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5713-Dante 2

Jonathan Barkat for The Chronicle Review

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Jonathan Barkat for The Chronicle Review

Replay an earlier discussion with an academic ghostwriter who makes a living writing papers for a custom-essay company.

Wednesday, November 17, at 12 noon, U.S. Eastern time


Related article: The Shadow Scholar



The Guest:


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.



Additional materials:

Video: Journey to the Center of an Essay Mill

Cheating Goes Global as Essay Mills Multiply


1. devans - November 15, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Anti-"Shadow Scholar" Retardant

In-class, Blue-Book essay exams will put this gentleman and his colleagues out of business. If you give students a set of six questions and tell them that this list will be reduced to three on the day of the exam, they have no choice but to study. All online sources are actually useless in this situation. The exam should be closed book and closed notes, but seen beforehand. All Blue Books should be purchased by your department or you yourself and stamped in some unique fashion and handed out to the students on the day of the exam. From the first day of class, students:(1) have to take notes, (2) have to study, (3) are not compelled to cheat, and (4) have to read the text to prepare. You will probably want to make clear beforehand that no one is allowed to leave the room during the exam unless they want to forfeit their exam. Additionally, you may want to check their IDs to make sure no one is taking the exam for the student.

2. wareagle28 - November 15, 2010 at 08:33 pm

After reading this I know why there are so many incompetents in the professional ranks. I hope my cardiologist wasn't one of these. There are some people who will not benefit from a university education. Although everyone who wants to try to get an education should get their chance this doesn't mean they all should graduate. Some of them are just too dumb to do it and the system is supposed to weed them out. But the ones who really make my blood boil are the lazy rich kids. The ones who will learn enough to be able to tell others what to do; who are a part of the ruling class. Sometimes it is fitting that they should have a taste for drugs and booze.

3. nursekitty - November 16, 2010 at 09:36 am

Currently enrolled in an on-line graduate course, I have been able to read other students' posted papers. In addition, I view throughout the week my fellow students' discussion board posts and cannot offer any reasonable explanation why they should be granted a master's degree. It is not simply a matter of the lack of writing skills (although Dante's accounts were accurate). There are no original thoughts, no critical thinking, or any contribution to real discussion. Everyone agrees with everyone, even when wrong. Pharmacology students incorrectly identify medications as being appropriate and everyone politely agrees because they haven't read the material either. Professors of these on-line courses only look at formatting. If the student is able to place a running head at the top of the page, the student is guaranteed a master's degree. What a shame...I was hoping there was something more to achievement.

4. just_another_human - November 16, 2010 at 09:54 am

I too take a number of online courses on the graduate level and agree totally with what nursekitty wrote. Sometimes it truly angers me, because all of the courses I take are with cohorts of teachers. The writing is horrible, and there is little to no critical thinking displayed in any of it. I've become quite disillusioned by the whole system.

I do have some specific questions for Dante, and if the audience will not be able to ask questions, I hope the interviewer will ask these:

1. Why do you think the ESL student opted to have you do their projects, instead of doing them in their native language and then paying someone to simply translate them into English? Or, better yet, write the paper in English and then have a tutor review the paper they'd written and not only help make the paper more readable, but also take that moment to improve their English skills?

2. Were any of the papers you wrote supposedly actual research and not simply a review of literature? In other words, did you write papers that faked a true study, and thus faked data, and faked a true conclusion?

5. mdmd19 - November 16, 2010 at 11:04 am

Would all the questions for our cowardly guest (what's his real name?) be so polite if he were selling cocaine or junk bonds -- and getting paid to write about that?

