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You Can’t Cheat Science!

, , , , , , , , , | Learning | August 24, 2021

When I was in grad school, one of my colleagues in my lab worked as a teaching assistant for a certain undergraduate class. Students in this class were notorious for cheating, and one of the ways they cheated was to collect their graded exams, change one of the answers, and submit it for a re-grade, claiming that that the teaching assistant had neglected to give them full credit for the answer.

My colleague was lamenting to some of us at lunch about how her student submitted a question for a re-grade, but she knew there was no way she had misgraded his answer to begin with.

Colleague: “I know he erased his answer and changed it. I mean, I graded fifty exams, so I don’t remember for sure, but there’s no way I wouldn’t have given that answer full credit. He has to be cheating!”

Me: “But you can’t prove it.”

Colleague: “No, and that’s what’s so frustrating.”

Me: “Can I see the paper?”

She showed me the paper. Right away, I noticed that there was a spot where the student’s pencil mark intersected with the teaching assistant’s red grading pen.

Colleague: “See? I can’t prove whether he wrote his answer before or after I graded the paper.”

Me: “We have microscopes.”

My colleague’s face lit up. She took the paper to one of our fancy lab microscopes, and even at ten times magnification, she could see the student’s pencil mark clearly ON TOP of her red pen. She took a picture using the microscope and submitted it to the professor, and the student eventually admitted to cheating. Science for the win.


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