Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Academic Vanity Scams

Today I was delighted to receive a letter from the American Biographical Institute (ABI) nominating me for an award.

"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.


RBH said...

Yes, yes, ribbons are all well and good, but the important question is did you get to keep the egg?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

"This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, "Doc, uh, my brother's crazy; he thinks he's a chicken." And, uh, the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" The guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs." Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y'know, they're totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and... but, uh, I guess we keep goin' through it because, uh, most of us... need the eggs."

Woody Allen, Annie Hall

Anonymous said...

Here's an award you don't have: The anonymously awarded IDURC Casey Luskin Graduate Award

The recipient of the 2007 Casey Luskin Graduate Award will remain anonymous for the protection of the recipient. The many students, professors, and scientists who have been denied degrees or tenure, and removed from positions and jobs for no other reason than acceptance of—or even sympathy to—intelligent design theory is very telling of the importance of keeping these bright young minds out of the crosshairs of those opposed to open-minded investigation and critical thought.

Congratulations, Hannah Maxson on your anonymous award.

Anonymous said...

This sounds similar to the Marquis Who's Who list, which contains such esteemed names like Bob Jones University graduate Babu Ranganathan.

Back in 1999 Tucker Carlson wrote a piece on Marquis Who's Who, The Hall of Lame.

Mark said...

I wonder how many luminaries of the Discovery Institute have any of these awards.

Laika said...

If I had a nickel for every mailing I got from the Golden Key national "honor society"...

What's funny to me is how much of a *liability* it is to put this crap on your resume/CV. I know I would reject anyone stupid enough to pay money to one of these scammers, and I doubt I'm alone.

I have, though, considered putting the fact that I was *offered* these honors on my resume before, though I'm afraid that some people wouldn't catch on to the fact that I was doing it facetiously.

Anonymous said...

It starts with Who's Who Among American High School Students. Of course, your parents are going to buy the book you are listed in!

Anonymous said...

Who is Who of Nerdy Scams

I have researched the “prestigious” awards from the American Biographical Institute (ABI) and from the International Biographical Centre (IBC)…of course not “center”; that would be rather ordinary.

After quite some research there is obviously no doubt in my mind that these organizations are vanity scams based on vanity publications which contain self-published biographies and basically anything you want the award to say for a buck…or in this case more like 200-700 bucks per award, or publication which contains the award. But of course, you don’t just buy your own award of choice, but you have to buy the publication which has your award as well, which itself costs hundreds of dollars, because it is a big book that contains thousands of phony awards…and you can buy some for your friends too, and recommend them as well, or anyone for that matter at their websites.

I don’t know if the situation about these scams is more silly than clever…I mean it is pretty silly for anyone with a few brain cells to give importance to being nominated for such highly claimed international award for having done nothing worth mentioning in their lives, and also for that nothing to have been researched by no one. There is tons of cases when these institutions address a guy with Mrs. and vice versa, even print the award as such…they don’t even bother to research or verify their names and gender, let alone to research their work some state far away, nor some countries oceans away.
On the other hand it is pretty clever scam…you come up with an organization that operates within the loopholes of the law. You are not breaking any promise; people give you money and you give them awards…the money of course to cover the expenses (such a hundreds of dollars for a book or wooden award?!). And you set up your organization for success because you are selling people self-esteem and international recognition. There is that little fact that all of this is false and unsubstantiated by any research (at least for most awards given to most people). But hey, what matters to you is the money, since you are a commercial company, not a scholarly entity. You know that there are lots of people out there who are either stupid or vain, or both, that would buy ABI or IBC rewards and publications of those rewards. So not only do you keep up the business, but you also come to various websites to confront the people who are not stupid enough to buy into your ABI and IBC scam, and have enough integrity and decency to speak up about these scams and caution the others.
Makes me puke…Ralph!

- John Q Public

Anonymous said...

When some organization give awards to someone, it must have funds for the awards. People work for the orgnization and they must be paid.

Some orgnizations may want to give awards, but they might not have enough funds. In this case they might require some expenses for the awards--it is natural.
I think that important point is their INTEGRITY, not the expenses.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Dear Anonymous:

Give me a single example of a legitimate organization that requires awardees to pay for their awards.

Anonymous said...

