When there is demand…

By skepticlawyer

…The market will supply.

In Legal Eagle’s thread on alternative forms of assessment, Patrick dropped a link in the comments thread that exposed the extent of a problem I’ve long known about but couldn’t pin down with any precision. That problem concerns students — at all levels, including doctoral candidates — submitting customised material produced in a ‘paper mill’.

First, a definition of terms: this is not plagiarism. This is not buying a ‘pre-written’ essay. Many of these students are — sad to say — probably too stupid to be able to plagiarize at anything but the most basic level (ie, copying out encyclopedia entries verbatim). They’re also rich enough to be able to bypass pre-written essays (which are sometimes detectable through software packages like Turn-It-In). Instead, they hire someone to write the paper for them, sometimes supplying raw statistical data they’ve collated themselves to the ‘hired gun’. ‘Ed Dante’, one such hired gun, describes the system:

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.

‘Ed Dante’ — if nothing else — has been turned into a polymath of sorts through his job:

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.

‘Ed Dante’ also discovered that the worst custom paper purchasers are future teachers, future priests and future nurses. His comment about cheating seminarians is so hilarious it’s worth repeating:

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.

He also argues that much of the problem is foreign students with an utterly inadequate grasp of English. This is an aspect I’ve noticed, even at Oxford — which sets its IELTS demands brutally high. Oxford also forces students to work on their English, and I’ve seen foreign students reduced to despair when they get papers back covered in red pen, even in the sciences (Richard Dawkins is an Oxford scientist — he also writes a beautiful sentence — Oxford clearly wants more like him). ‘But I thought my English was good!’ is the standard complaint. When I was tutoring in my college last year, I’d often go through students’ papers and — as gently as possible — point out that English is just a very, very difficult language in which to write well, and that the only solution was a combination of practice and correction. Often students had not had the experience of correction (a serious problem in contemporary education, not just in languages).

Part of the problem is to do with the linguistic ‘shape’ of English. English is like an upside down pyramid, and it perpetrates a dreadful ‘con’ on foreign language students. It is very easy at the beginning — the pointy bit of the pyramid closest to the ground. Its easy rhetoric gives the foreign language student a false sense of security. But then, over time, it gets harder. The tense patterns with their mass of controlling particles are a nightmare, far harder to master than the tenses in any other language, and almost impossible to learn for people from languages with no tenses at all. It has a massive vocabulary (the next largest language is Russian, by the way), with subtle distinctions between words that appear to be for the same thing (but are often not) and are derived (separately) from Latin and Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic and sometimes Greek.

By contrast, other languages do not pretend. They are like the Great Pyramid in Giza. All the difficult stuff is at the bottom. In Japanese, you must master the Kanji (Chinese characters), and master them quickly or you will never read a newspaper, let alone Yukio Mishima. In Latin, German and Anglo-Saxon you must master the grammar, or you will never read a Roman tombstone, a German newspaper or the engravings on Saxon armour… let alone The Aeneid, Goethe or Beowulf.

Thing is, once you’ve scoped out the base of the pyramid, it not only gets easier — it tops out. It is finite. Compared to English’s massive vocabulary and syntactical variety, other languages are an empty box. They have a tenth of the words. Or no tenses. Or lovely, regular patterns of gender that can’t be politicized. Anyone who has learnt German or a Romance language stops speaking of ‘non-sexist language’, because it is nonsense in any other language save English. Only English has the flexibility to admit politicization of its strange neuter gender. I’ve always thought that history has been most unkind to humanity, inflicting three of the most difficult languages on us as linguae francae: Latin, Mandarin and English. At least Latin and Mandarin tell no lies, however.

Thing is, you don’t need particularly good English to read a tabloid newspaper (although the Financial Times and the Telegraph are probably a different story). You can get along perfectly well, in fact. You’ll understand advertising, appreciate what your tax accountant is trying to tell you, get the joke in the Sun headlines and make an online booking. You will not, however, be able to write a term paper. And — this is the kicker — you may never be able to write a term paper.

