August 26, 2012

A young man, angry at academia, becomes a ghostwriter for students....

... taking money to help them cheat. And then he quit:
Eventually, the strain of 20-hour workdays, arguments with self-righteous clients, and the looming sense that he could be doing something better with his life got to him.

A discussion about two years ago with a friend about Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers crystallized his discontent. In that book, Mr. Gladwell describes 10,000 hours as the amount of time someone needs to truly master a skill. Mr. Tomar did a rough calculation of how much time he had spent writing papers since 2000. At a minimum, he had spent 25,000 hours doing it. He was done.
Note his almost complete lack of guilt over the deceit.

And he wrote a book: "The Shadow Scholar: How I Made a Living Helping College Kids Cheat."

I'm not really recommending that you read that book. You'd be better off with "Outliers." (Or something else from Amazon through the Althouse portal, which allows you, costlessly, to reward me for providing you with all this deceit-free writing.)

77 comments:

whoresoftheinternet said...

So this is how Obama raised his grades after his (predictably) horrible first year at Harvard Law.

That, and taking seminars, especially those with titles like "Race & Politics" and "Race and the Law."

Lindsey Meadows said...

Why is everything about Obama for some of you? This is a good topic.

I lost a stipend to another student who I know used ghosted papers so I'm into this one. Moreover, I do believe in the idea of practice of a skill to learn it and then become part of it. I took violin since age 4 and never regret the hours.

Rick Caird said...

I suppose, then, that Obama could not find someone to ghost write an article for him to publish in the Harvard Law Review.

Lindsey Meadows said...

Hey Rick...did you go to Harvard Law? Where you on the Review? Are you president? No?

I'm not the topic police but you one note Johnnys are simplistic and predictable to the core.

whoresoftheinternet said...

Why is everything about Obama for some of you?

---Because he has ruined America.

Moreover, I do believe in the idea of practice of a skill to learn it and then become part of it.

---Since most humanities are fluffy jokes nowadays, I actually give many of these jokers a pass. Once upon a pre-government-loan-subsidized, pre-eeoc time, the writing was scrutinized and improved in these courses, and the research was made rigorous. Now, with fake degrees (women's studies, queer studies, black studies, sociology) and fake students (affirmative action, expanded class sizes and lowered standards due to loan subsidization), the writing is barely glanced at to pass the kid and take their loan payment.

Remember that physicist back in the 90s who wrote the fake sociology paper where he spewed a bunch of nonsense about physics being racist/sexist/conformist to the white male hierarchy? And then it got published? And then he completely embarrassed them by revealing it?

The humanities are a joke nowadays, as are the soft sciences.

And fuck Obama.

Maguro said...

If you've got a term paper - you didn't write that. Someone else made that happen.

EMD said...

Of course he wrote a book about it.

Lindsey Meadows said...

well you certainly do sound the clarion call of enlightenment.

whoresoftheinternet said...

@Rick Caird:

I suppose, then, that Obama could not find someone to ghost write an article for him to publish in the Harvard Law Review.

---Well, it probably never occurred to Mein Obama that he had to publish one---he's not like the other students, don't you see.

Paddy O said...

The amount of time he spent ghost writing could have been put to better use getting his own advanced degree, learning how to enjoy learning for its own sake.

Mastering a skill takes 10000 hours, I suppose. But writing college level term papers is a pretty limited skill to master. What he really mastered was bitterness. Also a pretty limited skill.

m stone said...

Contrary to Gladwell's premise, doing something for 10,000 hours does not assure proficiency. A smaller percentage actually master a skill.

whoresoftheinternet said...

@Lindsey:

well you certainly do sound the clarion call of enlightenment.

---Yes, I forgot with you people on the kool aid that any criticism of the leftist diversity dogma=burn the witch! Ostracize him! Shame him!

No truth must be told to p.c. ears.

Lindsey Meadows said...

you are just full of shit.

EMD said...

Lindsey-

On non-Obama threads, I usually just skip the Obama comments (unless they are truly related).

whoresoftheinternet said...

@Lindsey:

Sticking your head in the sand will only work for so long, dear one.

Lindsey Meadows said...