Of course there are the legitimate awards of closed in sessions and private parties. Like many this page and others like it are meant to throw light on scams and other jokery that we tend to think are not legitimate...anything you find not legitimate is of course not legitimate...it impresses the prowress of decision or the sparkle of intrigue. Somehow we are better for it all...not to be involved in vanity scams or other outlets not in "our" golden sense of light as being within the tower of ivory. But that is just it. A tower of ivory is itself an illusion and illustration. Phd is an honorary award..yet a bonified and paid for degree (is it not?) But some come out of the closet and say we should only accept noble honors within closed sessions..and then we can ask are they paid to us or have we paid to them in the final analysis...Vanity Vainity all is Vanity whether it is from the top and the hallow shell of circumstance and the insurance of the ivory tower. What is not a scam these days...paid money for hard work? Is it better that we enjoy our simple lives than be involved with finger pointing? I can think of many not worth their salt in talent or expertise who have degrees to boot..and many to point fingers at...but when the truth comes out finally...what pride can we ever attain as humans that is not on paper first!

Jeffrey Shallit said...


I love your satire. Pretending that you think bona fide is the past tense of a verb "to bonify" and hence should be written "bonified" -- marvelous!

Anonymous said...

I think that is a very nice summary of these vanity scams. There is another article which looks at the UK equivalent of the ABI. Check out David Vernon's article: http://web.mac.com/david.vernon/iWeb/The%20Canberra%20Journal/The%20Scribbles/53C521D3-72D2-4CB6-A20D-36BB0F2AEF9F.html

The more light that can be shed on this scam the better.

Henry Jackson

Aziz Mohaisen said...

The real question is how they got our addresses to be able to send us this scam? The address is typically same like that on the ACM membership so should ACM be who did it!. I've received a scam from both ABI and Who's Who; what a great honor ^^.



Anonymous said...

Sounds like the writer shallit is a sad person, just rearrange the letters of the surname gives you a clue to the personality. For example as a graduand who attends Cambridge or Oxford Universities and may gain a BA not necessary a honours degree, but can pay a nominal fee was £10, leaves the University with a MA. Most of us spend an extra two to 3 years gaining a masters degree, some of us by research bring new knowledge that may benfit the whole world and are awarded a M.Phil. I paid my own expenses and fees of £2800 requiring only the minimal use of my universities facilities. I am an international medical inventor with 25 years education under my belt, so why shouldn't I be offered an award for my academic achievements? If I have to pay towards that institution expenses in providing that award so what? Everything in life has a price including the likes of you, 'oh shallit'.
Perhaps your just another frustrated humdrum non achiever who has an opinion on everything and nothing!!!!:-(


Jeffrey Shallit said...

Dear Inventor-Who-Lacks-The-Courage-To-Post-His-Real-Name:

I hope you enjoy your "award". Rest assured once you bite, you can rely on being nominated for many, many more awards. Get your checkbook out!

Anonymous said...

It is great to see we are in an age of "decompression", where people are simply 1's and O's, where everyone is in a cage of anomymity and forced to be there by reason that no one can do anything without "Official" reason..."State Reason". High Profile...Low Profile is all the same. The basis is International orientation towards the "State Elite", a type of communism if you will that imposes itself over every achiever, a type of Facism which is bestowing its will down...very apparent in films like "Zeitgeist" where the control of the few and many is enforced by the few in the use of many abstractions to confound and confuse. Those achievers of "anything" should be lauded, aside from the person who connects paper clip to paper with a red stamp adjenda of approval, or dissaproval, politically correct or abnormal, the unobtrusive achiever whos work should be examined is lost in the syndicate of "appropriate","correct" and "esteemed", all vanity from a point of view of building a greater society. Zeitgeist (the Movie) is an all time must see..and then we can assess what vanity is or is not. Congratulations to those who are awarded any type of prize in the name of "Peace", be they in earnest and use it to whatever potential is possible. Perhaps a "war" prize is also appropriate, but those we can accept under the heading "business as usual" with a paper clip stamp of terror.

rocksea said...

Every year i am awarded as one of the top 100 scientists, by IBC! If I pay them, they will send medals and books with the list.

Used to get similar awards for my poems through poetry.com, long back.

So many scams to fish money.

Anonymous said...

What do people live for? Its all so terminal anyway, sitting here in a great country with great money
overflowing through our fingertips..Oh! My Gosh! And if we do something, anything that is different to the normal aspect of things as "understood" by the general public 'protocol' of "normal", it is termed somehow reprehensable, and punished accordingly by "being ignored", either by our culture or by our specific "bosses". Being "excellent", advancing ourselves too can be seen as abnormal behavior, because in public consensus, this may be termed abnormal behavior-doing anything that "is different". Therefore it is reprehensible to be anything that is abnormal...taking honors that are solely alloted to "Hollywood Stars" and State Representitive for which we are all beholden, in faith as if by a church of heirarchy. Why not take ribbons? Because we are punished if we take them. Why not be the "normal", for this only is expected of us...nothing more. No Men in the Moon, and no great feats for us to marvel and push ourselves forward. It is all a scam..if we take it that way...yet we are all sheep lead to slaughter if we take it that way...above all there is no honor that can be assigned to any man, woman or child for this is forbidden as we are forced to be the same..encourage the sameness and form a protocol of 'a curse' to those who have differing viewpoints...or take any honors whatsoever, out of sheer 'fear' of being punished, being out of line, or being different. How such elevations could ever have existed in the first place! Reprehensible, for there are 'Gods of the Commonplace' in front of us! Normality how it is to be cherished!
One Moon Rock, A future, and Moon Missions are even a scathing instrument of hope to the hopeless, Going Beyond a repremand for those who pay the price... for we alone should accept what is right here...right now and hopelessly sad for not being able to do a thing. What are we doing? What is our mission if not honored in some way?

