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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COMMENTS: 22


  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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  9. JoeThePlumber says:

    While I have no idea if I’m in the “Who’s Who” (I’m probably not). I’d support a twist – with a taste of information asymmetry – to Groucho Marx’ disrespect for this kind of clubs: If they propose without knowing what I know about myself, they are a bunch of idiots. If they do propose knowing it, tells me a lot about fellow members.

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  10. darth says:

    Re: #5

    Is it really so obvious that the law would be unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds?

    There seem to be many kinds of speech and speech related conduct (speaking and writing) that can be unlawful–especially when false–without running afoul of the First Amendment.

    What about slander and libel? Perjury? Filing false tax returns? Falsely claiming entitlement to some government benefit? Fraud? Voter fraud?Misrepresentation? Lying to get certain identity documents? Securities fraud?

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  11. Daniel says:

    Until I saw this article, I thought that the Who’s Who list is simply a way for sophisticated burglars to pick their victims. Now it looks like it has a genuine use. The government can now catch all the yahoos falsly claiming military decorations in 1 place.

    BTW – I saw a story on the news about some genuine Medal of Honor winners who were exposing the fakers in their spare time. One of them became really depressed when he realized that the genuine Medal of Honor winners were outnumbered by the frauds. How much worse is it if 93% are fakes.

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  12. Doug Sterner says:

    The Stolen Valor Act (which I authored and shepherded through Congress), has already faced the Constitutional test TWICE…and won both times. For more informtion on the legislation calling for a national database that would quickly verify awards, as well as preserve the history of TRUE heroes, see http://www.homeofheroes.com/rollofvalor

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  13. Jason says:

    When I was in college, two students started a new “honor society” and invited everyone with a certain GPA (which was almost everyone thanks to grade inflation). Amazing how many people signed up and paid a fee:

    http://media.www.dukechronicle.com/media/storage/paper884/news/1994/09/21/UndefinedSection/National.Honor.Society.Headquartered.In.Mailbox-1438857.shtml

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  14. EM says:

    I tend to take many things with a grain of salt, but this is honestly disgusting that people would falsely claim to receive such high honors, many without even providing a day of service to their country.

    The saddest part of this story is that for people like Marcus Luttrell (read Lone Survivor for an amazing story of the heroes of SEAL Team 10 in Afghanistan) who truly deserved an honor like the Navy Cross, their deeds are trivialized by people falsely claiming to be on that level.

    Another thing, I know that a lot of these men who have won such awards are not quick to list it on a CV or a Who’s Who. To me, when I hear someone speak about these awards, they are honored to be recognized, but given the situations they are usually presented under, I think many of them would rather have their comrades by their sides than be able to list a medal on their resumes.

    It’s one thing to embellish about a job, but to go so far as to say that you are a recipient of a military honor is disgusting. Too many people have died for their friends and brothers and country to allow that kind of behavior. I support the Stolen Valor Act.

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  15. Christian Zimmermann says:

    Re: modesty of true medal winners. There is also the story of the Vietnam vet who disclosed only a Purple Heart to his family, hiding 100+ other medals:

    http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081017/NEWS/810170382/-1/NEWS01

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  16. Celeste says:

    My first hint that the ‘Who’s Who’ was a joke was when my cousin was invited to the ‘Who’s Who of American Highschool students’, about a month after she dropped out. Ever since, I’m wary of any honor society.

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  17. stephanie says:

    From what I understand, almost every educator and/or school in the country is sent nomination forms, and can nominate any student they choose for the Who’s Who among High School and University students. “Qualifications” needed are entirely at the discretion of the person doing the nominating.

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  18. Neam says:

    You don’t “win” the Medal of Honor.

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  19. Eric M. Jones says:

    The sociopaths seem to be winning. As Lily Thomlin says, “It’s hard to stay cynical enough to keep up with reality.” My accountant’s standard is “What would Nixon do?” You can’t trust the banks, the government, M.O.H. recipients. When I fought my latest traffic ticket I printed my name and added a few random letters after it. Seemed to work…

    Eric M. Jones, h.t.ML

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  20. jimi says:

    @19 Eric M. Jomes,h,t,ML-

    please expand…..

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  21. Clyde Kahrl says:

    Last week I received an application to complete a bio of my 5th grade son, for his entry into Who’s Who in American Middle School Students.

    I am not making this up.

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  22. Kanwal Malik says:

    OMG..They even contacted me and were like you are nominated from Pakistan!!!! hahahaha

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