more affluent? Does passing the project management certification truly make you a project manager? Does passing the legal bar exam really make you a competent lawyer? And when does the preparation cross the line and become cheating?
Shifting to sports, games and gambling, cheating becomes both more obvious and more easily defined. For example, the use of performance enhancing drugs is clearly defined as cheating, at least most of the time. On the other hand, baseballs have been greased, bats have been corked, illegal tennis racquets and golf clubs have been used, hand “stickum” has been used to catch footballs, and so forth. Even Nancy Kerrigan was targeted to remove her from the Olympics.
Cheating occurs in otherwise straight forward competition also. In the 1986 FIFA World Cup, Diego Maradona used his hand to punch a soccer ball into the goal. And how many times, assuming you watch American football, have you seen calls for holding or pass interference? In playing the game, are these offenses intentional? Usually not, but occasionally the penalty is worth the crime and it is something to expect.
Moving to gambling, some things are clearly cheating: the use of a doctored deck of cards; loaded dice; and a rigged roulette wheel or slot machine. But how about the work of Edward O. Thorp? In 1962, his book Beat the Dealer was published and demonstrated that proper card counting can alert the player to when the odds in the game of blackjack (twenty one) had switched in the player’s favor. Using an IBM704 computer and learning Fortran to program his analytical program model, he developed his playing model and in Reno, Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas proved that it worked. This was not cheating. Yet to the casual observer, it might have appeared so. By the way, from 1961 to 1965, Thorp was a professor of mathematics at NMSU.
Now consider business. Businesses must abide by lots of government regulations. In the last article the pricing of Native American jewelry was mentioned as well as MSPR (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price). Is this lying to cheat the customer and does it need to be regulated? In a more pertinent example, however, consider emission testing by Volkswagen and the reported results that allegedly proved compliance with federal regulation. Was this cheating? I believe the answer is obvious. But it also raises the question of when is cheating acceptable and when does it cross the line of acceptability? If we find it acceptable to cheat on some personal levels, when does it become unacceptable and even punishable. And how do we teach people to tell the difference?
And how about the government? Does the government ever cheat with internal governance? A community has a well-marked speed zone. All of a sudden the speed zone is converted into a double fine speed zone, doubling the penalty if you get a speeding ticket. Is this done to enhance safety through driver intimidation or is it done to increase revenues? While I would like to believe the former, the latter perspective undermines trust in government – it cheated. But what about changing the interpretation of a funding bill to change how tax dollars are used? Is the government cheating?
Till next time….