Off with their heads or the Illogic of Executing Cheaters

By Dennis Maynes, Chief Scientist, Caveon Test Security

In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the Queen of Hearts exclaimed, “Off with their heads!” whenever anything or anyone opposed her will or pleasure. Lewis Carroll wrote “I pictured to myself the Queen of Hearts as a sort of embodiment of ungovernable passion – a blind and aimless Fury.” I think Lewis Carroll used Alice in Wonderland to illustrate the chaos that ensues when logic and reason are discarded. Those are my thoughts, as I consider current efforts to make cheating on tests illegal. Supporters have good intentions, such as holding people accountable for their actions and instilling ethics into the populace, but logic and reason should be the foundation for this effort, not capricious will or public indignation.

There are several issues that must be addressed as laws are considered.

First, “cheating” just like “stealing” is a rather vague term. There are lots of ways to steal. Some of them are swindling, embezzling, burgling, safe cracking, and shoplifting. Each form of theft carries with it different punishments and evidentiary requirements. In the same way, there are lots of ways to cheat. Appropriate definitions, punishments and evidentiary requirements for cheating must be considered by law makers.

Second, some people claim that “cheating” is victimless. Who is injured by cheating? What is the harm in cheating? Specific victims are often not readily found. Even though the accused has the right to be confronted by the victim, society or the testing authority must represent the victim when the victim cannot speak. By making cheating illegal, law makers allow society to speak for victims. Because cheating is not victimless, cheaters victimize everyone.

Third, “cheating” leaves direct evidence that cheating occurred only rarely. Cheaters do not leave behind broken locks, records of missing inventory, or medical evidence of bodily injury. This is important. Without direct evidence that cheating occurred, inferences must be made and arguments must be constructed using indirect evidence. Without direct evidence, it is hard to argue persuasively that harm was done.
Fourth, remedies for “cheating” must be considered. Unfortunately, the harm done by cheaters is difficult to quantify and almost impossible to repair. How can the wrong be rectified

(1) When a cheater was admitted to the university and someone else was turned away,
(2) When a cheater was hired in the place of another, or
(3) When teachers tampered with test results and students were cheated out of their education?

Law makers must address these issues, if they are to produce good laws.

The list goes on and on. In my opinion, the effort to protect the public from cheaters through legislation has merit, but logic and reason must prevail over public indignation and capricious will. Perhaps law makers should enable testing authorities to deal with potential cheating in a timely manner before the victims have been harmed. Doing so protects the public from cheaters. Prompt detection of potential cheating allows scores to be invalidated and prevents cheaters from being rewarded. After score invalidation, the candidate may be allowed to retest. This is a rather mild intervention. It is a logical and reasonable response. It is not the same as chopping off heads.

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