Fake Pregnancy, Real Deception, Real Harm

"How exciting! It's fake, isn't it?"

Gaby Rodriguez, a Yakima (Washington) High School senior, faked a pregnancy for six months as a school-approved senior project. She told no one about the charade, which the school has called a “social experiment,” except her mother, boyfriend and principal. Others, like her siblings, her boyfriend’s family, fellow students, friends and teachers, were led to believe the pregnancy was real.

Thanks to hidden camera shows like ABC’s “What Would You Do?” and various reality shows, too many people have the impression that everyone they meet is a potential guinea pig. On the contrary: using decent, disguise, deception and lies to “see how people react” is no better than lying for any other reason, and often more harmful. For six months, members of the Yakima community  expended concern and kindness, as well as, I’m sure, bias and callousness, to a young woman based on her explicit representation that she was pregnant. Presumably she used expectant mother parking spaces. Presumably people held doors open for her oroffered to carry her books. Whatever their reaction, it was triggered by a ruse, because she and her school principal thought that one girl’s senior project justified lying to everyone she came in contact with for six months.

It didn’t.  Such dishonest exercises involving the intentional deception of hundreds of people carry  a heavy burden of justification. Maybe—maybe—a deceptive experiment carried out by a trained researcher that had a reasonable chance of producing new information and data that could be used to benefit society in significant and tangible ways could justify such extensive and long-running deceit. Rodriguez’s project didn’t promise any such benefits; in fact, it has no genuine social science benefits at all. Before deception can even be considered as an ethical means to gather social science data, it has to be clear that the data could not be gathered any other way. 

Hmmmm, now let me think—aHa! Here’s an alternative! Ask any of the millions of women who have been pregnant, as teens, students and otherwise, how people reacted to them!  Pregnancy is neither rare nor hidden, and women have seldom been shy about sharing their experiences. There is not a single thing Rodriguez can learn from her “experiment” that isn’t available in abundance from thousands upon thousands of other sources, and not one of them requires six months of lies to access it.

Her hoax undoubtedly caused anxiety to her family members who didn’t know the truth, as well as her friends, and certainly the family of her boyfriend, who, along with the girl’s mother and principal, share responsibility for her unethical conduct. Back in 2004, Fox presented a revolting reality show that at least had the integrity not to pretend it was legitimate research, called “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé,” which paid a woman a million dollars to convince her horrified family and friends that she was going through with marrying a loud, fat, boorish ass, (who was, in fact, an actor) as the cameras recorded their growing anger, worry and concern. In some ways, this despicable swill was a more justifiable social experiment that the one approved by the Yakima principal; at least the woman was getting a lot of  money to betray her friends and family, and the “results” of the experiment were shared with everyone via the TV. Rodriguez gets a grade and extraordinarily common information, which she will share with world in a typical high school senior paper that almost no one will read.

Perhaps the worst result of stunts like this is that they help make everyone in a society cynical and distrustful.  Nobody wants to be fooled, and many of us are looking for reasons not to take action, or to rescue, intervene, or reach out. Rodriquez’s deception will just plant a little bit of doubt in the back of the mind of the next Yakima resident tempted to give his bus seat to an uncomfortable, pregnant teen.

This senior project was ethically misguided in every way: irresponsible, dishonest, unfair. It trivialized teen pregnancy, and played with people’s emotions for no legitimate purpose whatsoever, while teaching the false lesson that it is justifiable to deceive others, perhaps causing them emotional distress, for narrow personal goals. That it was done with school approval is just one more piece of evidence of the ethics and competence deficit in our public schools.

21 Comments

Filed under Education, Family, Gender and Sex, Research and Scholarship, Romance and Relationships, U.S. Society

21 responses to “Fake Pregnancy, Real Deception, Real Harm

  1. Debbie Swartz

    I agree with you 100 percent. I can’t fathom how a school administrator would consider this a viable senior project, when, as you mentioned, there are ample sources where one can get the information her “experiment” was to reveal. And the fact that the boyfriend’s family didn’t know (along with much of her family) is atrocious! A baby would have changed their son’s life (and their lives) forever. Talk about creating a huge amount of undue anxiety to people who likely felt they could trust her. To then suddenly announce, six months later, that it was a hoax…that must have been quite a shock.