Foreign language students with poor English are only part of the problem, however, because lots of native speakers make exactly the same mistakes. They don’t know their own language, for the simple reason that — at higher levels — it is too difficult. There is a reason why so many dyslexics turn up in English speaking countries, and hardly any in Italy, Spain or Japan. Native speakers resort to people like ‘Ed Dante’ just as regularly as foreign students:

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.

I do not know what the solution to this particular conundrum may be, although I do suspect some of it is to do with too many universities teaching too many students, and that serious efforts need to be made to undermine the credentialism that encourages people to attempt higher education when they should not. If the law makes it difficult to end an employment relationship (through unfair dismissal laws, high minimum wages and so on) then it becomes harder to commence an employment relationship. Employers will use other proxies in order to find the staff they need. They will call their friends. They will ask for more and more pieces of paper. They will toss any CV with the name ‘Muhammad’ on it straight in the bin, while employing Muhammad’s sister Khadija (she does what she’s told, you see).

We really have created a monster.

45 Comments

  1. Movius
    Posted November 18, 2010 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    I studied Japanese through all 5 years of high school and found it just stayed difficult.

    I can’t really speak with any authority though. I’ve never actually travelled to Japan and my only practical use of Japanese was when working for a Japanese IT company in Australia via the magic of the internet.

  2. Posted November 18, 2010 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    That makes sense, Movius; until I had to go to Japan I just found it difficult, as well. About 3 months before I left Oz, I panicked when I realised I wasn’t even going to be able to read street signs properly, so I made a concerted effort to learn as many Kanji as possible. I covered the house with flashcards and drove everyone up the wall with copying them out so I could write them quickly and in the correct stroke order. It paid off, and I found everything falling into place once I arrived.

  3. Posted November 19, 2010 at 1:43 am | Permalink

    Good call SL, the problem is widespread. There are internet sites for freelance writers where these types of contracts are frequently being advertised.

    One possible solution is verbal examination. Let the students submit the paper but then give a short talk on the paper followed by a series of questions they must answer. That might help. If nothing else, even if they don’t write the paper at least they will be compelled to remember the paper they have submitted.

  4. Posted November 19, 2010 at 3:27 am | Permalink

    You seem to me, SL, to be mixing together different things here. In responding, I want to focus on two.

    The use of other people’s work is not new; the word crib reflects this. Nor is the use of other people to do the work new. What seems to be new is the scale.

    To my mind, the current assessment system with its focus on training, the use of short questions and answers, continuous assessment, group work, an emphasis on presentation and the remoteness of staff actually facilitates both plagiarism and the hired gun approach. At the same time, pressures on students provides an incentive.

    All this said, the thing that I still find hard to understand especially at graduate level, is just how students can actually get away with a Dante style approach. My own postgrad experience has been in history and economics involving both course work and thesis. Both lecturers and supervisors knew me well enough to make a Dante highly problematic. If now widespead, it suggests systemic problems.

    Turning now specifically to plagiarism, I would argue here that the problems experienced by universities are a subset of a broader cultural change.

    We live in a just in time, 24/7 world. Everything has to be done quickly. Plagiarism is necessary. This is also a world in which old concepts of ownership whether of music, written material, ideas have been put aside.

    I may not like aspects of this world, but I have to live within it. It makes doing much faster, but leaves open the question of the value of what is done.

    The big problem for the universities is that they are trying to control a broader cultural manifestation within their own systems, one facilitated by those systems. They attempt to do so by controls such as the software checking systems. Their problem, and I think that it’s probably insoluble without system changes, is that what they want to do simply conflicts with what is happening elsewhere.

  5. conrad
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 4:38 am | Permalink

    I think it isn’t just English which is the problem — it’s academic English, which is yet another step removed from spoken English (there are languages that are even further removed from the script — Cantonese is miles upon miles away, and there is a whole industry of people trying to interpret the old scriptures). Very few universities have come up with good measures to deal with this, since even students with really high IELTs scores will have problems.

    I also think that for assignments, if you want to get around the problem of ghost writing, you need to set assignments that simply can’t be ghost written, in which case the most help the student can get is in writing style, which I don’t think is such a fuss (hopefully they can learn something from it!).

