Lately ScienceBlogs has been “buzzing” with a story that, at the risk of needing to don an asbestos suit for the insults that may come my way, I find utterly ridiculous. Here’s the context:
The Blogosphere is abuzz about an article in the LA Times regarding Second Lady Jill Biden’s preference to be acknowledged by her honorific title of “Doctor,” which references her Ph.D in education. The article states that many prominent newspapers, including the LA Times and the Washington Post, only use the honorific title in articles if the doctorate degree in question is in a medical field, calling into question the context in which the “Dr.” title is used in other situations, and whether it is more accepted for males to be acknowledged by this title than females.
Here is the article that started it all. The stupid, it burns.
I’ll put it very briefly, as an M.D. If a person has earned a doctorate in a field that is recognized by academia at an accredited college or university, then that person has the right to be referred to as “doctor.”
There, I bet you you thought I was going to defend the hegemony of medical doctors or the ridiculousness of journalistic conventions.
Look, there are some examples of “doctors” of which I don’t approve. Abel Pharmboy, for instance mentioned one: “Doctor” of Naturopathy. I’ll add another: “Doctor” of Chiropractic. I don’t like either, and I don’t think that there should be recognized “doctorates” in either “discipline,” particularly the former, because they are disciplines of, for a large part, pseudoscience. Yes, I realize that chiropractic stripped of the woo of “subluxations” is akin to physical therapy, and that reasonable chiropractors de-emphasize the woo, but that doesn’t mean that there should be a doctorate in chiropractic. After all, the key requirements of a doctorate (outside of direct patient care-oriented specialties) is the completion and publication in the peer-reviewed literature of a novel research project and the successful writing and defense of a thesis based on that research. It’s mighty hard to see how one would do original research of any validity based on pseudoscience, although I guess naturopaths do it all the time.
In any case, as much as I don’t like the fact that there are recognized and accredited doctorate programs in naturopathy and chiropractic, I cannot begrudge them the right to call themselves doctors if they insist, as much as I would like to. That’s a societal battle that skeptics have thus far been losing. I personally would never use a naturopath’s title in addressing one, but I wouldn’t say that they don’t have the right to use the title, although I might make fun of them. In marked contrast, when it comes to accredited Ph.D.’s in non-woo fields, regardless of field and especially in the sciences, I would never, ever say that a person with a Ph.D. shouldn’t be called “doctor” if that’s what he or she wants. I might view them as pretentious gits if they insist on it too much (and have at times made fun of such people, given that the insistence on the use of a title outside of strictly professional interactions–and even sometimes then–is about the most accurate indicator that I’m dealing with an arrogant twit that I know of). After all, I never insist on the use of my title (indeed, in general I actually discourage it), except in a very few circumstances where I think it is professionally warranted, for example, when a nurse or an aide is speaking to me in front of a patient.
But that’s just me. I’m not big on titles. I never was, even though I hold more of them now than I ever have. Heck, it wouldn’t bother me if newspapers didn’t use the title “Doctor” for us M.D.’s.