The “Lance Factor”—Is It Cheating If Everyone Else Does It?

Written by: Steve Addicott, Vice President of Client Services, Caveon Test Security

Two weeks ago, I was riveted by what I saw on TV:  Lance Armstrong–the greatest racer in the history of cycling’s premier event, the Tour de France; the man who defeated cancer and then went on to win the Tour seven consecutive times; the man who aggressively, even violently, maintained his innocence against allegations of cheating while every other racer who stood on the podium through those seven victories was busted–admitted he cheated during a nationally televised interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Well, of course he did.  After the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released its 1,000 page report regarding Armstrong, only the most loyal (and gullible) Lance supporters still thought he was clean when he won those Tours.

Still, despite already knowing he cheated, I found his admission compelling–Not that he cheated and lied about it, but the reasons behind WHY he cheated.

Much of Oprah’s questioning involved the sport’s culture of performance enhancing drug (PED) use during the late 90’s and early 2000’s.  According to Lance (and many of his teammates), the use of PEDs was rampant throughout cycling’s upper echelons.  As he described it, of course he used PEDs—everybody did.  Doing so only “leveled the playing field.”  The fact that every top rival of his during his seven Tour victories was caught certainly reinforces this assertion.  When asked directly whether he considered his PED use at the time to be cheating, Armstrong responded flatly along the lines of, “No,  I was just doing what everyone else was doing.”  From now on, I’m referring to this attitude as the “Lance Factor.”

Based upon other high-profile incidents, it’s apparent the Lance Factor is pervasive in other sports, too.  Indeed, in light of what we’re seeing in newspapers across the country, this attitude permeates most aspects of our society, including business and education.

Let me share a real-world example of the trickle-down effect of the Lance Factor—Just yesterday, I was spending time with a couple, some old family friends, who were visiting from out of town.  During our catch-up conversation, Sue (the “Mom,” not her real name) shared that just a few minutes before connecting with me, she had received a series of texts from her 12-year old daughter seeking help answering questions DURING HER MATH MID-TERM EXAM!  The student was using her cell phone (which was, of course, supposed to be sequestered during the exam) to take pictures of math problems, text them to her mother, and expected Mom to provide inappropriate support in answering them because “everyone else was cheating, too.”  Unbelievable.

Here’s what’s worse—Mom, though disheartened by the obvious lack of proxy rigor in the test room, GAVE THE ANSWERS TO HER DAUGHTER, not wanting her to be negatively impacted by the behavior of others.  She wanted her child to have…you guessed it… a level playing field.

At Caveon, our company is built upon a deep, passionate belief in the sacredness of quality testing and the trustworthiness of test results.  So what, as testing professionals, are we to do in light of the Lance Factor?  It’s almost like an arms race—as the stakes of important tests raise higher and higher, test takers innovate more and more clever ways to gain unfair advantage, while test programs are forced to spend ever more time, dollars, and energy striving to mitigate those innovations to ensure trustworthy results.

It seems clear to me that at some point soon, we as an industry, as a society, must decide enough is enough.  We need to address not only the cheating behaviors associated with the Lance Factor, but the attitudes behind it. I’d love to hear your thoughts. How do we mitigate the Lance Factor?



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