6. just_another_human - November 16, 2010 at 11:39 am

He could've kept quiet, and not revealed any of this. Personally, I would like to find out more information from him.
If he wrote the papers he claims and they were published, then he was actually cheated too--cheated from receiving acknowledgement of his own intelligence and skill. If he had gotten the degrees he helped others get, maybe he'd be making more than $66,000 a year, and he could've retired on a big pension and not had to work at all. Maybe he could be writing some great spy novels, with his name on it, instead of papers for incompetent individuals.
His story is important, and if its true, we need to listen and learn from it.
The Chronicle has published several articles announcing some new research article that claims this thing or that thing, without a true critique of the actual research. I see educators tweeting about it, without actually having read the research trusting, I suppose, that it was valid research. But, often times that same research that The Chronicle is publicizing is pure junk. If the research had been properly peered reviewed, it would've never been published (or at least I hope it wouldn't have been). The research study that supposedly demonstrates Twitter raises student grades and engagement is a classic example. The research, as it was published, is not valid. Yet, The Chronicle wrote an article about it, and bunches of educators are all a-twitter about it. Do people really even care any more about true competency--that's what I question.

7. scienceguy - November 16, 2010 at 11:39 am

I would like to know if Mr. Dante has ever ghost written a paper that was later published in a peer-reviewed journal.

8. just_another_human - November 16, 2010 at 11:44 am

Me too scienceguy. Me too.

9. tolerantly - November 16, 2010 at 11:58 am

Once again, I think you guys have caused your own problems. You've managed to convince employers that a BA is necessary for answering phones; now everybody has to go to college, or believes they do. Wonderful for tuition, wonderful for professorial employment. Only most of those kids reall have no business being in college, aren't interested, don't have the brains for it. Of course they're going to cheat. You set it up so that it's inevitable.

If you went back to employers and said, "You know, sorry, we were yanking your chain; a six-month vocational training course is about all half of these kids really need, if that," the market for papers would more or less vanish overnight. But you'd have to be willing to take the hit in revenues. And you're not.

10. jruiz - November 16, 2010 at 07:13 pm

"Maybe he could be writing some great spy novels"

Coincidentally, there was a spy novel published in the mid- or late-60s titled "The Cancelled Czech" in which the protagonist, a spy and polyglot, actually does pick up extra money ghost writing students' term papers, theses, and dissertations. Don't remember the name of the author, but I believe it was the pen name of a "serious" writer.

11. benb8119 - November 16, 2010 at 09:18 pm

There's a science fiction novel about a mind reader who is in this biz. It's called Dying Inside, and it's by Robert Silverberg. Brilliant novel, actually...

12. xefer - November 16, 2010 at 09:24 pm

"Through a literary agent ..."

Red flags should be flying immediately.

The whole tone of this article strikes me as suspect. Given that this is written by someone who is a self-proclaimed practitioner of deceipt, why are we to believe that what is told in this article is the truth?

Every quote from a supposed client is perfectly crafted to bring one's blood to a boil. While what is outlined in the article I'm sure goes on to some extent, the author strikes me as a charlatan.

I believe he has duped not only his agent, but the editors of this magazine.

13. euro_trash - November 16, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Good questions raised above. Any peer-reviewed articles lately, Shadow?

14. commentary - November 17, 2010 at 09:58 am

Potential solutions:

In the first year orientation (should be required), students should be required to roughly re-write their admissions essay from memory.

Educators should stop being pals with affluent students whose parents are professors, school boosters, etc.

Educators might want to think about what papers are NOT being plagiarized and about which students ARE DROPPING his/her courses. I once sat in on an exclusive graduate "ag" seminar in which I was considering enrolling. After the second class meeting I walked out and never returned because these largely urban graduate students were studying material that I had learned by the sixth grade in my rural underfunded elementary school. I am not glossy or sophistocated and I do not participate in class, but I could have written some great stuff while I was bored out of my mind. Based on this article, I suppose I would have been suspected of plagiarism because I don't fit the "appearance" model of the successful student.

Online education has provided a wonderful avenue for bright students who might stand out due to class differences, gender, or appearance and who might be dismissed or bullied by educators "of means" in a classroom setting, to really excel.

15. phdeviate - November 17, 2010 at 10:25 am

@ tolerantly, I wonder who you think the "you" that you address your comments at is. (Well, *that* sentence demonstrates that I could work on writing too!)

As a first year PhD, adjuncting madly, I try to break some of these cycles, but I'm not prepared to take responsibility for causing them. And I don't think that the university system has created the requirement to have a BA for answering phones (and I agree with you, overinflation of job requirements is completely a factor). There has been a vast conspiracy, but no one, not even one group, has been in charge of the conspiracy.

