Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Writer for Hire - from Chronicle of Higher Education

I keep returning to the concept of a writing tutor - and how can this work to benefit the students who need this?

In today's world of collaboration - is there a place where "ghost writing" can be come legitimate assistance to those who need the help with expressing their knowledge.

Granted, in the article that follows, the clients did NOT participate in the knowledge being written about.

Makes an employer, a mother, a librarian, and just a citizen that will be relying on these educated people for my doctors, nurses, bankers, etc... worried.

[snip snip snip]

The Shadow Scholar

The man who writes your students' papers tells his story

[Chronical's Editor's note: Ed Dante is a pseudonym for a writer who lives on the
East Coast. Through a literary agent, he approached The Chronicle
wanting to tell the story of how he makes a living writing papers for
a custom-essay company and to describe the extent of student cheating
he has observed. In the course of editing his article, The Chronicle
reviewed correspondence Dante had with clients and some of the papers
he had been paid to write. In the article published here, some details
of the assignment he describes have been altered to protect the
identity of the student.]

The request came in by e-mail around 2 in the afternoon. It was from a
previous customer, and she had urgent business. I quote her message
here verbatim (if I had to put up with it, so should you): "You did me
business ethics propsal for me I need propsal got approved pls can you
will write me paper?"

I've gotten pretty good at interpreting this kind of correspondence.
The client had attached a document from her professor with details
about the paper. She needed the first section in a week. Seventy-five

I told her no problem.

It truly was no problem. In the past year, I've written roughly 5,000
pages of scholarly literature, most on very tight deadlines. But you
won't find my name on a single paper.

I've written toward a master's degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D.
in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international
diplomacy. I've worked on bachelor's degrees in hospitality, business
administration, and accounting. I've written for courses in history,
cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management,
maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal
budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern
architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration.
I've attended three dozen online universities. I've completed 12
graduate theses of 50 pages or more. All for someone else.
You've never heard of me, but there's a good chance that you've read
some of my work. I'm a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic
mercenary. My customers are your students. I promise you that.
Somebody in your classroom uses a service that you can't detect, that
you can't defend against, that you may not even know exists.
I work at an online company that generates tens of thousands of
dollars a month by creating original essays based on specific
instructions provided by cheating students. I've worked there full
time since 2004. On any day of the academic year, I am working on
upward of 20 assignments.

In the midst of this great recession, business is booming. At busy
times, during midterms and finals, my company's staff of roughly 50
writers is not large enough to satisfy the demands of students who
will pay for our work and claim it as their own.

You would be amazed by the incompetence of your students' writing. I
have seen the word "desperate" misspelled every way you can imagine.
And these students truly are desperate. They couldn't write a
convincing grocery list, yet they are in graduate school. They really
need help. They need help learning and, separately, they need help
passing their courses. But they aren't getting it.

For those of you who have ever mentored a student through the writing
of a dissertation, served on a thesis-review committee, or guided a
graduate student through a formal research process, I have a question:
Do you ever wonder how a student who struggles to formulate complete
sentences in conversation manages to produce marginally competent
research? How does that student get by you?

I live well on the desperation, misery, and incompetence that your
educational system has created. Granted, as a writer, I could earn
more; certainly there are ways to earn less. But I never struggle to
find work. And as my peers trudge through thankless office jobs that
seem more intolerable with every passing month of our sustained
recession, I am on pace for my best year yet. I will make roughly
$66,000 this year. Not a king's ransom, but higher than what many
actual educators are paid.

Of course, I know you are aware that cheating occurs. But you have no
idea how deeply this kind of cheating penetrates the academic system,
much less how to stop it. Last summer The New York Times reported that
61 percent of undergraduates have admitted to some form of cheating on
assignments and exams. Yet there is little discussion about custom
papers and how they differ from more-detectable forms of plagiarism,
or about why students cheat in the first place.

It is my hope that this essay will initiate such a conversation. As
for me, I'm planning to retire. I'm tired of helping you make your
students look competent.

It is late in the semester when the business student contacts me, a
time when I typically juggle deadlines and push out 20 to 40 pages a
day. I had written a short research proposal for her a few weeks
before, suggesting a project that connected a surge of unethical
business practices to the patterns of trade liberalization. The
proposal was approved, and now I had six days to complete the
assignment. This was not quite a rush order, which we get top dollar
to write. This assignment would be priced at a standard $2,000, half
of which goes in my pocket.