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  3. Karl Penny

    You’re on a roll today, Jack. Ms. Rodriguez’s actions were just plain wrong. Society, a civilized one anyway, depends on trust if it is to function. I buy foods that I trust were processed in such a manner that they are still wholesome, for example. Not so long ago, my wife and I went to see a movie and, while still some distance from the ticket booths, noticed that a number of people had turned and started walking away from the line they’d been in. We asked a couple who’d headed off in our direction what the matter was. They said a particular movie (forgot which one, now), the one we had planned to see, was sold out. We thanked them and left. We believed them. We didn’t wonder if it was a stunt or practical joke of some kind. We didn’t think a competing theater chain was trying to undermine a competitor’s business in that way. We certainly didn’t wonder if some local students were conducting a study on the behavior of disappointed theater patrons. I don’t want to have to live in a society where it would have been necessary to check whether the theater was really out of tickets for that show. We have enough people already who have worked at undermining public trust, to the detriment of us all. Any more of them, we don’t need.

  4. Elixabeth

    This is really over the top! Teenage couples hatching eggs or caring for infant dolls are dubious lessons at best to be learned about teenage pregnancy.

    But to be in league with school teachers/administrators on this lengthy deceit is an outrage. The lessons taught are true to Marshall’s post. Anything (monetary or otherwise) that Gaby received through her “ruse” should be returned. This was worse than deceit: it was outright lying to gain sympathy, money , kindesses, etc. Great lesson for our young people.

    Question: Any info on the teacher who approved this “project?”

    Sad thing is: I always give money to the (presumed) homeless, saying only “please use it to get something to eat, not to get liquor.”

    Then there are those who make a GOOD career out of begging… Do some research on that and get back to me…

  5. I can’t see what these people thought they would gain beyond self promotion. Or did I just put my finger on it?! That story about the obnoxious, fat (and faked) fiancee of a 2003 “reality” show was revealing in that respect. I always wondered how Jack Black got started!

  6. Mark Stein

    Some real harm was done by Ms. Rodriguez. Lack of ethics aside, the experiment caused some real anguish for the boyfriend’s parents. Her boyfriend lied to his parents and brother and sisters, this is a lie that will not soon be forgotten. This is the type of behavior that really strains family relationships. Now look at Ms. Rodriguez’s mother, she and her daughter lied to their entire family in this ruse. I am sure her brothers now have a serious trust issue with their mother and with their sister.

    This sham was approved all the way up to the district super. The fallout is just starting to happen, I would not be shock to see a lawsuit or two come of this matter. The parents of the boyfriend were used and abused. Imagine the emotions and utter betrayal by their son and his girlfriend.

    What really concerns me is that this sham was allowed to go on for so long. The people who know about the situation need to look at their personal ethics, when you toy with peoples feelings in such a callous manner, you risk all kinds of backlash: Verbal, Physical, Written.

    This young woman appears to be a narcissist of the first order. I hope she can accept all the consequences that will eventually come from her behavior.

    The school employees involved with this hoax need to be called out and account for their questionable ethics. The principal deserves to lose his job along with the two teachers who were in on the hoax from the beginning.

  7. vickii

    WOW, judgement is a powerful thing. We are all entitled to comments and opinions about things in our world. A check point on our own opinions can and is a result of such studies. This young lady did a courageous thing, no she is NOT a clinical professional that conducted a study on teen pregnancy, not a teen that is pregnant, she is a high school student of value that felt a study done in this fashion would bring her views and “actual” results value. Not only did she get to experience and gain views and opinions in a way that was first hand, but she has also experienced another valuable search on a whole different study. The people involved, in my opinion, were all a part of this study and to say that the principal should be fired is saying the providing of an education in one of multiple ways is wrong. Our society today is one of lots of needs and schools have become open to all ways of teaching. What lessons were learned from this experiment, should we call take the liberty to call it such, are of value. Yes she could have gotten answers from asking actual teens that were pergnant, but she took the time to obtain first hand such answers. Yes, people opened doors for her (possibly), or gave up bus seats (possibly) but there were (possibly) people that did just the opposite. It was a lie, but the consequences of such a study can not be overlooked. One study done by interviews should not be considered the only study or way to obtain information, the fact that she did it her way is of value. People, friends, family, school professionals were deceived but she did her homework, in advance by obtaining permission and support from authorities and family. Every person that was deceived (should you feel that is the term necessary) will of course be affected by this but it is all a part of the project. To be of honest value only a few could know that this was not true, some people were hurt from this and that is sad but a true lesson was learned by keeping the project a secret. I feel that she is brave and have deep respect for her and am very curious where she will go with the information. I would be very happy to read her report, read a book that could come out this or even see a made for tv movie on it. NO way in he– would I think a law suit is necessary, we are a society of way too much suing as a solution to matters of life. From suing because coffee was hot to suing because someone hurt feelings, has gotten way out of hand. Those with the most powerful lawyers get rich and profit from such things . . . now there is a study! To finish, in my opinion she is an intelligent, brave young lady and I would be honored to call her my friend. No, I would not to like to have been betrayed to or lied to but I would be proud of her adventure. The professional staff at her school should also be given notice, they are in the position to change lives and influence people in ways from their own actions and responses. Yahoo, to the principle, who took a great risk in approving this project but approving it he did. It created many lessons and allowed the student an opportunity of knowledge and dicipline that was first hand in learning. We accept multiple studies done in many ways and this too should be given such acceptance and value. Thank you Ms. Rodriquez, and I could not be more proud of you that your own mother is, you are a terrific, brave teen and God bless you.