EMD said...
.."usually just skip the Obama comments"

good point. so maddening.

Lindsey Meadows said...

whoresoftheinternet...

you are the proverbial limp dick up the ass of reason.

wyo sis said...

I have to agree with Paddy O. College term papers wouldn't tax most people. Maybe making a college term paper sound like a college undergraduate wrote it would be more difficult.

It's always a surprise to me that people will work so hard to cheat. All that hard work applied to the task would be a much better use of time.

What will we do with a nation full of very accomplished cheaters? It doesn't seem like a winning strategy.

Lindsey Meadows said...

@emd

that was, I thought, rather poetic of me...:)

jimbino said...

I am 100% in favor of gaming the system this way.

I have taught English, Math, Physics, Hypnotism, and Card Magic to kids and adults in several countries and in several languages, never worrying about their faking it.

The focus on teaching certification, bar exams, SATs scores, etc, is totally misguided.

Wozniak, Jobs, Milton Friedman, Michael Dell, Bill Gates and I are all drop-outs from that certification system. May it die, the sooner the better.

Socrates would understand.

whoresoftheinternet said...

@Lindsey:

And you are proverbial raped vagina, always welcoming back your assailants.

rcocean said...

The free market at work.

Lindsey Meadows said...

Do you suppose that this has anything whatsoever to do with the sorry rankings in academic achievement in comparison with the rest of the 1st world?

I don't know how you could cheat in math - either you can do it or you can't. Science is ripe for ghosting; particularly with the pseudo crap science so common.

ampersand said...

Why piss on this guy. How's he different from a ghostwriter or speech writer for a politician?

Methadras said...

But he is at a loss to say precisely what colleges should do
differently. "We are so deeply entrenched for a lot of economic reasons in this cost structure where colleges have inflated their costs so dramatically, but the return on it is completely static," he said. "I
think everyone is a co-conspirator.


There is only one answer to this. Government student loans. They are the sole reason that universities have inflated their prices to the point of unsustainability. It's free money to the universities and they can charge whatever they want. They make it so that the average student can't afford tuition normally, they have to get a student loan, go to the government for it, they get it, pay the university with tax payer dollars and the cycle continues and it gets worse.

Pogo said...

10,000 hours writing stupid college term papers made him an expert at writing stupid college term papers.

Woo hoo!

When my daughter was at Mizzou, billionaire Wal-Mart heirs Nancy and Bill Laurie had to take their daughter Paige's name off of the new Paige sports arena because it was discovered that she paid a roommate $20,000 to do her coursework at the University of Southern California.

whoresoftheinternet said...

@ampersand:

Why piss on this guy. How's he different from a ghostwriter or speech writer for a politician?

---Ann's pissed because she knows she's created this industry. She barely looks at exams and papers, gives a pass to anything resembling a sentence, and spends most of her free time blogging and posting pictures, instead of training lawyers how to lawyer.

She realizes she makes fluff. She doesn't like being exposed to that truth. So she attacks the messenger---this dude, who a mere cursory glance at the papers whilst going off to do a bloggingheads session could have exposed.

Ann Althouse said...

By the way, this is why law schools do well with the tradition of proctored, time-limited exams. I never worry that my students didn't do the writing.

I would hate to think I was reading something that the student did not write. I would be truly outraged, beyond the normal outrage at cheating, that I was spending my time reading something completely worthless.

whoresoftheinternet said...

@Lindsey:

Do you suppose that this has anything whatsoever to do with the sorry rankings in academic achievement in comparison with the rest of the 1st world?

---No.

That has to do with 2 things:

1) Race

2) Lefties always wanting to put down U.S. education achievements to get more money.

Ironic, isn't it?

EMD said...

that was, I thought, rather poetic of me...:)

I also skip self-congratulatory bullshit.


Maguro said...

What's even more objectionable than the cheating is the dude's hairstyle. Jheri curls on a white guy, really?

chuck said...

My credit card identity was stolen some years back. One of the bogus purchases was from an odd sounding company. Curious, I gave them a call to see what they did, and it turned out that they wrote term papers for college students. The guy I talked to was a bit defensive but I just wanted to know what the folks using my identity were buying. Now I wonder Dave Tomar worked for them.