16. euro_trash - November 17, 2010 at 11:07 am

Looking forward to this - got my popcorn and questions ready...

17. jaysanderson - November 17, 2010 at 11:55 am

I agree with devans (#1). It's not that difficult to prevent unless we become lazy or lack creativity.

I have no intention of listening to a liar and a cheat discuss the money he makes from lying and cheating. He has traded his integrity and honor for a handful of money, and helps students dispose of their integrity before they have a chance to develop any.

18. jaysanderson - November 17, 2010 at 12:01 pm

I just reread the article and I'm still angry. I would like to translate some terms used in the article:
1. "Custom essay company"= Pimp
2. "Shadow Writer"= prostitute
3. Students= johns

And, they all have in common the same rationale-"I know it's wrong, but I don't care. Heck with everyone else, it's all about me"

19. spotsalots - November 17, 2010 at 12:24 pm

The live chat is mildly interesting, but apparently is heavily moderated so that only questions perceived as good get through. I wonder whether floods of us are sending comments and questions that aren't being relayed--nothing I've sent has shown up.

20. star_eater - November 17, 2010 at 01:05 pm

devans, you are correct and are actually doing students a favor. My history professor at community college gave timed essay exams exactly like you describe. If she hadn't, I would have gone on to a four year completely unprepared. Many students dropped her class because it was "hard" and I wonder what happened to them. All my other exams until then were really multiple choice. I feel this is due to some laziness on the part of the course instructors and can understand how students can make it to a upper class or even graduate level without adequate writing preparation. Then, they get panicked and can be lured to someone like Dante. The pressures are intense and sometimes students don't see another way out. Educators must find a way to give them one; that what being a good teacher is. Unfortunately, at a college level being a good teacher is neither required or desired. Grants and research are the important things,not students.

21. spotsalots - November 17, 2010 at 01:14 pm

Thanks to Devans for the reminder. I do give essay exams, but I'd forgotten about the "give six questions ahead to prepare" route. I think that's what I'll do next term. It certainly worked for my MA comps, where we could see every question ever given before (I think it was about 75 of them) and we knew we'd get a selection from among those from which to choose. The prep and strategizing was hellish, but effective. (Not that I'll give my undergrads 75 questions--6 is plenty!)

22. graykitt - November 17, 2010 at 01:18 pm

I wonder the same thing, spotsalots. I wanted Dante to explain his change in tone: why so combative in the original essay and extremely polite in the live chat? Maybe reading all the Chronicle comments made him a bit more humble. Or maybe his literary agent coached him a bit.

23. aaaatobbbb - November 17, 2010 at 03:49 pm

I know one faculty member in JHU applied math department, who repeats all exams, all home works for his course every year. I can't understand how students would learn, if professors themselves are lazy to change questions on the tests. This is the state of academia today. Ridiculous.

24. locomotive - November 17, 2010 at 03:54 pm

Where I suspect that a student has employed the services of a ghost-writer I conduct a short (say 30 minute) oral examination, accompanied by another faculty member, and I reserve the right to fail the student based on the result of that interview.

Dr Geoffrey Alderman (UK)

25. jmarlin - November 17, 2010 at 04:37 pm

One wonders if what "Ed Dante" does could be prosecuted for conspiracy to commit fraud. I would love to see some state or federal attorney give it a shot.

John Marlin
The College of Saint Elizabeth

26. nacrandell - November 17, 2010 at 05:13 pm

"Q: Any ideas for how academics can tell if our student papers are ghost written?

A: I don't really know. I don't go to school and I don't know how the academic integrity review policy works from one institution to the next. But-and this is just me, you are welcome to disagree-I don't think professors should worry about catching cheaters. They should spend their time trying to honestly assess why students choose to cheat and finding ways to remove these motives."

1) A readability software program can determine the level of writing for comparison. (Why wouldn't a writer know this?)

2) If professors shouldn't worry about cheaters, should police officers spend their time assessing the cause of drunk driving?