A few hours after I had agreed to write the paper, I received the
following e-mail: "sending sorces for ur to use thanx."

I did not reply immediately. One hour later, I received another message:
"did u get the sorce I send
please where you are now?
Desprit to pass spring projict"

Not only was this student going to be a constant thorn in my side, but
she also communicated in haiku, each less decipherable than the one
before it. I let her know that I was giving her work the utmost
attention, that I had received her sources, and that I would be in
touch if I had any questions. Then I put it aside.

From my experience, three demographic groups seek out my services: the
English-as-second-language student; the hopelessly deficient student;
and the lazy rich kid.

For the last, colleges are a perfect launching ground—they are built
to reward the rich and to forgive them their laziness. Let's be
honest: The successful among us are not always the best and the
brightest, and certainly not the most ethical. My favorite customers
are those with an unlimited supply of money and no shortage of
instructions on how they would like to see their work executed. While
the deficient student will generally not know how to ask for what he
wants until he doesn't get it, the lazy rich student will know exactly
what he wants. He is poised for a life of paying others and telling
them what to do. Indeed, he is acquiring all the skills he needs to
stay on top.

As for the first two types of students—the ESL and the hopelessly
deficient—colleges are utterly failing them. Students who come to
American universities from other countries find that their efforts to
learn a new language are confounded not only by cultural difficulties
but also by the pressures of grading. The focus on evaluation rather
than education means that those who haven't mastered English must do
so quickly or suffer the consequences. My service provides a
particularly quick way to "master" English. And those who are
hopelessly deficient—a euphemism, I admit—struggle with communication
in general.

Two days had passed since I last heard from the business student.
Overnight I had received 14 e-mails from her. She had additional
instructions for the assignment, such as "but more again please make
sure they are a good link betwee the leticture review and all the
chapter and the benfet of my paper. finally do you think the level of
this work? how match i can get it?"

I'll admit, I didn't fully understand that one.

It was followed by some clarification: "where u are can you get my
messages? Please I pay a lot and dont have ao to faile I strated to
get very worry."

Her messages had arrived between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. Again I assured her
I had the matter under control.

It was true. At this point, there are few academic challenges that I
find intimidating. You name it, I've been paid to write about it.
Customers' orders are endlessly different yet strangely all the same.
No matter what the subject, clients want to be assured that their
assignment is in capable hands. It would be terrible to think that
your Ivy League graduate thesis was riding on the work ethic and
perspicacity of a public-university slacker. So part of my job is to
be whatever my clients want me to be. I say yes when I am asked if I
have a Ph.D. in sociology. I say yes when I am asked if I have
professional training in industrial/organizational psychology. I say
yes when asked if I have ever designed a perpetual-motion-powered time
machine and documented my efforts in a peer-reviewed journal.
The subject matter, the grade level, the college, the course—these
things are irrelevant to me. Prices are determined per page and are
based on how long I have to complete the assignment. As long as it
doesn't require me to do any math or video-documented animal
husbandry, I will write anything.

I have completed countless online courses. Students provide me with
passwords and user names so I can access key documents and online
exams. In some instances, I have even contributed to weekly online
discussions with other students in the class.

I have become a master of the admissions essay. I have written these
for undergraduate, master's, and doctoral programs, some at elite
universities. I can explain exactly why you're Brown material, why the
Wharton M.B.A. program would benefit from your presence, how certain
life experiences have prepared you for the rigors of your chosen
course of study. I do not mean to be insensitive, but I can't tell you
how many times I've been paid to write about somebody helping a loved
one battle cancer. I've written essays that could be adapted into
Meryl Streep movies.

I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students.
They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in
paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about
walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others
to follow. I have been commissioned to write many a passionate
condemnation of America's moral decay as exemplified by abortion, gay
marriage, or the teaching of evolution. All in all, we may presume
that clerical authorities see these as a greater threat than the
plagiarism committed by the future frocked.

With respect to America's nurses, fear not. Our lives are in capable
hands­—just hands that can't write a lick. Nursing students account
for one of my company's biggest customer bases. I've written
case-management plans, reports on nursing ethics, and essays on why
nurse practitioners are lighting the way to the future of medicine.
I've even written pharmaceutical-treatment courses, for patients who I
hope were hypothetical.