Mark Nielsen said...

@Lindsey: "I don't know how you could cheat in math - either you can do it or you can't."

More or less true. I'm a Math professor at a western state university, and I see plenty of attempts in my classes, but it's often counterproductive. There are websites now like Cramster (now Chegg, I guess) where students can get solutions to homework problems, but that doesn't help prepare them for the tests.

Kathy said...

Trust me - folks - we college teachers can bust a ghost paper in a New York minute nowdays. Plagiarism software has come a long - long way since these memorists scribe their sad tales of (probably) before broadband .....

Ask any college prof about all the many and multiple ways we know to catch even a single uncredited sentence that has been lifted - never mind full paragraphs.

Steel Turman said...

" ... What will we do with a nation full of very accomplished cheaters? ... "

Haven't we found that out in the last few years?

John Lynch said...

I had a customer who wanted me to deliver two beers with his pizza.

I didn't. It's illegal and against company policy. He stiffed me.

Every man has his price. Mine's higher than 10 dollars.

I suppose I could have gotten into the business of writing papers for money, but I left school because of the papers. Writing papers that no one will read is a pointless waste of time. I guess this man found a way to make it worthwhile, and that's something.

I find it odd that professors would accept well-written papers from students that never showed any indication that they were able to write them.

In class essays.

William said...

As Paddy O points out he wasn't practicing his writing so much as perfecting his cynicism. How many hours must one work at such an activity to become so truly jaded that you are unable to take an honest measure of yourself and others. My guess is that the truly gifted can reach an accomplished level of cynicism in far less than 10,000 hours.

Thomas W said...

Shades of Lawrence Block's "Tanner" books. The main character ghosted papers, PhD theses, etc. for a living.

I have to agree with the comment on Outliers -- certainly one needs many hours of practice to master something, but not everybody can master a skill (Condoleezza Rice relates realizing that however much she practiced, she would never be a world class pianist). The other piece is that somebody who doesn't have a real love for doing something (and an aptitude helps a lot) won't spend the thousands of hours required to master the skill.

Luke Lea said...

Just goes to show that smart and good are not the same thing. Where does that leave the concept of meritocracy? If the best aren't always the brightest and the brightest aren't always the best, is the assumption buried in the phrase, "the best and the brightest," a sin against the republic? Ask the Ivy League.

creeley23 said...

Trust me - folks - we college teachers can bust a ghost paper in a New York minute nowdays.

Kathy: Sounds good, but do you bust ghost papers? How does that work and how does it work out?

Ralph L said...

I never worry that my students didn't do the writing
Do they check IDs? Ted Kennedy sent a friend in to take his Spanish exam, IIRC.

We had an honor system in which (for almost all classes) you could take your 3 hr exam in the AM or PM over 4 days, but you had to stay in the building, and you couldn't talk to anyone about it (the hardest part).

The one take-home exam I had was in Geometry, in which the prof asked things completely unlike the proofs we'd done in class, like how to trisect an angle with compass and straight edge.

Kathy said...

Creely23 - You asked how it works when I discover plagiarism (of even the most minor kind) in my students' papers......

I bust them to the hills. They get an F for the paper (although - per college regs I could report them to the Dean) and then they have to meet with me like.....ten or fifteen times to show me every single though they have as it progresses in their final essay.

It happens every semester - a few times. I try to scare them about my tactics early on but there are always those poor few fools who try to squeak by.

And unless they meet with me on my schedule (at my convenience - not theirs) to re-draft a paper with a big 'plagiarism penalty' already having been established in our early negotiations to save their ass -

they fail my course.

Mark Nielsen said...

@RalphL: "...the prof asked things completely unlike the proofs we'd done in class, like how to trisect an angle with compass and straight edge."

Wow. Kim Jong Il could've done that, no doubt. Probably Obama as well. Right after he stopped the rise of the oceans.

creeley23 said...

Kathy: Whoa! That's some tough love. Good for you.

How are other teachers on plagiarism?

Ann Althouse said...