Don Burleson said...

Hi Jeff,

Loved your page, especially the "noble prize"!

>> Sounds like the writer shallit is a sad person

Judging by the bad grammar, this was written by an ABI award winner!

BTW, You may also enjoy other types of undeserved accolades:


Anonymous said...

ABI and IBC are the few private companies in the services of awarding the right candidate. The award is free but the items symbolizing the awards- certificates, diploma, medals and plaques are not free, because there hasn't rich donor to park in free fund before he died. Nothing wrong with their work as ABI and IBC want to give transparency of the prestigious people in the world. We have to give him a chance otherwise great minds are not identified, and their works might be stolen or plagiarized. The people are not so stupid as not to check on the identified individuals, and ABI & IBC are not that stupid to show all their weak points. People with nothing to show hardly dares to take up the awards too! Things have their own checks and balances!

Anonymous said...

On the Oxford/Cambridge MA: historically "MA" was the first degree itself, as it still is in Scotland, but the B.A. (a sort of halfway) became the end, leaving MA (meaning mainly extra privileges) came a few years later. There is a fairly good summary on Wikipedia. Remember that Oxford and Cambridge were there first so the confusion is, arguably, caused by everyone else!

As for the various awards discussed here. One of the worst things is that many Third World academics, etc., are fooled - after all, how well does a person in US or Britain understand Vietnamese honours? Quite a lot of people with real achievements who have better things to do with the money are misled. Often they have had the experience of having their work ignored in the west - so when someone seems to have recognized them at last they naturally tend to bite. It's very distressing.

Anonymous said...

The new phone book is out!

I'm somebody now!

Anonymous said...

Wow, Great article

This article was so helpful, I was checking on the ABI awards in google after I heard that a notable personality that I know have received it, and your article came up.

Waiting for other scams to be revealed.

Anonymous said...

These books which are published with the names and creations of outstanding individuals, are sold and ABI earns huge in every year. Why then a part of earning [in the name of royalty] is not gievn to individual who is included in the publication?

Unknown said...

I was contacted by ABI sometime ago via letter and invited to join the institute's Professional Women's Advisory Board and asked that I recommend other influential women. I felt ill at ease to be entered into the American Biographical Institute as I live in the UK, so I ignored it. I then recieved a nomination for the United Cultural Convention's International Peace Prize, an arm of ABI. Again,I felt my modest life didn't really fit in with ABI, who state they are a 'publisher of biographical reference works since 1967' Although, I do look at myself as trying to live peaceful existence and have written my story in a book called 'Just Another Day' by Lucy Day (ISBN 0-9548710-0-6). I am absolutely certain ABI have no idea what I do/did in business or otherwise and seem to have obtained my and many other people's details from some random database.

valeried said...

I too received a letter congratulating me for having been selected to receive a most "prestigious" award.

I became suspicious when I saw how my name was spelt. There should be no one from this "noble institution" who cannot spell Valerie Dixon.

"Vanity" is one of the 7 vices and many of us are afflicted with one or all 7, as our little egos need to be constantly massaged and assuaged.

I saw and 'felt' the scam right away.

Valerie Dixon

Nev said...

Thank you for the wonderful post on this topic. I actually received a nomination in the ''Leading Health Professionals of the World - 2011'' category earlier this morning from the IBC. I too thought that this was a scam when I read through the letter and saw that I had to pay between US$155 - US$465 for certificates, medals etc. Since when do you have to pay for an award after having being nominated?? If this award was so highly acclaimed, at least have the decency to call me up over the phone to inform me rather than send me a copy of a letter that everyone else receives (...when also being encouraged to part with their money). I think that it is sad that these scams are so rampant in our era and that so many of us fall for them because they look so legitimate. I wish there was some organisation or ''watchdog'' of sorts that would monitor the activities of these bogus ''centres''; ''associations'' or ''prestigious organisations'' so that they would quit wasting our precious time with these lame nominations!

Saying that, excuse me while I go and recycle my letter...


