I recently took a class where the Professor created multiple online study guides, on popular student sites, which intentionally contained the wrong answers. He did this because his exams were based heavily on the end of chapter questions in the book. Also, the Professor told us at the start of class using Google to help answer the questions would be useless because all the top results regarding these chapter questions were his wrongly answered guides.

Was this ethical of the Professor to do? The book used in the class contained no answer (or partial answer) keys and no additional student material was provided for the book. I understand he did this in order to force students to read the book and keep them from simply Googling all the answers at the end of the chapter. However, this removed a way for students to verify their answers were correct.

Edit: In response to some of the comments, he was not bluffing. During the course I was unable to answer one of the questions (it turned out to be a misprint in the book) and tried using online resources. The wrong guides were easy to spot, because half the chapter questions involved determining which SQL statements were valid. Some of the guides were simply answered as A, B, C, D, A, B in order down the list. Other were just flat out wrong. Also, as far as the exams went, I shouldn't say they were heavily based on the book. The Professor literally copy and pasted the questions from his instructors manual and didn't bother changing any wording or the answer order.

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    The part that I don't understand is: the professor seems to be indulging in one practice that I (as a professor) find rather lazy -- namely "his exams were based heavily on the end of chapter questions in the book" -- and then partially offsetting the disadvantages of this in a very labor-intensive (and yes, rather strange) way. Why not just write exam questions which are not spoiled by preexisting internet materials? This is not so hard... May 7, 2015 at 15:15
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    I would not call that unethical, but I strongly question the pedagogical validity, appropriateness and effectiveness of such unusual approach. May 7, 2015 at 15:18
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    @AleksandrBlekh perhaps not to the class he is teaching given the disclosure, but what about to the general internet populace? I would argue that he is doing a disservice to the community (by willingly posing false information intended to confuse people), which is unethical May 7, 2015 at 15:33
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    @user123: Five years worth of wrong information? Unbelievable! May 7, 2015 at 17:30
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    It's also possibly against the TOS for the sites the professor is posting incorrect information on. It might be worth reporting him and seeing if they're willing to take action to ban him from access. Certainly Stack Exchange sites would do that. May 8, 2015 at 2:32

6 Answers 6


I have a strong negative opinion on this.

In 2002, I joined a PhD program and was at the same level of computer science education as peers who had recently completed CS degrees at good schools. My last prior formal CS education was a master's degree that I completed in 1975.

I achieved that, as well as staying employable in the computer industry for over 30 years, by continuous independent study. As computer science kept changing around me I felt at times like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland: "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"

Not having answers to the questions in a textbook was something I could handle, though undesirable. If I had found answers on-line that conflicted with my answers I could have wasted a lot of time trying to resolve the discrepancy, including trying to contact the answer author to point out an error.

Wrong answers to questions in a good textbook are particularly destructive. I put a lot of effort into selecting the books I use. In order to progress, it is necessary to attempt exercises that are a stretch. In some cases, it is difficult to check whether an answer is correct. Searching on-line for answers may be the best available resource.

The professor was, intentionally or not, sabotaging independent study.

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    I can't say I disagree with you, and uploading intentionally incorrect things to the internet is surely very close to the bottom of the list of things I would ever do. However, I think maybe you underestimate the peril of independent study from the internet: indeed, how do you know that what you're reading is correct? I think that vetting material -- especially material coming from authors unknown or untrusted -- for correctness is one of the essential skills for (especially independent!) study and becoming more so all the time. (But once more: spreading misinformation seems very bad.) May 7, 2015 at 15:50
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    @Pete L. Clark Poisoning a well and simply making a well that could get contaminated are 2 different things. When reading decent sources online I accept that people can make mistakes. If knowledgeable people are setting out to poison the information sources in their area in an informed fashion that makes them horrible people. It happens but making the problem worse is a wholly evil endeavor. The professor in question should feel nothing but shame.
    – Murphy
    May 7, 2015 at 16:00
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    @PeteL.Clark I have no issue with teaching to take everything with a grain of salt, but saturating the entire web like this with self-corroborating incorrect information makes it harder to vet. If I post onto StackOverflow that 1 + 1 = 3, that's one source, but if I manage to sabotage Wikipedia, Math.SE, and 10 other sources, it starts getting harder to tell that 1 + 1 = 2.
    – Compass
    May 7, 2015 at 16:01
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    @Murphy: I agree. My comment was more on the learner's side: one should not proceed under the assumption that everything academically related that you read on the internet is correct. I use the internet all the time to speed up my learning (and teaching) process. If I open up a document and it has more than one mistake on the first page, I usually discard it and move on to the next one within a few minutes. I recognize that students have a much harder time with this: giving them more than one source to read at a time is often too much. I was just giving advice for the self-learner. May 7, 2015 at 16:04
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    @Compass: or at any rate, you were all using a definition of "pass by reference" that didn't correspond to anything used outside Java. Those who actually cared what "pass by reference" means when used of languages in general, in my experience, always understood Java. Meanwhile, nobody [competently] using Java thought that you could could do int i = 1 + 1; someMethod(i); and then i will have any value other than 2. So you all knew it wasn't the thing everyone else called "pass by reference", you just didn't know that's what they called it :-) May 7, 2015 at 16:24

This "solution" you've presented was brought up in a related question from a while ago.