    • This young lady did a courageous thing,
      Courageous, maybe. Courage in the pursuit of an unethical objective, however, is praiseworthy with reservations at best.

      She is a high school student of value that felt a study done in this fashion would bring her views and “actual” results value.
      Well, she was dead wrong. I don’t know what’s “of value” in that.

      Not only did she get to experience and gain views and opinions in a way that was first hand, but she has also experienced another valuable search on a whole different study.

      I have no idea what this sentence means.

      The people involved, in my opinion, were all a part of this study

      Without their consent, making it an unethical study.

      … to say that the principal should be fired is saying the providing of an education in one of multiple ways is wrong.
      No, it is saying that providing education using deceptive, harmful, and foolish ways is wrong.

      Our society today is one of lots of needs and schools have become open to all ways of teaching.
      Open, maybe. “All ways” are not legitimate. This way is one of the illegitimate ones.

      Yes she could have gotten answers from asking actual teens that were pregnant, but she took the time to obtain first hand such answers.
      The point is that she could have gleaned the same information without lying to friends and family.

      Yes, people opened doors for her (possibly), or gave up bus seats (possibly) but there were (possibly) people that did just the opposite. It was a lie, but the consequences of such a study can not be overlooked. One study done by interviews should not be considered the only study or way to obtain information, the fact that she did it her way is of value.

      Who says it’s of value? It’s bad research, harming people, using dishonesty.

      People, friends, family, school professionals were deceived but she did her homework, in advance by obtaining permission and support from authorities and family.
      You can’t obtain valid permission from A to lie to B,C,D, and E!

      Every person that was deceived (should you feel that is the term necessary) will of course be affected by this but it is all a part of the project.
      What kind of an “argument” is that? Yes, they were all part of a lousy, unethical project.

      To be of honest value only a few could know that this was not true, some people were hurt from this and that is sad but a true lesson was learned by keeping the project a secret.
      What kind of ethical reasoning is THAT? The project doesn’t justify the lies.

      I feel that she is brave and have deep respect for her and am very curious where she will go with the information. I would be very happy to read her report, read a book that could come out this or even see a made for tv movie on it.
      Great—she has learned to exploit others for personal gain.

      From suing because coffee was hot…
      You are uninformed—the McD’s coffee lawsuit was just and fair. You know nothing about the case—don’t cite it.


      …to suing because someone hurt feelings,

      You can’t sue over “hurt feelings”…

      The professional staff at her school should also be given notice,
      They should be given notice, all right.

  8. vickii

    P.S. sorry if she writes a book it could be entitled “How I Paid For My College Education With My Senior Project” you go girl!

  9. Harris Meyer

    Here’s my letter to the editor that the Yakima Herald-Republic published on the Gaby Rodriguez issue. I had been telling the Herald-Republic ever since they did their first article on this that the project was unethical and they had missed the real issues but they refused to raise those issues and kept celebrating what she and the school did for four more articles and an editorial, and the Today Show did the same. So this is as much journalistic malpractice as educational malpractice.

    http://www.yakima-herald.com/stories/2011/06/06/06-07-11-letters-to-the-editor

    Posted on Monday, June 06, 2011

    06/07/11 Letters to the Editor

    Yakima Herald-Republic

    Appalling ‘experiment’ and news coverage

    To the editor — I am appalled that the Yakima Herald-Republic published yet another article about Toppenish High School student Gaby Rodriguez’s “social experiment” without prominently raising the issue of poor ethics. The fact that the student was terribly uncomfortable with her deceit in faking a pregnancy should have signaled everyone that the project should be halted.