  6. conrad
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    “There is a reason why so many dyslexics turn up in English speaking countries, and hardly any in Italy, Spain or Japan”

    Actually, most of those differences have nothing to do with the spoken language or the grammar — they’re mainly just due to the shitty orthography, which could theoretically be fixed (as they do in Germany every 50 years). Of course, it would be impossible to fix in practice.

  7. Posted November 19, 2010 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    I agree with John H. that more verbal presentations would help with this problem, and I think that Aus unis should introduce a viva system like the UK or an oral defence like the US for research degrees and other assessments too. But it doesn’t really help with the problem of students who do the research and get someone else to ‘write it up’ – they may still be able talk to it quite well.

    Writing is an important skill in research; a lot of this problem is caused by the division of research into planning, doing, and ‘writing up’. Writing should be a part of the process from the beginning; early writing can inform later insights and can help when you are reconstructing the steps you took. It used to be common for researchers in all disciplines to keep notebooks for this purpose, but it doesn’t seem to be done so much now. It also acts as an audit trail on the work.

    However, I know people who are employed by scientists to write journal articles from the data generated by research. They get paid and they dont’ get credited in the publication. What is the difference between this and getting a ghost writer to write your thesis/dissertation from the data you generated in your PhD project?

  8. Patrick
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    I find any language difficult in the abstract, although I recall making reasonable progress at Latin and German in this manner (both since abandoned, alack!).

    However I would like to passionately second the point that most English-speakers cannot actually write sophisticated English either. I spend my life pointing out things like subject vs object, subject verb agreement, active tense, pronoun-subject agreement…most of it boils down to understanding what you are saying about what!!

  9. Jeremy Gans
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    I despise plagiarists and those who pass off others’ work as their own, and I also despite universities that allow students to enroll without the skills they need to complete a degree.

    However,. I think that some of the blame for students’ use of paper mills should be laid on lecturers (and, in the case of Oxford, it seems, universities) who insist on grading students on the quality of their English. Doing so is fine, of course, in an English course, but why is English being graded in science or law?

    There are two related answers, I suspect. First, a lot of lecturers simply have no idea what they are supposed to be assessing. They set assessment that reveals so little about a student’s knowledge or skills in whatever it is they are supposedly being taught that there is nothing else to assess but writing ability. This is an especially common problem, in my experience, in the ‘research essay’ method of assessment. Those essays may well test research and argument skills, but they often reveal very little whether or not a student understands the subject-matter being researched.

    Second, I also suspect that lecturers, finding themselves unable to properly assess their students’ knowledge and skills in the material being taught, instead use English ability as a proxy for academic ability, i.e. this student writes well, so s/he must be good at other things, so I’ll give him/her a high mark. The result: students with poor English who have actually learnt well nevertheless find themselves consistently getting worse marks than they deserve. No surprise that they become alienated.

    All this raises the question: why test English skills in courses on other topics? Of course, a student’s poor English skills may hamper their ability to gain/show knowledge on other things, but marking down because of their poor English is surely a double whammy.

  10. Posted November 19, 2010 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    SL: on tabloid-level literacy and english – our grade 2 teachers berated kids who thought they could read by saying “until you can read the front page of The Age easily you cannot read properly, the Sun and Geelong Advertiser don’t count.”

    Aaaah, the ghostwriters would have had problems handing in the 5kword essays when we wrote them in pen and ink, which was still ok in the early eighties if your handwriting was neat.

  11. conrad
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    “All this raises the question: why test English skills in courses on other topics? ”

    Because formal writing needs to be done in many areas, and because the way it’s done in different areas differs (and that’s not even worrying about students that end up in areas not related to their degree). Indeed, it’s hard for me to think of areas where at least some people don’t have to write reports etc. occasionally (law being a good example). This is why I always divide my assessment up into two parts even though I don’t teach English — the intellectual contribution and the ability to express that contribution. Perhaps if I taught quantum physics or something like that I wouldn’t.

  12. Posted November 19, 2010 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    [email protected] and [email protected] on the need for English.