"Do they check IDs? Ted Kennedy sent a friend in to take his Spanish exam, IIRC"

The students know each other. If someone not in the class were in the exam room, a lot of people would notice. And since there is a required curve, cheating affects everyone's grade. The risk would be huge.

PatCA said...

Yes, he was cheating, and yes, the colleges are cheating too. The administration is happy not to know about such things because it's all about the numbers. Cram those students in, especially the handicapped and the veterans and minorities because they come with more federal money!

But two wrongs don't make a right. I hope he doesn't profit even more from his sins.

Sad thing is, his own dreamy illusions sunk him as an undergrad. Colleges know these weaknesses and exploit them.

The only time you can really enjoy learning for its own sake is when you don't need it; hence, the "mature student" that every prof loves to have in class.

wyo sis said...

If the point of the assignment is to do research and produce an essay based on that research it might not be possible to have all the writing done under supervision.
Under those circumstances it would be a very good thing if every student had a teacher like Kathy.
I always had to show the progression of my ideas through notes and rough draft edits, but that was in the dark ages before the internet.

bagoh20 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bagoh20 said...

This is why the educational part of a resume is not very useful and why school is just not worth the cost. If you are hiring someone based on a metric that can be faked, then you need to discount that.

In job interviews I often have a test, either verbal or written, where I have candidates actually try to solve a real life problem that my company would encounter and that this position would have to solve. With just a very few well designed questions like that, you can tell if someone has the knowledge and skill to do what their resume says they should be able to do. It doesn't prove they went to school or even did well if they did go, but it will tell you what you need to know: can they do the job? The rest is irrelevant, and if you paid a lot for that sheepskin, then I'm sorry.

Consequently, I have high school graduates, who probably couldn't speak or write well enough to get into college, but who make over or near 6 figures, because they are very capable and produce, period. We just keeping it real up in here.

Kathy said...

wyo si - I build into my syllabus all the progressive stages of producing an MLA or APA seminar level research paper - as do my colleagues in English 2 or English 102 in colleges all across Wisconsin and many other states.

Students are now required to post digitally their progressive work in weekly sequences- and this does catch an awful lot of potential plagiarism. Still -there are always those poor fools who try to game the system...and we catch them as they flounder and fail to show authentic arguments.

Although my avatar suggest I am kind of 'way old school' I am really not and .....in answer to Creely 23 - most of my colleagues in the department are on my same page....

Those ghosted papers have been relegated to 'ancient' history - for a long time - but then you know how fast technology has developed over the years.

We are on top of even one plagiarized sentence now days - forget whole essays. Trust me.

Kathy said...

Baghop20 - You are completely awesome in the way you organize your decision process to hiring anyone with a good mind on their shoulder.

If only we could have you in charge of selecting something as important to our nation as .....you know......our next American President ......who I think we all would agree is the most powerful person on our planet Earth?????

Could you like arrange a way to moderate one of the upcoming debates? We need you.

Ralph L said...

Wow. Kim Jong Il could've done that, no doubt
? Not since he died. Obama ain't smart enough. Why do you think he hides his transcripts? No math or science courses for non-athletes/humanities majors.

I didn't say it was tough--I got a 100 on the exam--but most of it was unlike anything in class, where we never so much as talked about a compass. I think a few people freaked and did poorly.

Lindsey Meadows said...

http://poetsandquants.com/2012/02/01/ucla-rejects-12-mba-applicants-for-plagiarism/

bagoh20 said...

If a student were to answer a question with something like: "Nothing I can produce is superior to what Joe Expertini wrote in 1963 on the subject, so I will quote him here, and only add that I agree with him entirely.

Now if that quote did address the issue perfectly, what would be wrong with that? Would that be graded worse than a less adequate answer that was original?

bagoh20 said...

Kathy, I think the debates could easily do that, and they do have a few questions that are like that, but the majority of the time is spent kind of trying to look good and get sound bites. Everybody from the candidates to the press is looking to make an impression rather than find solutions, or even figure out who has them.

For example: What would you do to increase jobs over the next 4 years? Now, they either have a plan or not, and it's likely to have been done to some degree before with results that can be measured. Just answer a bunch of questions like that, and avoid the crap about the horse race, the campaign itself (who's doing what lies to who), and what they feel about the recent kerfuffles in the media. I don't need Romney to explain "legitimate rape" of for Obama to explain "putting y'all in chains".

