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ISU economist's study hints that cheaters can prosper in college

Economist Rajiv Goel
Staff
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WGLT
Illinois State University economist Rajiv Goel.

If it seems like the more colleges and universities make policies about academic cheating the more ways to cheat pop up, you might not be wrong.

Illinois State University economist Rajiv Goel said the anonymous nature of the internet creates policing challenges in considering artificial intelligence (AI) programs like ChatGPT and other sneaky ways to commit fraud.

The retired professor has a new study out showing term paper vendors and other cheaters are marketing more as academic institutions specify more things that are offenses.

Goel said he created internet indices by state and trolled the web for a variety of factors: help with term paper, plagiarism, cheating, ChatGPT, the presence of penalties, and policies stated on course syllabuses. Goel says he tailored the searches the way a student looking for help on the down-low would form the question.

“Think about if I was a potential student but now either I am not on the ball and I am behind, or I am not competent. So, at the last minute, as a student, I am looking for somebody to aid me. So I did searches by state, university, college, and help, write term paper or project. Not necessarily ChatGPT, because I want all kinds of assistance. Again, thinking like a potential student, I want this work to be done quickly,” said Goel.

Repeating the mass searches by state with varying combinations of terms such as enforcement, plagiarism, and punishment, he said, showed a surprising thing related to advertisements by cheating service providers such as firms that offer to write term papers for $6 per page.

The finding is actually a little bit counterintuitive, across all these, but is robust. And the counterintuitive finding is, for now, more policies, again, measured this way, are not an effective deterrent. Actually, they are actually positively related. This is, if you want to put intuition onto it, what economists call "demand is creating its supply."

What doesn’t work, Goel said, is warning students on a course syllabus that they can’t use ChatGPT.

“It is not a deterrent, because not many people are looking at the syllabus, or they're just interested in how the grade is calculated, and when the exam is going to be,” said Goel.

An oddity, Goel said, is that there are a number of term paper factory businesses located on the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus.

He said the data is not perfect, but it is hard evidence that cheaters find a way and that enforcement needs to ramp up, though stamping out academic fraud is difficult.

“That's a good question. And I don't have a great answer, but I am thinking, one is perhaps do different kinds of evaluations. Of course, that is not possible in every discipline. For now, there is no effective way to solve this. There are some programs to detect plagiarism, but they are imperfect,” said Goel.

Goel's paper with co-author Mike Nelsonis published by a global independent research network hosted by the Center of Economic Studies in Munich, Germany.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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