Who's Who (and Who's Not)

The first time I got a letter in the mail from Who’s Who saying that they wanted to include me, I thought I was pretty special. I had just gotten my Ph.D. and was at the Harvard Society of Fellows at the time. I called my Dad to brag.

He laughed out loud at me. “Only fools put themselves in Who’s Who,” he said. “They ask me every year, and I never fill out the form.”

When I studied the materials more closely, I came to concur with him. I can’t remember whether they actually charge you to put a listing in there, or just that you feel like you should buy the book once your name is listed. Whatever it was, I realized that if you care about getting your name in Who’s Who, you don’t belong there.

Thus, I was only half surprised to read an amazing example of investigative reporting by John Crewdson of the Chicago Tribune, in which he uncovers that many of the entries in Who’s Who falsely claim to have earned high military honors.

Out of 700 medal claims he researched, only 297 turned out to be verified in official military records — barely 40 percent. For the highest prize, the Medal of Honor, fully 93 percent of those claiming to have won it were lying.

When contacted by the Tribune, those who had made fraudulent claims had a range of responses: admitting guilt, saying it was a secretary’s mistake, or arguing that his mission was so secret that the award he won is still classified.

My favorite, however, is from Jeremiah Edmund Dorsey, whose excuse was that he meant to list his award as the Republic of Vietnam Honor Medal, not the Medal of Honor. The Republic of Vietnam Honor Medal was given to U.S. soldiers by the former South Vietnamese government, according to the article.

The only problem? Jeremiah didn’t win that one either.


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  1. econobiker says:

    I thought Who’s Whose is just for people wanting to pump up their resume, c.v., or stats for get rich quick schemes…

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  2. Alex B says:

    Of course you should be. You pratically invented pop-economics. You can go so far, and do so muuch good now if you wanted.

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  3. ruralcounsel says:

    Falsely claiming to have won the Medal of Honor is a federal crime.

    Under the new law (Stolen Valor Act, passed in 2005) , it is illegal not only to wear but to buy, sell, barter, trade or manufacture “any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed forces of the United States, or any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces.”

    No false claims permitted

    For the first time, moreover, the law prohibits even a false claim, orally or in writing, to have been awarded any badge or medal authorized for the military by Congress.

    The latter provision may present legal difficulties for anyone who, in a moment of misguided grandeur or for more nefarious reasons, awards himself an unearned decoration for heroism while composing a résumé or filling out a biographical questionnaire.

    The recent law imposes a maximum penalty of $10,000 and 1 year in prison for offenses involving the Medal of Honor or one of the military’s three other top decorations: the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross or the Air Force Cross.

    One of the four is required for induction into the Legion of Valor, which has only about 800 members nationwide. Offenses involving lesser medals carry a maximum of 6 months in jail.

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  4. Steve says:

    Boy did you get this right.

    Tell you something else: Write down the names of the next five people who are described or listed as “Dr.” on a cable news network.

    Then look up each name in dissertation abstracts.

    The number of quack, false, mail order PhDs that people use to build symbolic capital is astounding!

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  5. David says:

    “For the first time, moreover, the law prohibits even a false claim, orally or in writing, to have been awarded any badge or medal authorized for the military by Congress.”

    How many seconds before the Supreme Court overturns that on First Amendment grounds? I’ll start the countdown now: 5…4…3…

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  6. Joe B says:

    David #5 Fraud is not protected speech. The first amendment is not an absolute right to say anything you please (e.g. fire in a crowded theater)

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  7. Witty Nickname says:

    I’m in Who’s Who…. But I guess that proves your point.

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  8. kip says:

    “How many seconds before the Supreme Court overturns that on First Amendment grounds?”

    Laws against false advertising are not in violation of the First Amendment, why would this be different?

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