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I remember that I had a course in college called "Integration Project" and we had to do surveys, I went to the local mall to do surveys to people, everything fine. Then I discovered that my other team members were falsifying the survey responses because of lack of time.

The results of the survey wont be published in journals or a thesis, etc. It is was just for the course.

I know that data falsification in thesis or master's degree are really really bad, but how about in simple college courses?

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    Data should never be falsified. This should be a point of honor.
    – littleO
    Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 3:22
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    From your past questions, it seems that you graduated some time ago but you keep thinking of new ways in which your degree might be tainted. Granted, knowingly putting your name on falsified work is less than good, so this particular concern might be justified. Still, our answers will be based on the facts you give us, and I am concerned about your objectivity given that you seem determined to find some ethical transgression in your academic history.
    – cag51
    Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 5:49
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    I'm going to agree with @cag51 here. It seems like you are having a lot of anxiety about your degree. These sorts of questions might be better served by talking to a psychologist. None of your degrees are in any danger.
    – JoshuaZ
    Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 16:30
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    It's hard to answer this without being subjective. It's not like we can write "it's exactly 3.2 micronazis bad". Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 18:51
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    UPDATE: I am not anxious about my already recieved degrees, I know about my rights and how the thesis investigacion process is. My question was just for curiosity.. thanks for answering Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 19:50

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Fabricating data would be clear academic misconduct in any college course and if brought to the instructor's or school's attention, would normally result in penalties. At Michigan, for example, a typical penalty for misconduct would be a zero on the assignment and a 1/3 letter grade deduction on their final grade. If the assignment was a major part of the grade, it was an instant fail. If the misconduct wasn't discovered or didn't happen until they'd already received a final grade, the usual penalty was community service.

The question for you is whether to report it. Michigan is an honor code school that asks students to report suspected misconduct, which answers the question for Michigan students, at least as far as telling them what they're supposed to do. If your school doesn't have a policy requiring that you report misconduct, it's a more personal question. When do you think you have an ethical duty to report wrongdoing? You might also consider what could happen to you if the misconduct is discovered and reported by someone else. Could you be tarred with the same brush as your dishonest teammates?

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In the context of an assignment for academic coursework, it is likely that data falsification would constitute a breach of the rules of the assignment and so it would be regarded as a species of academic dishonesty in the coursework, similar to cheating on an exam. Since the work is not published this would be considered a much less severe instance of academic dishonesty than falsifiying data in an actual study. Nevertheless, it is not good practice for students to get into the habit of cutting-corners and dishonesty in the context of coursework.

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It is rarely a good idea to bring legal analogies, but I consider this to be one of those rare cases. Notice, I am in no way implying any particular legal connection of falsifying data to particular crimes.


Let's consider a typical US criminal law, and take Connecticut as an example. Connecticut's laws define various crimes which can be of different classes (A–D, unclassified). Class A crimes constitute the more serious types of crimes and carry longer sentences and large fines, while Class D crimes are the least serious kind. For example, Class A felonies can lead to a life sentence, while Class D felonies can lead to a small fine. However, no matter what class does the crime belongs, it is still a crime.

Similarly, data should never be falsified. However, the seriousness of the offense and the consequences (in case, it is discovered) would differ. The impact and, maybe even more importantly, mens rea (guilty mind) of the falsification from a first-year B.Sc. student is different from an established researcher.

Moreover, one could argue that more serious crimes usually originate from less serious ones (discovered or undiscovered); therefore, it is extremely important to have students educated about the Code of Honor and the importance of research\educational integrity as early as possible.

To summarize, falsification of data is always really-really bad. The severity of the consequences might vary. But, as it is with any criminal record, it makes it very hard to overcome this event in the future, potentially closing some roads forever. And even if not caught, this might lead a student onto a dangerous road, and I would strongly advise against it, no matter how much immediate benefits such data falsification might offer in a moment.

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  • My goodness. When did this become a criminal prosecution with any doubt about the guilty mind? This is garden variety college-level academic misconduct. Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 19:02
  • @NicoleHamilton "Notice, I am in no way implying any particular legal connection of falsifying data to particular crimes." ? Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 19:19
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What's the purpose of the assignment?

If we're talking about an undergraduate course, I think that it would come back around to the purpose of the assignment. What is the purpose of the assignment? Often, assignments are meant to teach as well as to assess; if this assignment had your team performing interviews with random people (presumably after the professor got IRB approval for that particular piece of assessment), then you have to ask yourself why the professor was intending for you to do so. Was teaching surveying and interview skills the primary part of the assessment, or was it a secondary part, with the primary thrust of the assessment based around your analysis of the data you gathered?

Assuming that my university's academic dishonesty policy didn't have explicit instructions on how to handle this (in which case I would, of course, follow them), then I think that my response as an instructor would vary depending on the purpose of the assignment. If the primary purpose of the assignment was to teach and/or assess the students' interview or survey skills, they'd just get a flat 0 for the assignment, because they haven't done any actual surveying. If the surveying was just a secondary part of the assignment, I'd give them a 0 for the part of the assignment that involved the survey - and I'd probably rethink including a survey section on that assignment when I ran the unit again the next year, and would likely just give the students data to analyze.

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    Sorry, I'm appalled by the argument that fabricating data could be okay depending on the "purpose" of the assignment. Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 18:57
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    This just isn't right. If the students write down that they did something, and they're lying about it, that's academic dishonesty. Further, under many policies, if you're on a team that does that, you're responsible too. Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 19:19
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    I think it's important to distinguish between simulating data and fabricating data. Simulating data is just fine, fabricating is not. There is often no distinction in the process, though, the key is in the description of methods: with simulation, you describe how you've created your data; with fabrication, you lie about where the data came from.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 20:03
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    @nick012000 Absolutely ridiculous. It is impossible for me to believe you have ever taught at the college level. I'd be appalled to hear this even from a student. Commented Nov 13, 2021 at 22:48
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    Your approach might be valid with children still learning about the importance of honesty and ethics. But college students are expected to behave as adults, We're trying to do more than teach them some skills. We also want them to leave as moral, ethical, honest, responsible and socially-aware adults. We're preparing the leaders of the next generation. At the college level, academic misconduct is treated far more seriously than you think. Commented Nov 14, 2021 at 15:48

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