Anonymous said...

I thought people in academia would be a bit more.... ummm ... well, smart. at least smart enough to use google when they get an "honor"

Anonymous said...

We can look at everything we do as being a scam of some sort including ecucation, after high school, any professional appearance that is paid for that could cost 50 times something like this- or book self published costing 100 times anything like this--so reasonably if we work hard, labor hard and are so called honest (some who take form the pot anyway--we know them by name--no lauds there!) laborers we will get what we are paid, live our lives out in an atmosphere of absolute nothingness, or bitterness for getting caught marking our paths--Monsters of Recurivity to call the kettle black!! Now what is the phrase of throwing stones in glass houses? Who be us all! Recursivity, down the shoot, form politics on down--all we can do is complain!!!

Anonymous said...

This is a Soviet Communist Style Mind Screwing Game--forming a Corporate Nazi "sin" list for lazy people to glob at--not a help in any matter of thought, and even less productive! Now what is that gonna achieve!

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Sorry to hear you were so badly fooled into paying for these awards, anonymous!

Rémi Brague said...

Dear Mr. Shallit,
Thank you for exposing those swindlers. Just to add my own evidence on the seriousness of the enterprise: I received from those people to whom, by the way,I never sent a farthing,two letters.
One nominated me WOMAN of the year. A surprise for my wife! To be sure, as a French philosopher, I deconstruct, and I deconstruct gender. But this was a bit too much...
The other one asked me to accept some honour "with the humility for which you are known". To be sure, one again, my humility has swept me to the pinnacle of fame. But still...
Thank you gain, and all best wishes.
Rémi Brague

Anonymous said...

It is an interesting discussion. The point should be on whether the awards are being awarded to legitimate persons of achievement or not. Because, it is natural to charge nominal fees for many academic related awards. Please note that many professional organizations do charge not only for memberships but also for award applications. That does not mean all are fake. Even publishers like nature, cell do charge for figures and publication charges...That does not mean that the studies are not substantiated. Please note that my point is neither to support nor to refute one's opinions and observations. The focus should be on whether these awards are being given to persons who deserve it or not. If this point can be more focused upon we will know the truth...either good or bad. All the best.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

it is natural to charge nominal fees for many academic related awards

I don't know any legit organization that charges for awards. Can you name one?

charge not only for memberships but also for award applications

I don't know any legit organization that charges for award applications. Can you name one?

The focus should be on whether these awards are being given to persons who deserve it or not.

You don't get to decide what the focus is on.

Anonymous said...

Its sad with what is going on in our Human Civilization, even the best are being "debunked" leaving a world of failure for our civilization to conquer, through the metastasis of suggested scams, both unfounded and suggested recursive introjections on every corner--Meanwhile the US is 64th ranked in Math, Not very much better in reading and literature- In science (we must pray, even the athiest must pray!)One suggestion is were losing the American Manned Space Programs, and our dreams are being carted away--No take away those who have worked their lives for something (anything) debase them and humiliate them by introjected purposes--and we might as well all call it quits (pack up, give up or join the really spurious UFO groups Galactic Federation or conspiracy groups that make little green men involved in everything, and NOW the Bilderburgers and dark masons given total absolute and total control:( One suggestion is no more conspiracies, and we look at things 20/20, not destroying the entire foundation--and give some people the benefit of a doubt that they are whom they are! Its ripping up the fabric of our country, shreding the integrity (that will take not years but generations to rebuild) not a good point but a point nevertheless that should be said!

Anonymous said...


Although I agree that the IBC and ABI awards are all fraudulent and silly, some legitimate organizations DO in fact charge money for award recipients. For example, the Red dot design award (http://en.red-dot.org/).

Understandably though, award winners gain a lot of free advertisements and recognition from the award, but still, just by entering the competition, all participants agree to BUY the winner's package if they are selected.

Anonymous said...

I am not understanding why this hell American Government is so silent about it? Organisation in America like country doing such thing means it is a matter of shame.
If the Organisation is working since from 1967 it is a matter of laugh as it made many people foolish since from 1967.
And American Govt. is fully responsible for it. Still Govt have a bitter example of creating Osama Bin Laden by himself for other but suffered himself by it.

Geoff said...

I feel it's unfair to suggest that those people who mention these "awards" on their CVs have fallen for this scam.

Having browsed some of the CVs, I get the sense that the recipients of the awards included them as an indication of their good sense of humour.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Remind me not to go to any comedy clubs you like, Geoff.

Brian Katcher said...

Good lord, I can't stop laughing. These award sound like something a fifth grader would make up.

Unknown said...

Obviously, you are all just jealous!

Look at this award from the IBC, for example:

It's even been recognized by their academic merit system!