I, who have no name, no opinions, and no style, have written so many
papers at this point, including legal briefs, military-strategy
assessments, poems, lab reports, and, yes, even papers on academic
integrity, that it's hard to determine which course of study is most
infested with cheating. But I'd say education is the worst. I've
written papers for students in elementary-education programs,
special-education majors, and ESL-training courses. I've written
lesson plans for aspiring high-school teachers, and I've synthesized
reports from notes that customers have taken during classroom
observations. I've written essays for those studying to become school
administrators, and I've completed theses for those on course to
become principals. In the enormous conspiracy that is student
cheating, the frontline intelligence community is infiltrated by
double agents. (Future educators of America, I know who you are.)
As the deadline for the business-ethics paper approaches, I think
about what's ahead of me. Whenever I take on an assignment this large,
I get a certain physical sensation. My body says: Are you sure you
want to do this again? You know how much it hurt the last time. You
know this student will be with you for a long time. You know you will
become her emergency contact, her guidance counselor and life raft.
You know that for the 48 hours that you dedicate to writing this
paper, you will cease all human functions but typing, you will Google
until the term has lost all meaning, and you will drink enough coffee
to fuel a revolution in a small Central American country.
But then there's the money, the sense that I must capitalize on
opportunity, and even a bit of a thrill in seeing whether I can do it.
And I can. It's not implausible to write a 75-page paper in two days.
It's just miserable. I don't need much sleep, and when I get cranking,
I can churn out four or five pages an hour. First I lay out the
sections of an assignment—introduction, problem statement,
methodology, literature review, findings, conclusion—whatever the
instructions call for. Then I start Googling.

I haven't been to a library once since I started doing this job.
Amazon is quite generous about free samples. If I can find a single
page from a particular text, I can cobble that into a report, deducing
what I don't know from 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, which is
often my first stop when dealing with unfamiliar subjects. Naturally
one must verify such material elsewhere, but I've taken hundreds of
crash courses this way.

After I've gathered my sources, I pull out usable quotes, cite them,
and distribute them among the sections of the assignment. Over the
years, I've refined ways of stretching papers. I can write a four-word
sentence in 40 words. Just give me one phrase of quotable text, and
I'll produce two pages of ponderous explanation. I can say in 10 pages
what most normal people could say in a paragraph.

I've also got a mental library of stock academic phrases: "A close
consideration of the events which occurred in ____ during the ____
demonstrate that ____ had entered into a phase of widespread cultural,
social, and economic change that would define ____ for decades to
come." Fill in the blanks using words provided by the professor in the
assignment's instructions.

How good is the product created by this process? That depends—on the
day, my mood, how many other assignments I am working on. It also
depends on the customer, his or her expectations, and the degree to
which the completed work exceeds his or her abilities. I don't ever
edit my assignments. That way I get fewer customer requests to "dumb
it down." So some of my work is great. Some of it is not so great.
Most of my clients do not have the wherewithal to tell the difference,
which probably means that in most cases the work is better than what
the student would have produced on his or her own. I've actually had
customers thank me for being clever enough to insert typos. "Nice
touch," they'll say.

I've read enough academic material to know that I'm not the only
bullshit artist out there. I think about how Dickens got paid per word
and how, as a result, Bleak House is ... well, let's be diplomatic and
say exhaustive. Dickens is a role model for me.

So how does someone become a custom-paper writer? The story of how I
got into this job may be instructive. It is mostly about the
tremendous disappointment that awaited me in college.

My distaste for the early hours and regimented nature of high school
was tempered by the promise of the educational community ahead, with
its free exchange of ideas and access to great minds. How dispiriting
to find out that college was just another place where grades were
grubbed, competition overshadowed personal growth, and the threat of
failure was used to encourage learning.

Although my university experience did not live up to its vaunted
reputation, it did lead me to where I am today. I was raised in an
upper-middle-class family, but I went to college in a poor
neighborhood. I fit in really well: After paying my tuition, I didn't
have a cent to my name. I had nothing but a meal plan and my
roommate's computer. But I was determined to write for a living, and,
moreover, to spend these extremely expensive years learning how to do
so. When I completed my first novel, in the summer between sophomore
and junior years, I contacted the English department about creating an
independent study around editing and publishing it. I was received
like a mental patient. I was told, "There's nothing like that here." I
was told that I could go back to my classes, sit in my lectures, and
fill out Scantron tests until I graduated.

I didn't much care for my classes, though. I slept late and spent the
afternoons working on my own material. Then a funny thing happened.
Here I was, begging anybody in authority to take my work seriously.
But my classmates did. They saw my abilities and my abundance of free
time. They saw a value that the university did not.

