"Dear Dr. Shallit," it began. "You have been chosen for a distinct honor that is unparalleled in regard to this Century's historical records... Your nomination is endorsed by the Governing Board of Editors for Great Minds of the 21st Century."
For only US $395, I learn, I can get a "Hardbound Luxury Keepsake Issue of the 2007/2008 Edition of Great Minds of the 21st Century embellished with gold engravings". For US $595, I can get a "Great Minds of the 21st Century Medal, a two-inch diameter medal stamped from a solid piece of metal with a hand crafted die and bearing the image of Great Minds of the 21st Century also finished in a radiant golden tone". For US $295, I can get a "Proclamation Plaque, a beautiful two color 8 1/2 inch by 11 inch certificate hand inscribed with your name and chosen citation proclaiming you as a Great Mind of the 21st Century and confirming your inclusion in this reference title."
How pleased I was to share such a prestigious award with someone like Tan Man Ho. Not.
Yes, it's an academic vanity scam.
No legitimate award requires you to pay for anything related to the award, and no legitimate institution would send a prestigious award announcement via bulk mail.
Believe it or not, a lot of people fall for this "nomination" and send off hundreds or even thousands of dollars for books and plaques commemorating awards and titles that exist only in the remarkable and lucrative imagination of the American Biographical Institute. (The "director" of the ABI also runs related organizations such as the "United Cultural Convention" (UCC) and the "World Academy of Letters" (WAL) .) My nomination letter helpfully includes a section where I can nominate ten colleagues (presumably suckers even more gullible than I am) for their own special recognition: a vanity scam combined with a chain letter.
This Wikipedia article helpfully summarizes some of the bizarre titles that people accept, such as "Ambassador of Grand Eminence" and "Genius Laureate of the United States".
Here are a few people, some notable, some not so notable, who have fallen for this solicitation, or from similar ones from the "International Biographical Centre" (IBC) in England:
Irving John Good, the renowned mathematician and statistician, lists on his CV the following dubious honors:
- "International Order of Merit" from the IBC
- "Man of the Year" from the ABI
- "Most Admired Man of the Decade", from the ABI
- "500 Leaders of Influence", from the ABI
- "International Cultural Diploma of Honor", from the ABI
- "The Key Award", from the ABI
- "American Medal of Honor", from the ABI
- "Hundred Most Intriguing People of 2002", from the ABI
- "Congressional Medal of Excellence", from the ABI (How much do you want to bet that the US Congress had nothing to do with this award?)
Timothy Goodwin, who is a "web analyst/developer by profession, a systems analyst, computer hardware technician, computer programmer and karate practitioner", has so many "awards" from the ABI and related organizations on his web pages that I can't list them all. Just a few highlights:
- "Ambassador of Grand Eminence", ABI
- "Congressional Medal of Excellence", ABI
- "Genius Laureate of the United States", ABI
- "World Medal of Freedom", ABI
- "One of the Genius Elite", ABI
- "Da Vinci Diamond Award", IBC
Helpfully, Mr. Goodwin also has a web page showing off all his medals.
Mr. Goodwin is listed as a "Life Patron of the International Biographical Association", which is probably more true than he realizes. I wonder how much he's paid for all those plaques and medals. Patron, indeed.
Erhard Kremer, a mathematician at the University of Hamburg, lists more than 20 honors from the ABI or the IBC, including "Genius Laureate of Germany 2005" (ABI).
Jagdish C. Ahuja, a statistician at Portland State University, lists 19 awards from the ABI and the IBC, including being named "One of the Genius Elite" and "Ambassador of Grand Eminence".
The pastor of Christ Church in Pleasanton, California, Robert W. Evans, is evidently not above a little worldly recognition: `In 1992, Dr. Evans was selected as the “Most Admired Man of the Decade” by the International Biographical Institute, and in 1993 he was selected as the American Biographical Institute’s “Man of the Year.” '
Paul Bartlett Ré, an artist at the University of New Mexico, "has been the recipient of a dozen major awards honors, including The Legion of Honor from the United Cultural Convention, The Order of American Ambassadors and The Genius Laureate of the United States, The World Lifetime Award from the American Biographical Institute, and The Da Vinci Laureate and Hall of Fame from the International Biographical Centre in Cambridge, England."
Although most who accept these honors seem to be men, a few women also display them with pride.
Dana Barry, a researcher at Clarkson University, lists on her web page the following nominations:
- "Woman of the Year", ABI
- "Leading Educator of the World", IBC
- "International Peace Prize", UCC
- "Einsteinian Chair of Science", WAL
- "International Educator of the Year", IBC
- "One Thousand Great Scientists", IBC
- "One Thousand Great Scholars", IBC
Sandra Breitenbach, a researcher at Oslo and Amsterdam, lists many of these awards. Just a selection:
- "American Hall of Fame", ABI
- "Great Minds of the 21st Century", ABI
- "Da Vinci Diamond", IBC
- "International Cultural Diploma of Honor", ABI
- "International Peace Prize", UCC
- "Ambassador of Great Eminence", ABI
Even the former president of Richard Stockton College, Vera King Farris, a woman with many genuine accomplishments, lists, apparently without irony, her “The Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Higher Education” from the UCC.
The UCC even awards a "Noble prize" (check the spelling; Alfred Nobel had nothing to do with it). Among its recipients is Shri V. K. Choudhry, a creator of horoscope software. I can think of no one more deserving.
The number of people who have accepted these "awards" (do a web search) is really remarkable. I guess everyone, particularly in academia, craves a little (or in some cases, a lot of) recognition. As for me, I guess I'll have to settle for "3rd place - egg carrying contest", that I received in 1962. But it did come with a nice ribbon.