The Questionable Authority

What’s more pompous: an accomplished professional woman who went back to school and earned a doctorate at age 55, or a newspaper setting itself up as the arbiter of who should be allowed to use that title?

The LA Times apparently thinks that the person who earned the degree is the pompous one, but that’s not really much of a surprise, since they’re the ones claiming the mantle of arbiter of faith and morals in this case. Apparently, they don’t think people should use the title “Doctor” unless they’re MDs. In support of their position, they trotted out a number of dubious quotes from authorities that can best be described as, well, questionable. (Note the lowercase “q”.)

I really loved this particular gem:

“My feeling is if you can’t heal the sick, we don’t call you doctor,” said Bill Walsh, copy desk chief for the Washington Post’s A section and the author of two language books.

A quick search of the Post’s website turns up quite a few mentions of “Dr. Kissinger” and “Dr. King.” In fact, the Post ran an editorial just a couple of weeks ago that used the phrase “Dr. King” no less than three separate times.

The editorial in question ran on page A18.

(HT: Reed)

Comments

  1. #1 Joshua Zelinsky
    February 2, 2009

    My first glance at the headline made me sympathize with the LA Times much more. If were purely a stylistic issue internal to newspapers then limiting the use of the term “Dr.” to MDs wouldn’t be unreasonable. I generally prefer not to add such honorifics for either PhDs or MDs when they aren’t necessary in context. But this isn’t an issue of the newspaper’s own manual of style. This is just the newspaper being stupid and boderline mysognist.

  2. #2 Dave Wisker
    February 2, 2009

    I don’t recall journalists thinking calling Condoleezza Rice “Dr Rice” pompous.

  3. #3 Jim Thomerson
    February 2, 2009

    MD is neither graduate nor research degree. MS and PhD are both graduate and research degrees. So there!

  4. #4 scicurious
    February 2, 2009

    I could see the distinction between “professor” and “doctor”, but this is ridiculous. The only possible thing they could base it on would be that MD is “master doctor”, but then how do you explain PhD as “doctor of philosophy”?

  5. #5 Erp
    February 2, 2009

    I think there are various subtleties. My understanding is

    1. MDs get Doctor in both professional and social spheres
    2. Most Ph.D. don’t use Doctor in the social sphere but do in the professional sphere. E.g., Dr. Smith when addressing a conference, Ms. Smith when invited to a neighbor’s party
    3. Ph.D.s with academic appointments may use Doctor in the social sphere as well as the professional sphere. (At least that is what my grandmother held to, she was glad when my father got an academic position as she could then use Dr. on letters addressed to him.)
    4. Ministers with doctorates (usually in Divinity or Theology) may use Doctor and/or Reverend. I suspect the assumption is that they like MDs are on notice 24 hours a day.
    5. People with honorary Doctorates but not the real thing don’t use ‘Doctor’

    Since Jill Biden has a real PhD and is teaching in a community college, she is entitled to being Dr. Biden in the college as well, if she so chooses, socially.

    Now what do you do with people like Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the the Episcopal Church. She’s a minister but holds a PhD in Oceanography (and an honorary one in Divinity). Is she ‘Doctor Jefferts Schori’ or not?

    Or we could all fall back on traditional Quaker practice and not use titles at all.

  6. #6 Comrade PhysioProf
    February 2, 2009

    These motherfucking fake-ass “journalists” who have taken over the entire fucking journalism profession are a goddamn blight on the entire motherfucking nation. Deranged box-wine-drinking wienie-eating scuzbuckets like Walsh bear huge responsibility for the fact that our country is swirling down the motherfucking shitter.

  7. #7 D. C. Sessions
    February 2, 2009

    Thank you, PhysioProf, for clearing that up. We can always count on you for a thoughtful and nuanced analysis of the topic at hand.

  8. #8 Pinko Punko
    February 3, 2009

    Best/worst part:

    “FOR THE RECORD:
    The headline in an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Jill Biden had a doctorate in English. She has a doctorate in education. ”

    That is an erratum published with the LA Times article. They even screwed up the headline. They look so professional right now. I think the appropriate honorific is “Asshat.” Abbreviate it anyway you’d like.

