Musing about “Ed Dante”

The revelations of a “shadow scholar” who writes academic papers for pay have electrified the higher-education world, horrifying many observers while causing some faculty to nod their heads in recognition.  (The Chronicle article has received 520 comments on his story so far.) I have one small thought to add: “Ed Dante” (his pseudonym) has an interesting personality.

He reminds me of Christopher Langan, who was featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Outliers.  Christopher Langan is a genius with an IQ of 195. A child prodigy, he began talking at six months and attended school erratically — but aced the tests. Now in his fifties, he is working on a “cognitive theoretic model of the universe.” But Langan has never been able to parlay his fantastic ability into useful achievement — and he couldn’t get even a bachelor’s degree: As an undergraduate, he failed to persuade Montana State University faculty to let him change to afternoon classes after his car broke down, so he dropped out. Langan is puzzled and pained by his failures and harbors some resentment. Gladwell chose him to explain that some people lack the social or cultural skills that are needed for normal success.

Dante seems similar in that he is unable to turn his obvious talents into legitimate, satisfying work. A skilled writer (his essay is the evidence) with a gigantic work ethic, he throws enormous energy into his bogus essays. Using search engines, Google, Wikipedia, Amazon, and Google Scholar, he comes up with graduate-level papers in subjects like cognitive psychology and international diplomacy. The papers may not be that good, but the achievement is as remarkable as it is pointless.

Why is he doing this ludicrously unethical, unappreciated, underground work — for which he says, with pride, he earns $66,000 a year? I don’t know, but, clearly, something social or cultural didn’t click at a critical point. Perhaps it was when his novel was rejected, while he was in college. That rejection coincided with discovering that he could earn money writing papers for slackers. He’s been doing it ever since.

Or maybe he is writing a novel and this essay is part of it.

Jane S. Shaw — Jane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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