I no longer receive invitations to participate in Reader’s Digest prize draws, but this week I was asked, for the second year running, if I would like to appear in Who’s Who In Science And Engineering. I have no illusions about my professional standing, so my instinct was again to treat the letter as a scam and toss the accompanying form in the bin, though, if the editors’ aim is to pick money out of the pockets of the undistinguished but self-important, they choose their victims well.

Then I did, as I do, a bit of reading and a bit of Googling, to find out more. The publishers weren’t asking me for any money—unless I was vain enough to buy the book itself. They didn’t seem to have been denounced on the Web—as so often happens with real scammers these days, thank Tim. So, perhaps it wasn’t such a bad thing, maybe even something to be prouder of than an invitation to appear in the UK Who’s Who, which advertises its modernisation from being a catalogue of toffs and civil service timeservers by drawing our attention to its including TV presenters in its pages. There’s progress: from compiling a phylogeny of the inbred spawn of historical robber barons to enumerating gel-crested talking heads.

It was, however, amusing to discover how some people react to the “honour” of being listed in WWISaE. When I was a sixth-former we all used to joke about how easy it was to get into Keele. The entrance requirements were amongst the lowest of any actual university (as opposed to polytechnic). It didn’t help that their campus wasn’t that far from my home town. In those days, if you were one of the lucky minority at my school thinking seriously about university, it was considered deeply uncool to aspire to anywhere within nagging distance of your parents.

Imagine my mirth when one of the hits for my Google search about the book was for a press release from last year, issued by that same illustrious seat of learning. In it, Keele University crows that one of its faculty has been invited to appear in Who’s Who In Science And Engineering. It doesn’t mention the other 17 000 or so invitees. I am drafting a press release for the Medical Resarch Council now. They’ll be dead chuffed with my achievement. Perhaps they won’t close down my place of employment after all.