Just got this letter, on official-looking paper with an official-looking stamp:
Dear Mr. Dingemanse:
You have been nominated to appear in Great Minds of the 21st Century, a major reference directory including just 1,000 of the world’s top thinkers and intellectuals. (…) The ABI is contantly engaged with research centers throughout the world as well as its own global network of research advisors sitting on an international board. When the Institute is compiling a volume, these factors come together to point out individuals, through personal nomination, who deserve the recognition of inclusion in a biographical volume. Your contributions to the field of science have warranted the high regard of nomination for Great Minds of the 21st Century.
That’s impressive — but it sounds just a liiiiittle bit fishy, doesn’t it? As it turns out, the American Biographical Institute, which sends out these letters, has been in business for a long time. Here’s the catch:
Inclusion in a volume as prestigious as Great Minds of the 21st Century is quite an accolade, and to celebrate the occasion we offer several mementos, including keepsake copies of the volume at discounted rates to those included only. A Medal of unequaled quality and molded only for Great Minds of the 21st Century honerees is of special significance, as is the Proclamation Plaque designed to indicate your unique selection for this volume.
For $395, I learn, I can get the ‘medal of unequaled quality’; and for a mere $595 I get a Hardbound Luxury Keepsake Issue of the 5th Edition of Great Minds of the 21st Century embellished with gold engravings. Remember, just 1,000 of the world’s top thinkers and intellectuals will be included. What an honour!
But then, who says that they send this letter to just 1,000 people? Chances are it goes to at least a couple thousands more, maybe even in the ten thousands — and that they start publishing to commemorate hitting the mark of the first 1,000 Great Fools of the 21st Century. In fact, here’s someone who once worked at ABI explaining how they work:
ABI buys mailing lists from organizations. Using those names, they send out blanket mailings inviting individuals to be in biographical books. When the forms come back to ABI, they’re marked (A) buy, (B) bill and (C) no sale. A forms go directly to the “editors,” data-entry drones making minimum wage who never went to college and are beholden to type a certain amount of entries per day. B forms go next. C forms are saved in a pile, and the best are used to fill in the holes in titles such as “2000 Women of Distinction” et. al.
Nah, I think it’s not for me. But if you want a nomination, let me know — they also kindly provided me with a section where I can nominate ten colleagues so as to ‘assist in their research process’.