    I remember once where the only relevant stuff for my previous work was in French. Hell! The long words were easy, the little qualifying words and nuance, so important in biol, caused me much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

    Even English isn’t enough in biol: a good grasp of latin and greek words is extremely useful when diving into a new area. In my dad’s day, scientific german was a compulsory unit for organic chemists.

    Law, which relies of subtle implications of language, would certainly require excellent skills with the language concerned, but I suspect any discipline requiring complex threads and nuance, where things aren’t black or white, requires language competency far above mere literacy.

    Maths – not so much english, but then those papers are often written in a language all its own.

    There is some software-assisted plagiarism detection, but the same tools that analyse a text for authorship, whether arguing about what shakespeare may or may not have written, to teasing apart the authorship of sacred texts, might also flag papers deserving greater scrutiny if markedly different from other submitted works by the same author.

    All that said, fraudulent papers, where the figures are fudged, or the experiments weren’t done at all, are worse crimes, affect more people.

  13. Julia
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    That “paper mills” post is clearly going viral. Ed Dante if he knows about it must be very pleased. I first came across it about a week ago circulating electronically around my university. Thing is, while it is possible to ask students to do oral exams, in class presentations, or even as I have done from time to time, to get them to write or to at least begin their essays in class, what gives me the cold horrors is how to identity check and style check online.

  14. Jeremy Gans
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I too always have the ability to express your understanding as one (often the major) assessment criterion. But good (much less formal or academic) English is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for expressing your understanding of anything other than the niceties of English.

    And I teach Law, which certainly ‘relies on subtle implications of language’, though more often to obscure knowledge than to explain it. If a student’s ability to express themselves depends on ‘subtle implications’, then I mark them down, not up. I’ve marked plenty of students who mangle tenses and the oddities of English, but have and demonstrate a clear and subtle understanding of the law. And I likewise have all too many students who have a fine command of English, but can’t explain the law for shit. Do you really think I should deduct marks from the former category and give marks to the latter?

  15. Patrick
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    JG, I don’t think you should mark down students who can communicate their understanding of the law’s subtleties. In the case where you, with a sophisticated and detailed knowledge of the relevant law, can discern the student’s understanding, but not without reference to your existing understanding, then I think you have to mark them down.

    There is not much value in understanding something that you can’t communicate, particularly if you wish to become a service provider whose job is that communication!

  16. conrad
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    “Do you really think I should deduct marks from the former category and give marks to the latter?”

    I wouldn’t put them in competition with each other (perhaps you have to in law — I don’t in my subjects). All I do is basically go something like this: .7 * Ideas + .3 * Style = Overall Mark (very technical huh?). Of course, if people are so poor at expressing themselves that I can’t understand the ideas, then that’s another story.

    I understand the problem — in fact it occurs in multiple domains for me actually. For example, one of the subjects I teach isn’t statistics, but requires the students do some statistics on a data set. As it happens, it’s quite possible for the students to understand the main theoretical ideas, understand the main patterns in the data, but just screw the technicalities of the statistics that are not so important. Again, I think it’s just a matter of weighting things fairly — in my case, I just make the technicalities worth very few marks as I don’t really see any other way to fix this problem.

  17. Posted November 19, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    All that said, fraudulent papers, where the figures are fudged, or the experiments weren’t done at all, are worse crimes, affect more people.

    That problem is growing, big time. A recent Nature article examined Chinese scientific journals and came up with figures of 30% plagiarism and the conclusion that many of these journals existed only so that students and lecturers could shore up their publication list.

    Another study recently found the USA is a leading player in fraudulent\dumb\bad research publications.

    Numerous examples of Big Pharma using ghost writers and in one instance they even created their own journal to promote their own products.

    I’m very concerned about the pollution of information strategies and education. This is potentially dangerous and need to be addressed in a more aggressive fashion.

  18. T. A. Buckingham
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    ‘… serious efforts need to be made to undermine the credentialism that encourages people to attempt higher education when they should not’.

    Hear, hear!

    But how?

    Importantly, how would you accomplish this without exacerbating the systemic issues in contemporary education? I attended a fully-selective high school (as they call it nowadays) and whatever “English” I was taught was positively dreadful. I have learnt more about English and writing in the last three years (@ uni) than I ever did (and should have) in my adolescence.

