"Then I Start Googling"

Posted by jlubans on November 25, 2010

Not that long ago, a gripping article appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Written by one Ed Dante, it was a remorseless confession of a scholar-for-hire, more Madoff than Philip Marlowe. Over 530 readers have responded to “The Shadow Scholar: The man who writes your students' papers tells his story.”
Apart from the true crime intrigue one segment from Dante’s writing caught my eye. His go-to is Google.

“I haven't been to a library once since I started doing this job. Amazon is quite generous about free samples…. customer reviews and publisher blurbs. Google Scholar is a great source for material, providing the abstract of nearly any journal article. And of course, there's Wikipedia….“

This glimpse into Mr. Dante’s M. O. offers us a ready solution and a puzzle. The solution to stopping term paper mills is for teachers simply to require students to attach to their papers print outs of a book’s title page and/or of the first page of an article, ones actually used and cited, whether electronic or paper.

The puzzle? How did these faux papers pass the sniff test? Would there not be clues, hints that the wording is not the student’s? I have not reviewed any of the 530 reader responses, but I suspect there are a number of explanations (many self-serving I suspect) of how we got to this sad state.

No doubt Mr. Dante chose his pseudonym with care. I wonder what circle of hell Mr. Dante is in. The Sloth Circle? It’s as if Mr. Dante is selling indulgences to sinners; yet, unlike most indulgence sellers, he is actually trading his normal life to labor at a Sisyphean task, day in day out. The coffee he consumes is a luxury, but 72-hour writing stints sound a lot like the traditional punishment for the slothful: to run at top speed without rest. Cui bono, one wonders.

I cannot but help – forgive me – to link back to my recent story about the Boston Globe expose, “What happened to Studying?” How do students study less and yet grades continue to soar? Maybe Ed Dante - soon to get off his high-speed treadmill and ride off into retirement - knows. Perhaps new enterprises and adventures await Ed. He does know the name and e-mail of each of his clients, including the "lazy rich kid ... poised for a life of paying others and telling them what to do." Henning Mankell might have his next murder mystery here.

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