A Great mind; or (wo)man of the Year?

by Anna Blanch on August 4, 2011

“Great minds are like meteors, they glitter and are consumed to enlighten the world.”

Or so declares the American Biographical Institute. Not dissimilar to the offer to publish my Master’s thesis, I’ve received a letter of note this past week.

Except this time, the honour is far more prestigious.

Apparently the Governing Board of Editors have decided that I’m one of 1000 individuals from around the globe chosen for inclusion in Great Minds of the 21st Century.

Yep, that’s right.

Let’s break out the champagne and local scallops and celebrate!

…..or is it? …..and should I?

I’m certainly not vain enough to think that I qualify for an epithet such as that, and so, doing what all good researchers do, I made my fingers do the google walk.

And I found some really well researched pieces which bring to light questions as to why it might not be in your best interests, no matter how it might puff up your ego and fill out your CV to pay the 295 US – 1095 US for the “keepsakes” and “mementos” of this achievement. Let’s be clear, they don’t ask you to pay for inclusion, but they do ask for you to part with moula for any material to show you have been included and the careful wording seems to indicate that without such a “reservation” which “includes my biographical entry” I strongly doubt they’d go to the trouble anyway. Further more, a form which requires detailed family and personal information (including the names and birthdays of your children and your parent’s names) as well as a series of questions about personal biography is not something I’m comfortable handing over without further research. Interestingly, what is not present are questions about referees or requests to demonstrate willingness to prove that what you say is true.

In their F.A.Q’s, The American Biographical Institute says this:

Is purchase required for inclusion?
Purchase of merchandise has never been required for inclusion in any American Biographical Institute title. We consider the content and quality of our books top priority, so to exclude a highly accomplished person because he or she did not purchase the book would be contradictory to our mission. All of those included in our publications are important to us, so therefore we treat them each with the same courtesy and regard.

If this is true – then at best, the letters sent to me are somewhat confusing as there doesn’t seem to be an option not to pay.

This piece by David Vernon is extremely well researched with a more comprehensive list of “awards” and some really embarrassing examples of people in positions of power and authority who’ve chosen to participate in the “scheme,” including a number of academics. It seems to be more effective at picking up gullible academics from outside the US, at least according to Don Burleson. Burleson’s article is particularly helpful as he’s also based in Raleigh, where the ABI and IBC are also purportedly located. Burleson has another article going back to 2006 which also shows that this company has come to the attention of Consumer Affairs in Australia on multiple occasions. Nonetheless, in both these articles there are numerous Australian public intellectuals and politicians who’ve been caught out either as recipients or as presenters of these “awards.”

David Vernon’s article, first appeared asThe Price of Fame” in The Skeptic vol 27, No 2.

“Interestingly, neither ABI nor IBC lists their entire menu of awards on their websites — perhaps they think that to do so might make even the most gullible person a little suspicious… Western Australian Senator Ross Lightfoot, in his 1997 entry in Who’s Who in Australia p970, and on his Parliamentary website states that he is a Life Fellow of the International Biographical Centre. Such Fellowships can be had for a one-off payment of £795.”

When I initially visited the ABI website my Web of Trust plugin came up with the image below. WOT isn’t always right, but I thought it helpful to share.

Let me leave you with quote from Burleson which sums up the situation rather well:

Now you’re probably thinking that these American Biographical Institute awards are fake, phony or a fraud. I checked, and it’s does not look like a rip-off, scam, deception, scheme, con, swindle, or racket!

After all, how could such a highly acclaimed award be phoney if it costs $195.00 and the award appears on over 30 thousand web pages?

How are we to think about vanity awards? vanity presses?

So, should I file in the round filing cabinet? should I pull a move reminiscent of St Eutychus – and respond with a form and no payment? I am, after all, a poor graduate student. any other suggestions? I wonder if this post – the product of an inquiring thoughtful mind – would disqualify me?

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