  19. Peter Patton
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Jeremy

    [Lecturers]who insist on grading students on the quality of their English. Doing so is fine, of course, in an English course, but why is English being graded in science or law?

    Do you have examples of this? As it stands, I don’t agree at all.

    I’ve marked plenty of students who mangle tenses and the oddities of English, but have and demonstrate a clear and subtle understanding of the law.

    Maybe this is because university Law schools and studies are quite unique in their emphasis, and thus very difficult to make meaning comparisons with, say History, Sociology, Psychology, and so on.

    But even then, Is the phenomenon you think exists confined to ESL kids? Otherwise, I am dubious of there be too many undergrad Law students in Australia – and especially at the G8 – who were shit at English or essay writing in general.

    Law assessment is unusually centred on one final exam. Now, I bet even in English exams, they are far more tolerant of dangling modifiers, pronoun errors and so on than they are for their research essays.

    Law is also notorious for being upfront about its relative lack of concern for pristine long-form essays in exams. Indeed, law students are advised to use headings, dot points, numbers, and so on. I did a few Law subjects in my undergrad. My exam marks increased the more headings I used; the more I divided into sub-headings; forgetting the names of half the cases was not frowned upon.

    Where you are bang on is

    And I likewise have all too many students who have a fine command of English, but can’t explain the law for shit. Do you really think I should deduct marks from the former category and give marks to the latter?

    After first year, when a Law essay I sweated over was returned with a Pass, and comments including “This is a Law essay. Dump the style”. In other words, my English got me nowhere. Law can justify this as law school doesn’t get much more scholastically demanding than being able to spot as many issues within a two page fact pattern, within two hours.

    OTOH, I am in agreement with you on what a complete disaster the growin emphasis on the research essay is.

    Those essays may well test research and argument skills, but they often reveal very little whether or not a student understands the subject-matter being researched.

    This is not quite the same as “grading students on the quality of their English”. If you are acknowledging research essays which tick the research and rhetoric [arguments] boxes, you are talking about somebody who has gone far beyond merely being ‘good at English.’.

    Again, I am dubious that if your student has satisfied you her essay is well structured, clearly gets the questions, and expresses these very well, it could at all likely they do not understand the subject matter. Actually, impossible by definition. I would go further, and argue that outside Law, excellent command of form and written English is not the cherry on top; it is the sine qua non of an excellent research essay. But on its own, it won’t get you very far.

    Even History exams demand excellent English. Unlike the 2 page kitchen sink Law exam question, a two hour History final exam, will require you two answer two questions. Invariably, the questions are as pithy as

    Did Rome ‘Fall’?

    Was the Suez Crisis a turning point in US-Middle East Relations

    I imagine that when your Law School sets exams in subjects, which might include an essay question, such as

    Why do Australians obey the Constitution?

    the quality of English expression is exceptional.

  20. JC
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students.

    You know, SL. This doesn’t pass the smell test to me. It reminds me awfully when a prostitute is interviewed and invariably you hear about all the important clients she had/has.. lawyers, politicians and judges.

    I’d bet this isn’t true.

  21. Jeremy Gans
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    Peter: You’re right about traditional law exams, which is one of the reasons I don’t set them. There are other options to hypotheticals and research essays in law.

    You’re also right that a well structured answer that addresses the question will inevitably demonstrates a solid understanding of the subject-matter. But I don’t see why ‘good English’ is either a necessary or sufficient condition for these attributes. Maybe we’re talking about different things. (I’d hazard to guess, though, that those ‘paper mills’ deliver papers that are neither well structured nor address the question. Indeed, I believe I’ve seen some of those.)

    As for whether or not English-background students at G8 universities have good English: I guess I don’t know for sure, as I mark anonymously. But I’ve got to say that I know of no reason why the selection process for law schools is incompatible with admission of a local student with lousy English,

  22. Posted November 19, 2010 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    Ga! I remember that using someone’s pracs from the previous year (only useful in 1st and 2nd) was considered dodgy but not a mortal sin, because you only had to pass pracs, but they didn’t count to end-of-year marks (100% exams).

