News - September 5, 2019

‘Accept the cheaters’

On top of his research, PhD candidate Thijs Fijen had to spend a lot of time on tedious paperwork aimed at preventing fraud. Pointless, in his opinion. Hence his proposition:

PhD candidates have to include some propositions with their thesis. In this feature, they explain the thinking behind a provocative proposition. This time it’s Thijs Fijen, who obtained his doctorate for a study of the benefit of wild insects in farming.

Proposition: 'We should accept that there will always be some cheaters, instead of making everyone accountable for everything they do to prevent cheating'.

‘There is a lot involved in publishing a paper: you have to supply all the data and the statistical code you used and you have to sign various statements. This is all about transparency, but also about preventing fraud. But there are no checks in practice and you can count the number of downloads of the data on one hand. Sharing data is fine but it shouldn’t be a goal in its own right. There are always charlatans, for example people who make up data, but this won’t solve that problem.

‘I think you can trust that most people will behave properly’

I see this everywhere. Take manure fraud. It’s a problem, but there’s only a small group who does this. But then all these extra rules are introduced that every farmer has to satisfy, so they are even more overburdened with complicated paperwork. Whereas the vast majority were already doing it right. Expense claims are another example. If I need something quickly, I pay up front. Then I need a receipt — that’s logical — but I also have to sign everything so that I can’t claim for it twice. That costs both me and the finance department more time. All because the occasional person might not stick to the rules. I think you can trust that most people will behave as they should. That saves time and money that you could then spend on research.’