  9. #9 Ginger Yellow
    February 3, 2009

    “1. MDs get Doctor in both professional and social spheres
    2. Most Ph.D. don’t use Doctor in the social sphere but do in the professional sphere. E.g., Dr. Smith when addressing a conference, Ms. Smith when invited to a neighbor’s party.”

    Uh, my doctor friends don’t use doctor in the social sphere. They just use their names.

  10. #10 Sceptical Chymist
    February 3, 2009

    When I arrived in Delaware in 1962, there was a law on the books that only M.D.s could use the title “Doctor”. Presumably this was to prevent snake oil salesmen from using it. This was ironic since with all the chemical companies here, almost every other person, including me, had a Ph.D. I’m guessing that since Jill Biden has not been arrested, the law must have been rescinded.

  11. #11 Aaron
    February 3, 2009

    “Now what do you do with people like Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the the Episcopal Church. She’s a minister but holds a PhD in Oceanography (and an honorary one in Divinity). Is she ‘Doctor Jefferts Schori’ or not?” — Erp

    To be complete, you should refer formally as “The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori”, as evidenced on the Episcopal Church’s website bio of her. Similarly, MLK would be “Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

    I suspect in social circles, she dispenses with such titles.

  12. #12 catgirl
    February 3, 2009

    I think it’s pompous for Bill Walsh not to bother looking up ‘doctor’ on Wikipedia. He’s too good to let history and etymology bother his opionion.

  13. #13 Dr. Pablito
    February 3, 2009

    Comrade PhysioProf: I appreciate the nuanced view you have adduced to the topic. I share your opinion that the nipplenoses now run rampant with the precious civic asset of good journalism. Yours in Christ, Dr. Pablito

  14. #14 RBH
    February 3, 2009

    When I got my doctorate (Ph.D.) and was appointed to a faculty, a friend of mine referred to me as “Herr Professor Doktor H.” I rather liked it. :)

  15. #15 Dr. Evil
    February 3, 2009

    I didn’t spend six years at evil medical school to be called ‘mister’ thank you very much.

  16. #16 MattXIV
    February 3, 2009

    It may be different in academia, but in the industry I work in, neither the PhDs or MDs put Dr. in front of their names, even in formal correspondence. The MDs could probably get away with it, but the PhDs would be mocked, possibly to their faces.

  17. #17 Master 'Tis Himself
    February 3, 2009

    Since I have an MA degree, I insist that Billy Walsh refer to me as Master ‘Tis Himself even in informal communication. If I’m feeling really generous, he can call me by my first name, Master.

  18. #18 rimpal
    February 3, 2009

    Don’t these dolts know that a doctor – docere – teaches? So MDs who practice aren’t really doctors

  19. #19 llewelly
    February 3, 2009

    These motherfucking fake-ass “journalists” who have taken over the entire fucking journalism profession are a goddamn blight on the entire motherfucking nation. Deranged box-wine-drinking wienie-eating scuzbuckets like Walsh bear huge responsibility for the fact that our country is swirling down the motherfucking shitter.

    Ok Comrade Physioprof. I know you’ve got a potty mouth, and I can mostly learn to live and let live, but associating decent (if tasteless) box-wine-drinkers with the offending journalists is going too far.

  20. #20 eric
    February 4, 2009

    My feeling is if you can’t heal the sick, we don’t call you doctor

    And if you can’t report the facts, we don’t call you journalist.

  21. #21 Jim Lippard
    February 4, 2009

    Jill Biden, contrary to a few commenters, doesn’t have a Ph.D. at all, let alone a “real Ph.D.” She has an Ed.D.

    I’ve commented on Pharyngula’s post with some reasons for thinking such a degree might be worth less than a Ph.D.

  22. #22 BaldApe
    February 4, 2009

    As a high school science teacher (with an MS, BTW) I find the greatest degree of pomposity in teachers who have been awarded an Ed.D insisting on being called “Doctor.”

    I deliberately sought a masters degree outside of the college of education because any additional basket weaving courses beyond those required for my BS seemed superfluous.