    Perhaps there was more “uni is to get the know-how” rather than “uni is to get the bit of paper” then.

    Even if I’m using rose-tinted retrospectacles, I’m wondering how the frauds do when they get out into the real world, and why the don’t screw up badly enough so professional associations don’t kick their arses.

    This means either that (a) the professional associations are too lax and unprofessional or (b) writing papers is unnecessary to develop professional competence.

    I suppose it’s only clear in clinical fields that incompetence becomes apparent – body counts don’t lie.

    any thoughts on what fields provide the least chance for discovery and censure of incompetence so bad the bit of paper should never have been awarded?

    Hmmm. If only we could get data from ed dante’s industry on which fields use ghosts the most, which fields least deserve public confidence, which fields need the government to step in and kick heads.

  23. Posted November 19, 2010 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] on seminary students

    Aaah, so /that’s/ why Mr “don’t always speak the gospel thruth” Rabbit left – they found out he used a ghost…
    😛

  24. JC
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    lol Dave.

    I just can’t imagine a seminary student having an essay ghosted. I thought they would be really into that crap.

    He sorta boasts about earning $66G. I’m not making any aspersions either way but it doesn’t sound like a huge load of mullah that he would talk about it that way.

  25. JC
    Posted November 19, 2010 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    What I mean Dave, is that the dude seems to be able to switch from B school to seminary school and then English lit.

    That would be really freaking hard to do and the language is different and the money he earns isn’t huge for the talent required to be able to do that.

    You could get an English professor from Harvard and I reckon he would find it hard to write a B school essay or say a science based one.

    He’s underselling his talent I reckon.

    (I think you can at times tell the background of a persons profession by the way they write .. not all the time though).

  26. Posted November 20, 2010 at 2:37 am | Permalink

    What I mean Dave, is that the dude seems to be able to switch from B school to seminary school and then English lit.

    I hate to break this to you JC, but I could do this job, and do it without raising a sweat. Writing involves a fair degree of plasticity — making yourself sound like something you are not is a large part of the process.

  27. Patrick
    Posted November 20, 2010 at 5:32 am | Permalink

    I hate to break it to you SL, but you may have missed his point. Or is $66k your price???

    If it is, I have a job offer for you!

  28. Posted November 20, 2010 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    [email protected] can’t see seminary students getting their essays written by someone else.

    Oh come on, I cannot see any seminarian, honest or not, denying the existence of a holy ghost.

  29. Posted November 20, 2010 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    [email protected] ROFL 😉

  30. Posted November 20, 2010 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Hmmm. If only we could get data from ed dante’s industry on which fields use ghosts the most, which fields least deserve public confidence, which fields need the government to step in and kick heads.

    It is worth keeping this in mind — ‘Ed Dante’ cops lots of nurses, divinity students and teachers, but he is only one. Other paper mill writers may well encounter other fields. I must admit the thought of future pharmacologists using a custom essay writer worries me more than any of the others. Getting pharmacology wrong may well involve dead people.

    I hate to break it to you SL, but you may have missed his point. Or is $66k your price???

    All job offers welcome (seriously!), but I am not motivated by money. My interest is in a job where I have control over my own hours and can keep myself intellectually busy. I don’t have children, own my house (a legacy of the times in my life when I have earnt a great deal) and will put the income from my next novel into a pension plan. As long as I have money to live an enjoyable life until the age of 70 (after which I do not plan to be around any longer), then that’s all right by me.

    FWIW John Humphreys at the Australian Libertarian Society has written some very penetrating pieces on libertarian ideas being as much about eudaimonism as about free markets. Worth a look when you’ve got some time.

  31. Patrick
    Posted November 20, 2010 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Ok, but that’s beside the point then SL, the point is not what you are personally happy with but what you could charge for your services, particularly doing the hours this guy claims to do. With your educational pedigree but not much knowledge of your work experience my estimate is at least 3 times what he is getting and up to 7 or 8 times in London or New York.