3) The students are cheating for:
a. Higher grades so they can get a higher GPA or 'with honors' on their diploma to show future grad school or employer, and
b. It's easier than doing it themselves and the time/money trade makes sense to them.

The answer is responsibility - assign reasonable work rather than busy work and monitor the progress of the student.

In a large survey course the assignments should not be over five (5) pages -

1) The teacher does not have the time to review 200 twelve (12) page reports and a small assignment will not be cost effective for a ghost-writer and student.

2) The shorter the paper the better chance the student will actually write it instead of farming it out.

(An assignemnt 3-5 pages is also a practical teaching tool for use in future business - the manager will not want a thesis, but a clear and concise memo/reply.)

For higher courses, a series of deadlines and comparison of work product should eliminate the casual and tempted cheater.

27. camgray - November 17, 2010 at 05:56 pm

Those who say students are not shooting themselves in the foot have never hired anyone. It is clear when a student cannot communicate ideas well in either written or verbal form. The more a student cheats, the less practice he/she receives, the worse the chances for a job and success in that job. Even if you never remember the topic for your sophomore history paper, you will get better from the experience of writing it.

I agree with the many comments that the meaning of a Bachelor's, Masters, and yes, even PhDs have been dramatically reduced by one, the demand that every factory worker have one, and two, the proliferation of colleges that provide them. If everyone now has to have an MA to replace what a BA meant 20 years ago, then we will continue to see declining standards of scholarship to generate more degrees.

The question about fraud has been submitted and I would guess the answer is "yes" from the minute he logged on to a state university site and pretended to be someone else.

Finally, as someone who started teaching before the internet revolution, I must say that while there is easier access to such people as our author the ability to grab papers from a file in a frat house basement or pay the bright kid in the class to write for you is nothing new. Ghost writers are also comments in the literary world. Dante would be better served looking for a job in that area where his work doesn't hurt anyone. Thanks to all, I have gotten some great assignment ideas from reading this comment section!

28. aisoc - November 18, 2010 at 03:56 am

@ No. 5 mdmd19: "Would all the questions for our cowardly guest (what's his real name?) be so polite if he were selling cocaine or junk bonds -- and getting paid to write about that?"

Well, there is nothing wrong with junk bonds. All these are are high-yielding bonds with a high risk of default. All sorts of investors have done well and poorly with junk bonds, just like every other financial instrument.

As for cocaine. People would ask questions politely because those who want to really understand the problem would not immediately condemn the interviewee. Also, these questions would be screened as they were for this interview, meaning only polite questions woud be show up (comments and questions have to be approved by the moderator).

29. tangumonkem - November 18, 2010 at 11:12 am

Excelnet points and suggestion. In Cameroon we took our exams under such conditions, and cheating in the final was not easy. You either know of you don't. Separation between A and B students was not difficult.

30. dcritchett - November 18, 2010 at 12:31 pm

When reading Mr. Dante's responses to questions, I thought of Winston Smith. His job rewriting history at the Ministry of Truth gave him the only sense of accomplishment he had, even though it meant lying in the service of the State.

31. x1234 - November 18, 2010 at 01:34 pm

"2) If professors shouldn't worry about cheaters, should police officers spend their time assessing the cause of drunk driving?"

How in the world does this make sense? How are these two things related? Why should the recommendations made by Dante be extended to law enforcement?

This discussion would be a lot more interesting and useful if people didn't resort to hyperbole.

"Maybe reading all the Chronicle comments made him a bit more humble."

Or maybe the questioners became more humble from reading and reflecting on what he wrote?

32. nacrandell - November 18, 2010 at 05:00 pm

@31 x1234 "Why should the recommendations made by Dante be extended to law enforcement?"

A professor enforces the university's rules/regulations on academic honesty and a police officer enforcers the community's laws. Dante's suggestion that professors spend more time assessing the why a student might cheat instead of enforcement is self-serving to the cheating student and the ghost-writer through this delay.

As long as enforcement is either lax or if the departments are technologically behind, the criminal activity can continue - or as Tony Curtis said in 'Operation Petticoat', “In confusion there is profit.” And, as long as there is a profit for the ghost-writer and an easy grade for the student , it will continue.

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