    What kind of lesson is all this gushing media coverage conveying about the acceptability of lying? Will other students and teachers now be encouraged to engage in unethical and potential dangerous experiments? And we still don’t know — despite five Herald-Republic articles, an editorial, and a “Today” show interview — what Rodriguez learned that she couldn’t have learned simply by interviewing pregnant girls at the school.

    An area science teacher and two social science and psychology professionals with doctorates told me this “experiment” likely would not have received approval in a university setting. Toppenish High should be teaching students proper research methods; it has committed educational malpractice here, with the apparent collaboration of mentors at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital. The state should investigate. And the Herald-Republic and the “Today” show have committed journalistic malpractice by failing to raise these important ethics questions.

    HARRIS MEYER

    Yakima

  10. gabe

    My wife of 14 years and I have been trying to have a child for 11 years. We are unable to get pregnant, and our infertility has had a dramatic impact on our lives in many ways. We adopted one child at birth, and he will turn 5 years old on December 19. He has been such a blessing and a testimony of God’s amazing grace and love.

    We have attempted to adopt another child, and in the last few years, have had about 7 failed adoption attempts. They failed for varying reasons, but each carried with it a certain level of disappointment and heart-ache.

    Recently we heard of a teen in our small community who was pregnant. We heard about her through the daughter of our friend, who was good friends with this young pregnant girl. Our friend’s daughter explained to my wife that the girl is interested in placing her baby up for adoption, and she asked if she could share our name and contact information with the girl as we were potential adoptive parents. We agreed.

    We heard updates over the last several weeks, through our friend, and her daughter. We heard that the girl was considering us as adoptive parents and that she was leaning towards the decision of adoption. Of course, we tried to guard our hearts, knowing that the odds of a successful adoption in this situation were small based on our experience.

    Today we found out that, just like Gaby Rodriguez, this girl faked her pregnancy as a social experiment. While I recognize the purpose in such an experiment, and the value that may be generated through it, I wonder if the pain and disappointment, which this girl will probably never know we experienced, was worth it.

  11. adi

    I cannot explain how much it aggravates me that this teen actually has a movie and a book deal coming her way. She did an unethical thing. Seriously, with many pregnant teens at her school she could have interviewed them and gotten information about their struggles and what not. But no, she betrayed everyone with her “experiment”. What exactly did she learn about teen pregnancy? she could have asked girls how people treated them..right? but she never actually experienced a teen pregnancy. And to think that she emotionally might have scarred her family. In the beginning I am sure they where shocked but after a while people get used to the idea of a baby. What if his family was looking forward to it? had bought baby items? How must they have felt to be lied to? This is not ethical experiment whatsoever. And to actually praise her for it..really? she is no better than the teen moms making bank for having a kid. She is going to make money from exploiting her peers, family, and friends. Its a shame..

    • I could not agree with you more.

    • Denise

      I do believe that it was wrong BUT getting interviews from the other students would not have helped her understand the reasoning. Yes, it was wrong of her to NOT have told her family but it is also very wrong of fellow humans to judge without knowing how many teens she discouraged from being pregnant at such an early age.

      • “The ends justify the means.” She doesn’t know either, but she knows who she lied to. You can’t make a utilitarian argument when all the benefits are speculative, but the harm is substantial and known.

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  14. Jen

    So what most of you are saying…at least it seems to me…is that social experiments…or any experiments for that matter…should never be done…because most experiments involve someone not knowing the truth of something. That is how you find the true results…what one pregnant teen went through is definitely not what another will go through in a similar situation…..google social experiments and I bet you find hundreds that mention that someone kept something from someone, or a group of people, to see what the reaction will be and record the results…that is one of the ways in which we as humans learn……I am sure that the principal did not just say ok without doing some research of his own…that would be stupid on his part….

    • 1. It was stupid on his part.
      2. That’s not what I’m saying, and not what I said.
      3. If you are going to cause harm to others in social experiments, you have to get their consent or be seeking data that cannot possibly be found any other way, and is very useful and important. This “experiment” didn’t meet any of those standards.
      4. It was selfish, reality show publicity seeking.
      5. And thanks—I’m writing a new post about this miserable episode.

  15. Denise

    I do not believe her “project” was useless. I believe that a project like this could NOT ONLY show how words hurt but also show teens why NOT to get pregnant. It gave Ms. Rodriguez a personal experience to understand the pressure, along with emotional and financial stability of raising a child, even if this pregnancy was fake. Yes, it might have been wrong to fool those people but it also helped her along with other teens to realize that calling people names if their pregnant is very wrong especially if you do not know their reasoning. I believe she was very BRAVE and COURAGEOUS for this experiment.

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