...Then I went to Yahoo Answers, made a bunch of fake accounts, and posted tantalizingly wrong answers to all of my own HW questions. I have told all subsequent students not to google the HW answers because there are wrong solutions out there.

The consensus at the time was that this is not appropriate, and ultimately impedes the process learning for most of the community for the "benefit" of preventing cheating in your class.

Let's consider the action your professor has taken.

Also, the Professor told us at the start of class using Google to help answer the questions would be useless because all the top results regarding these chapter questions were his wrongly answered guides.

Let's look at the effort spent trying to do this. The professor found the right answers, and then purposely answered them wrong, and published them around the web to "solve" his problem for a relatively "personal" benefit of ensuring academic integrity in his own course, at the expense of every student of that course in the world.

At the very least, it's not helping anyone. At the very most, if he is using his position as a professor (i.e. actually listing his credentials/qualifications) for these study guides, that would raise additional red flags that could potentially be grounds for something that the university might need to be made aware of.

He did this because his exams were based heavily on the end of chapter questions in the book.

In my opinion, he should have instead used his time to write exams that were not so heavily based on end of chapter questions in the book.

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    To be fair, if someone is posting incorrect content on Yahoo Answers, it's not really like they've gone out of their way to find a pristine well to poison. But it's still poisoning the well, or at least not making it any cleaner.
    – E.P.
    May 9, 2015 at 10:32

It is massively unethical, because the internet does not exist in a vacuum.

Consider the possibility that someone looking for a valid answer online, because they do not have or cannot afford this textbook, finds your professor's answer and assumes it is correct. Because of his deception, he has misled this and every other person who seeks this answer by knowingly posting the wrong answer himself.

It is also ultimately futile and harmful to the learning process - it discourages students from trying to use all resources available to them, discounts the possibility that the text could be wrong, and gives students a sense that they are being cheated by the professor.

It is unethical, it is detrimental to the learning process, and frankly his disrespect and sabotage of online resources makes him look like a luddite.

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    Much worse than a luddite. Luddites had goals and ideals, and while you may not approve their methods, at least it's undeniable that they had a point. This doesn't.
    – o0'.
    May 8, 2015 at 13:50
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    @Lohoris I disagree personally that all Luddites have a valid point/goal, but I think our difference of opinion here may be...Academic. B)
    – Zibbobz
    May 8, 2015 at 13:53

If an academic publishes incorrect information that's an ethical problem. Academics who lie when publishing information about their domain of expertise when it suits them can't be trusted to be honest when they publish scientific papers.

I would look at the ethical guidelines of your university to determine what they have to say about lying and deliberately publishing incorrect information. If those guidelines not only forbid lying in scientific papers but are more broad, forward information about the case to the relevant authority in your university that deals with ethical breaches.


I agree, this is somewhat unethical.

I can understand wanting to discourage just Googling the answers - however, where the unethicality of kicks in is for those people who dont't know that this professor has deliberately poisoned the well and released study guides that are flat out wrong - and pushed those wrong guides high enough in the results lists to be common. Now, not knowing this, a person unrelated to the class in question gets a hold of this guide; they might try to use said guide to try to learn the material in question - only to be using the flat out wrong materials, and not knowing they were deliberately made to be wrong. Depending on the knowledge level of the querier, they might figure out the guide was wrong - but, what if they don't know any better? Since it was pointed out, he deliberately made sure his bogus guides were highly likely to show up as a result.

I also see a problem in the fact it's being pushed up to a global search engine - so, it's spreading misinformation to more than just the class. I mean, if it were just doing Professor X's CS310 class study guides - OK, bad form poisioning those specific key words - but Google sub-parses the documents, so now, other people see these results.

Sounds like he is just too lazy to write up good questions and wants to just cut and paste his Teacher's Edition textbook questions. I just wonder what his teacher/course evaluations are like, and what his supervisors and those higher up the food chain think of his practices and doing this? Maybe it's time (or just after you get his grade) to go to the head of the department and/or the dean of students and figure out what is up and why this is an acceptable practice, and why you feel it's unacceptable and how this kind of inhibits self-learning. Pretty much, come in ready to defend your position. If it's not just you, well, then I would make it more the merrier and show the administration how you feel. Perhaps they aren't aware of exactly what he's doing, and the extent to which he's going about it.

Defend your position, but don't necessarily come off as overly troublesome and trying to make drama - more as concerned about this issue.


Well, like everyone he is free to post on the internet anything he wants that is considered legal. Wrong answers are legal from that perspective.

Regardless what he intends to teach/enforce his students, there are likely other people who google similar questions and are mislead by his "trolling" (to use internet jargon). For a professor, who should be teaching and spreading knowledge to people, spreading misinformation to intentionally mislead readers is wrong and unethical.

Furthermore, I guess the book is not very well written, the books I studied, usually had questions which challenge the general understanding of the subject rather than a google-able fact.

In the end, I don't think there is anything you or anyone else can do about him. Even under pressure, the professor can simply post anonymously and don't tell the students up front.

PS I'm really perplexed that someone takes time to systematically alter the perception of some topics on the internet, instead of only adjusting the (exam) questions like every other teacher I know does. This tilting at windmills shows extreme weakness of character in my eyes.


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