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Human Error Revealed as Cause of 7.06 Scandal

By Sanjay Basu

Last week’s reported incident of cheating in Cell Biology (7.06) turned out to be a computer sorting glitch, according to Professor Harvey Lodish, who teaches the course.

Lodish, who declined to comment further, told MIT spokespersons that the changing of exam scores in his course occurred after a spreadsheet error.

“Changes in the 7.06 grade sheet were introduced by accident during sorting of a spreadsheet,” said Biology Department head Robert Sauer in an e-mail to Biology undergraduates.

An unidentified but authorized user of the course computer improperly sorted grades, causing students’ names to be associated with other students’ grades.

Last Thursday, however, Lodish announced to his lecture audience that an unknown individual had broken into the course’s computer system and raised the scores of two students while lowering those of several other students.

The discovery that the incident was simply an error came after a formal investigation and questioning of the two students suspected to have raised their grades in the course.

According to those attending 7.06 lecture, Lodish formally apologized to the two students who were implicated.

News that a cheating incident occurred at MIT appeared both on National Public Radio and in The Boston Globe.

In his e-mail Sauer said that his suggestion that the errors resulted from human error were deleted by Globe editors and that quotes attributed to MIT spokesperson Ken Campbell were incorrect.

“The end result was a prominent and misleading story that impugned the integrity of MIT undergraduates, Sauer said.”

The Globe also cited a 1990 cheating incident in Introduction to Computers and Engineering Problem Solving (1.00) and recounted a 1991 study that found that 83 percent of MIT students admitted to cheating on homework.