US Air Force Academy Experiments on its own Cadets
Cadets and graduates of the US Air Force Academy have long suspected the “closed society” that is USAFA is prime real estate for conducting human experiments. Cadets have always looked askance at certain meals in Mitchell Hall — wondering if the grade of meat was being tested before it was allowed to be served in prisons. More realistically (and, at one point, seemingly confirmed) was the allegation that USAFA cadets were given not-yet-public flu shots to test their efficacy in a closed system before they were released to the general population.
Katherine Milkman at the Washington Post writes of a confirmed USAFA human “experiment” involving cadets in which the measures by which new cadets were segregated into the 40 squadrons was varied and the outcome analyzed:
The experiment allocated half of students to squadrons using the usual lottery method, and half using an optimized method intended to leverage peer influence to maximize the GPAs of students in the bottom third of the predicted grade distribution. Specifically, this “optimized” sorting method placed low-ability students in squadrons with a large proportion of peers who received high verbal SAT scores, and middle-ability students were sorted into squadrons together.
The result? Not quite what they expected:
The low-SAT students actually performed worse when they were surrounded by high-SAT score peers…Low-performing students avoided interacting with brainy cadets and instead formed smaller homogenous cliques, such that their peers were bad, rather than good, role models.
Regardless of the details of the experiment, it lends credence to those who sometimes claim USAFA feels like a Zoo — or a rat maze.