    I should withdraw that job offer then because whilst where I work we have much more flexibility than a (typical large) law firm as to when we do the hours there is not much getting around the fact that it is a 12 hour a day job, on average.

    Many thanks for the pointer to John Humphrey’s stuff however I believe that I am familiar with the basic idea he is writing about, it is my instinctive understanding of libertarianism in fact. It is one aspect of where the ‘Catholic’ strand of small-government thought comes from (although outside the US this strand normally goes to substantive rights theory like that espoused by Don Arthur).

    In ‘management’ speak the same concept is at the heart of what is called everything from ’empowerment’ and ‘ownership’ to ‘enough rope’ and a lot inbetwixt.

  32. Posted November 20, 2010 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    [email protected]: on lots of nurses – i think this might be a case of the uni course and essays being of limited value – in-hospital-training, effectively an apprenticeship in both theory and practice, was better fitted to producing the skills and personalities required for the task.

    Perhaps similarly for seminarians, there should be more focus on practical examinations – marking according to the haemoglobin content of blessed wine for example – or no recognition of clerical status by the state.

  33. Posted November 20, 2010 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Flexible hours does not mean short hours, Patrick. It means not pretending there is work when there isn’t. I’ve often worked 48 hours straight, as well as plenty of 16 hour days. But when there’s no work, I sleep, play golf (badly), hike, blog, read etc.

  34. Posted November 20, 2010 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Patrick questions the underpayment of Ed Dante. I thinking that if you have a wide curiousity, wide abilities, and seek validation of your work by the authorities, there are few better jobs – add the costs of attending the universities for all those courses to the reported salary, and you’d get a significant sum.

    Who’d employ such a smartarse with the scope to be so broad? What single academic department would provide such stimulation?

    At least Ed Dante is paid to write something he considers factual, not prostitute himself to write something serving the narrow interests of a particular company against the wider community.

    And consider this: the Ed Dante types, where producing post-grad stuff, contributing more to the common good, the body of our knowledge, than they could through any legitimate means.

    It implies that our society cannot use the full extent of the skills of such ghosts, wastes such talent, not just of these ghosts, but the many others who could do similar work.

    What kind of societal organization /could/ make the best use of such skills – the 1% (give or take) of intellectual generalists who are most likely to provide holistic and innovative ideas if those people are given the opportunity to extend themselves in all areas?

    The other side of the coin of the title of this post is “where there is a supply…” – how can we put that to best use?

  35. Posted November 20, 2010 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    [email protected]

    not prostitute himself to write something serving the narrow interests of a particular company against the wider community

    Why pick on companies? Surely, it is a much more general problem: indeed, more serious where something has coercive power to back it up rather than having to rely on regular, even daily, acts of consent for income.

  36. Posted November 20, 2010 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    [email protected] – fair enough criticism of my statement which could have been more general – but it was intended as a mere example. The wider question on the use of such resources, the supply with inefficient demand, still stands, I think.

  37. TerjeP
    Posted November 20, 2010 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    I find that I can write and speak well enough in conversation mode such as you find in a coffee shop or on a blog. However I can’t get stimulated enough to write long pieces in isolation. Communication that isn’t interactive seems somewhat pointless in my mind. Even though I love reading well written books on topics of interest.

  38. Patrick
    Posted November 20, 2010 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    You are possibly overlooking the value of Ed Dante’s work DB. My take on it was that the inherent lack of value of his work (since generally designed to do no more than satisfy the school in question that the student in question is adequate to be certified a graduate of their institution) proved the inherent lack of value of most grad papers.

    But he certainly describes it as a thrill – I’m not sure why he wouldn’t get a similar thrill being a litigator, for example, in torts.

  39. Posted November 20, 2010 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    life until the age of 70 (after which I do not plan to be around any longer), then that’s all right by me.

    Spooky, I’ve been saying the same thing about myself for years. But recently I’ve decided I may have to recant because indications are I may well live beyond 80. Bugger my body, it just won’t co-operate!

    Reminds me of a quip made by 2 doctors at a party. Both were smoking and someone castigated them for it. Their reply: longevity is over rated.