It turned out that my lazy, Xanax-snorting, Miller-swilling classmates
were thrilled to pay me to write their papers. And I was thrilled to
take their money. Imagine you are crumbling under the weight of
university-issued parking tickets and self-doubt when a frat boy
offers you cash to write about Plato. Doing that job was a no-brainer.
Word of my services spread quickly, especially through the
fraternities. Soon I was receiving calls from strangers who wanted to
commission my work. I was a writer!

Nearly a decade later, students, not publishers, still come from
everywhere to find me.

I work hard for a living. I'm nice to people. But I understand that in
simple terms, I'm the bad guy. I see where I'm vulnerable to ethical

But pointing the finger at me is too easy. Why does my business
thrive? Why do so many students prefer to cheat rather than do their
own work?

Say what you want about me, but I am not the reason your students cheat.
You know what's never happened? I've never had a client complain that
he'd been expelled from school, that the originality of his work had
been questioned, that some disciplinary action had been taken. As far
as I know, not one of my customers has ever been caught.

With just two days to go, I was finally ready to throw myself into the
business assignment. I turned off my phone, caged myself in my office,
and went through the purgatory of cramming the summation of a
student's alleged education into a weekend. Try it sometime. After the
20th hour on a single subject, you have an almost-out-of-body

My client was thrilled with my work. She told me that she would
present the chapter to her mentor and get back to me with our next
steps. Two weeks passed, by which time the assignment was but a
distant memory, obscured by the several hundred pages I had written
since. On a Wednesday evening, I received the following e-mail:
"Thanx u so much for the chapter is going very good the porfesser
likes it but wants the folloing suggestions please what do you thing?:
"'The hypothesis is interesting but I'd like to see it a bit more
focused. Choose a specific connection and try to prove it.'

"What shoudwe say?"

This happens a lot. I get paid per assignment. But with longer papers,
the student starts to think of me as a personal educational counselor.
She paid me to write a one-page response to her professor, and then
she paid me to revise her paper. I completed each of these
assignments, sustaining the voice that the student had established and
maintaining the front of competence from some invisible location far
beneath the ivory tower.

The 75-page paper on business ethics ultimately expanded into a
160-page graduate thesis, every word of which was written by me. I
can't remember the name of my client, but it's her name on my work. We
collaborated for months. As with so many other topics I tackle, the
connection between unethical business practices and trade
liberalization became a subtext to my everyday life.

So, of course, you can imagine my excitement when I received the good news:
"thanx so much for uhelp ican going to graduate to now".

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Walden Treat - from Amy

Congo Bars

2 3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter, softened (not melted) (approx. 10 2/3 tbs)
1 lb. light brown sugar

3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
11.5 ounce package chocolate chips

By hand:

Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Set aside.
Stir brown sugar into softened (not melted) butter in another large bowl until butter disappears. You can use the back of your spoon to help incorporate the two together.
Add eggs one at a time to butter mixture and stir well after each egg.
Add vanilla and chocolate chips. Mix well.
Add dry flour mixture and stir until well combined. The batter should be thick.

OR, by mixer:

Sift flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
Combine butter and sugar using a mixer until blended.
Add eggs, one at a time to sugar mixture, mixing on low in between each addition.
Add vanilla and mix.
Add flour and mix until combined.
Stir in chips. The batter should be thick.

Coat a 13 X 9 pan with non-stick spray (or butter/flour combo) and spread batter evenly into pan. I usually put the pan into the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight at this point, but you don’t have to.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until top is golden brown. Make sure you don’t over bake. Use a toothpick to insert and check for doneness before removing from the oven. Sometimes it takes a bit longer to cook (especially if they’ve been in the fridge), so don’t be surprised if they’re not done after 35 minutes. If you feel that the top is getting too brown, put tin foil over the top.

Friday, February 19, 2010

I can't tell Roy he is wrong....

Roy Tennant tweeted that he wanted to be told he is wrong. I took the bait and read his blog post "RDA Adds Complexity to MARC" here (Yes I used the full url and not a or a tiny.url!)

It is a short read but clear and thoughtful - as Roy always is - and though I hate be thought of as "a spoiler" his last paragraph is to the point and I just can't say he is wrong:

"I wish I had more confidence than I do in our bibliographic future. I really wish that I could believe that this represents a systemic, clean break from our past and a firm move into really machine-ready data. And I really, really wish I could feel inspired about this change, instead of skeptical, and fearful, and disappointed at what increasingly looks like a missed opportunity. Please convince me I am wrong. I really, really want to be wrong."