Just, what's your plan? Explaining that will automatically tell us all we need to know about their ideology, fitness, motivations, and seriousness.

Then we hold the winner to his word, or he's out next time.

whoresoftheinternet said...

@althouse:

The students know each other. If someone not in the class were in the exam room, a lot of people would notice. And since there is a required curve, cheating affects everyone's grade. The risk would be huge.

--Oh hahahhaha.

b.s.

most law classes that have a final exam are large enough so people can not know one another. Even in smaller ones, people will be so focused on the exam they hardly have the mental strength to bust someone for being a "plant" unless warned previously. And all some kid has to say if questioned is "hey, I just never came to class."

Althouse, if you think you haven't been gamed like that, you're a fool. The incentive for good grades---especially first year grades--is huge. Top 10% is all big firms look at unless its Harvard, etc. Top 10% is all that gets you an automatic spot at Law review (others can tryout, usually, via an essay contest, which, also, can be gamed). Thus, at a marginal law school, or even a very good one not named Harvard, Yale, or Stanford, the risks of sending a plant to ace your exam (because they've taken it a bunch of other times, or taken similar ones at other law schools) are balanced out by the reward.

Meanwhile, smaller classes---seminars---typically require the papers. Which, again, are easily gamed. Kathy's assertion aside, a bad paper merely gets you a bad grade, but a good one of good quality can be paid for.

Now, Althouse, about that bridge I want to sell you...

Revenant said...

Do you suppose that this has anything whatsoever to do with the sorry rankings in academic achievement in comparison with the rest of the 1st world?

How could we have sorry rankings? We spend more per student than anyone but Switzerland AND we have a highly unionized, government-employed education workforce!

Massive spending + unions + government control = awesome! Everyone knows that.

edutcher said...

Ann uses an interesting turn of phrase, "self-righteous clients".

A self-righteous cheat?

Yeah, that does sound like Choom.

Lindsey Meadows said...

and Revenant we have crumby family support for education and a whole host of social issues, not the least of which is a short school day and year, fools on textbook commissions filling books with pseudo science, and a public that looks to the schools to do things that they (families) should be doing.

Don't just knee-jerk "teachers unions". Knee-jerk "no child left behind", creationism, AP classes (yes AP classes that suck up the good teacher's time, are horribly expensive, and filled with kids who could learn in their sleep).

Ask yourself why the high schools are subsidizing kids with college credit instead of reaching for teachers unions. I started college essentially as a second year student because of AP and it cost my HS a bundle in time and resources - far more than any kid outside of special education.

Ralph L said...

AP brings the curriculum up closer to where the better high schools were 60 or 80 years ago.

Lindsey Meadows said...

I agree with you Ralph...the problem is that the entire system is so dumbed down that AP is just a free college ride for the best students, generally from families who can afford college. I figure I got about $25,000 in free tuition in high school. I loved it but it isn't fair.

Rusty said...

Lindsey Meadows said...
Why is everything about Obama for some of you? This is a good topic.

I lost a stipend to another student who I know used ghosted papers so I'm into this one. Moreover, I do believe in the idea of practice of a skill to learn it and then become part of it. I took violin since age 4 and never regret the hours.


Lindsey. Meet Ollie.
Ollie Lindsey.

Roger J. said...

I am a bit iconclastic when it comes to writing papers--I teach a masters level course in public health and do not require a paper. Most people in public health do not write papers, and by the time they get to the master's level they already have had sufficient practice.

I rely instead on journaling where the students tell what they learned from the course. Journaling lets me know what students have taken away from the course, and it also helps me modify my syllabus when I find they missed some (what i considered to be) important points. And yes, I provide time for them in or out of class to journal.

wyo sis said...

Roger J
I think you're right. The classes I've taken that require journaling are much more rigorous.
I find that journaling is very helpful in science and technology classes. It's extremely time consuming, but has a great payout in terms of retention. It's more like real world experience. You have to be able to produce something in the end.

Roger J. said...