  40. Posted November 20, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    JH on SL and expiry dates at 70.

    Don’t put yourselves down too much (he he)… I imagine SL’s love of cryptics, and the obvious agility shown by many regulars here says that there’ll be lots of cognitive reserve to shuffle functions around dementia plaques, so much so that, given the likely continuation of grade inflation and curriculum content devaluation, most of us will be capable of ghosting PhDs in our 90s.

    And of course, even those of us with complete senile dementia will always be able to write perfectly incomprehensible post-cognitive lit crit.

  41. Posted November 20, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Don’t put yourselves down too much (he he)… I imagine SL’s love of cryptics, and the obvious agility shown by many regulars here says that there’ll be lots of cognitive reserve to shuffle functions around dementia plaques

    Oh I’m not that worried about dementia. It is absent in my family line but early childhood events have created a substantial risk to me, thanks to a stupid surgeon who made more mistakes than a priest in a brothel. One consequence of that is visual pathologies. In the last several years the impact of that has left me incapacitated for many years, only in the last few years did I find a partial remedy but methinks the clock is ticking. Even in this week there were 3 mornings when my vision was shot for a number of hours.

    BTW: protein tangles: I am very confident that within a decade they will have strategies to remove these tangles. In fact there is already data out there showing how this can be achieved. Ironically the studies I have in mind suggest that the solution is counter intuitive: inflammation plays a crucial role in initiating plaque clearance.

  42. Posted November 20, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    And of course, even those of us with complete senile dementia will always be able to write perfectly incomprehensible post-cognitive lit crit.

    Dave, that’s very funny. Cruel, but funny.

  43. AJ
    Posted November 20, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    I think JC and Patrick are correct. Though there is a chance there might be the occasional disaffected genius doing this, good (even decent) essays are time consuming. Even at $100 per 1000 words, it’s a low hourly rate for complex mental work.

    Also see this: http://danariely.com/2010/09/15/new-school-year-plagiarism-and-essay-mills/

  44. Peter Patton
    Posted November 20, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    With your educational pedigree but not much knowledge of your work experience my estimate is at least 3 times what he is getting and up to 7 or 8 times in London or New York.

    I would imagine if you took this attitude, you could be out of business pretty quickly. Remember, the client is not asking for a paper, which his lecturer would expect from an Oxford post grad polymath. Rather, they are asking for a 2 nd year marketing essay – or whatever- to be graded by a lecturer at Podunk State! 🙂

    So, a ghost-writer who does have those postgrad polymath skills, will just as importantly need to know what a paper awarded a ‘ Low Credit’ – or whatever the client requests.

    I imagine that 2nd year Marketing lecturer at Sally Sruthers’ University of Dawkins lecturer is going to be mighty suss if SL were to produce a paper of the same quality as even the worst paper she has ever written.

    Reading this ‘Ed Dante’ dude, I get the impression a successful academic ghost-writer would have to be very perceptive to work out what the ultimate grader of the paper is used to reading from students, and the margin of error they can presume in order for the lecturer not to smell a rat.

  45. Posted November 20, 2010 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    But he certainly describes it as a thrill – I’m not sure why he wouldn’t get a similar thrill being a litigator, for example, in torts.

    I like the thought of a former paper mill author heading off to a career in plaintiff law.

    I get the impression a successful academic ghost-writer would have to be very perceptive to work out what the ultimate grader of the paper is used to reading from students, and the margin of error they can presume in order for the lecturer not to smell a rat.

    This strikes me as true. It would, however, depend on the lecturer’s care factor, and whether the student had submitted anything other than material from the ghost writer. One would need a basis for comparison.

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John Hacking, Legal Eagle. Legal Eagle said: When there is demand…: …The market will supply. In Legal Eagle’s thread on alternative forms of assessment, Patr… http://bit.ly/aEqa5I […]

  2. […] Skepticlawyer considers another kind of deception — students who hire someone else to write their university assignments. In an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education ‘Ed Dante’ writes about his career as a ‘essay mill‘ writer. Obviously his customers want to be sure their assignment is in capable hands and he doesn’t hesitate to reassure them: […]

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