Wyo Sis--my use of journaling stems from my belief that reflective learning is a very important life long skill. So far it seems to have worked.

EMD said...

AP is just a free college ride for the best students, generally from families who can afford college

In my school district, you have to pay to take AP classes.

Astro said...

I wouldn't seriously recommend anything by Gladwell. I suppose it's useful to read one of his books to understand his 'schtick', but the problem with his books is that he picks and edits his examples to fit his thesis; it's all argument by anecdote. After the first story you think, 'Hmmm,' but after the 9th one you think," Wait a minute..."
Also, in one of his books (I think it was 'Blink') he mentioned how short (or tall) everyone was who he'd interviewed. Why would anyone worry about such irrelevant facts and be so unaware of it?

Ken said...

"Note his almost complete lack of guilt over the deceit."

Since pretty much all of academia is a deceit, he shouldn't feel any guilt. Look at the way the university system takes advantage of its students, taking money from them, encouraging deep indebtedness, and failing to provide any education at all.

PatCA said...

Actually, US universities are rated higher than most European ones. In Europe, I have heard that once you enroll you are pretty much guaranteed a diploma. In the US, this is not the case.

Balfegor said...

Re: Mark Nielsen (re cheating on math tests):

More or less true. I'm a Math professor at a western state university, and I see plenty of attempts in my classes, but it's often counterproductive.

In college, a strikingly high percentage of my math exams were take home, open book, affairs, precisely because if you hadn't got the material, all the cheat sheets in the world wouldn't help you, short of getting someone else to actually do the entire exam for you. Apart from the honour code, you couldn't do something like that at a small college like mine (Harvey Mudd) without everyone knowing.

Re: Revenant:

How could we have sorry rankings? We spend more per student than anyone but Switzerland AND we have a highly unionized, government-employed education workforce!

With a deeply ingrained ethos of cheating! It's always amusing to me when people complain about how Chinese students are always cheating on exams, as though cheating isn't rampant among American students. As the teacher/principal-masterminded cheating scandals illustrate nicely, it's certainly not limited to the students.

Smilin' Jack said...

...Chinese students are always cheating on exams...

Chinese students cheat by being smarter and working harder than Americans. Totally unfair.

Ken Green said...

Ghostwriting papers for exams must have a long, long pedigree. One character in fiction from 1966 wrote theses and term papers for a living:

http://www.amazon.com/Thief-Couldnt-Sleep-Tanner-Mystery/dp/0451194039

I suspect the practice arose shortly after someone came up with the idea of requiring writing assignments as a pre-requisite for attaining a degree.

Balfegor said...

Re: Smilin' Jack:

Chinese students cheat by being smarter and working harder than Americans. Totally unfair.

Ah, yes:

And all the world over, each nation's the same
They've simply no notion of playing the game
They argue with umpires, they cheer when they've won
And they practice beforehand which ruins the fun
!

All joking aside, though, Chinese students really do have a problem with cheating. But that's because a lot of them are, if anything, even more credential-driven than Americans.

ErnieG said...

If he's as prolific a writer as he claims, and as good, he could just go to Amazon or a book store and see what the hot non-fiction topic of the day is. Then he could hold his nose and grind out one a week. Working on a dozen at a time would not be out of the question. He could be the Stephen King of motivation, or self-help, or junk management, or sales.

buster said...

A couple of decades ago I spent several years on the faculty committee that dealt with cases of student plaigerism at the University of Southern California Law School. There were few cases, but the vast majority of them involved Oriental students. (There were more of them at USC than at most other schools.) What struck me is that almost none of the plaigerists seemed to trying to get a good grade without working for it. Usually the student had worked very hard (as shown by an otherwise good-to-excellent record), but had somehow gotten in over his head and simply couldn't face the prospect of failure. The students were typically terrified of disappointing their parents.

Methadras said...

Ann Althouse said...

By the way, this is why law schools do well with the tradition of proctored, time-limited exams. I never worry that my students didn't do the writing.

I would hate to think I was reading something that the student did not write. I would be truly outraged, beyond the normal outrage at cheating, that I was spending my time reading something completely worthless.


And yet, you have almost no way of knowing.

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