On Disrespecting Dr. Biden

Feb 02 2009 Published by under Tribe of Science, Underrepresented Groups

Oh, you have GOT to be kidding! The LA Times has published a piece on Jill Tracy Jacobs Biden, adjunct professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College. After serving as an instructor of English comp and remedial writing at Delaware Technical & Community College for fifteen years on the strength of a Master's degree, she returned to school to obtain her PhD in Education (according to HuffPo). I cite this because she is commonly described as having a 'doctorate in Education' which is not infrequently cover for the Ed.D as opposed to the Ph.D. Admittedly there are those with Ph.D. degrees who consider an Ed.D. degree to be inferior but I think we academic doctors can stick together on this one.


I think this is totally awesome that a college professor is our current Second Lady (ok, ok, gag but that's what we call it). I like college education. It is a GoodThing. And I like and respect those that choose to do it for a profession. So I'm quite happy to call Professor Doctor Biden by her titles and hand out a little smackaroo to any who gainsay her right to be so respected.
Yes, that's right, in the US if you have an appointment that includes the word professor, then you are rightfully called "Professor", particularly when it comes to being addressed by students. And if you have an academic doctoral degree you are also rightfully called "Doctor". Period. Of course, we might be a little casual about things in our business. If "Professor" is a more-respected title, well, I think some that deserved the title get called "Doctor" a heck of a lot more than "Professor" by those outside of the classroom. And many of us who are formally able to claim both titles really, really (really) prefer to go by our first name.
But some idiot quoted in the LA Times piece is annoying when he asserts that we should not call Dr. Biden by her title.

"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.


Well the thing is, buddy, you don't get to make that call. The academic community has made that call for you and you are in error. Remember how tradition dictates that Reps and Senators and Judges and whatnot are referred to as Honorable this and Right Reverend that and what have you? You know that tradition attributed, perhaps falsely to George Washington who supposedly said "Plain Mr. President will do"? Well you don't get to start with "Gee, I think we should call him His Respected High Excellency President of the Free World Obama" now, do you? No you do not.
And similarly, you don't get to decide what the appropriate honorific is for Dr. Biden.
Oh, and lest we forget? Another reason I pay attention when some idiot outside of the Academy is getting interested in who we call Doctor? Well, 'cause it is a little bit of an ongoing respect problem when it comes to women with doctoral degrees. I don't want to draw any conclusions about our style meister from WaPo but as Mike at the QA pointed out, WaPo has no problem calling Kissinger or MLK Jr "Doctor".
[h/t: Questionable Authority]
__
Update 2/3/09: This site claims EdD. Newsblog of Chronicle of Higher Ed says "Ms. Biden", whoops. AHA! This document listing personnel from Delaware Technical & Community College claims Ed.D. so I'll take that as authoritative.

60 responses so far

  • Bill Walsh, copy desk chief for the Washington Post's A section

    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.

  • Coturnix says:

    O/T every time I laugh out loud when at the computer, Mrs.Coturnix asks "what is it - did PhysioProf write another comment?"

  • PP: You don't what the hell you're talking about. [insert sarcastic tone] The journalism in the US is amazing in both it's breadth and intellect. What I love most is the fact that I can't find any goddamned news about any other country on the goddamned planet unless it directly involves US foreign policy or troops and that, despite the fact that I have 100 tv channels, I have to hold my breath until the BBC news comes on for 30mins each night to find out if the rest of the world still exists. That, my friend, is indicative of an AWESOME mainstream US media.

  • Beaker says:

    CPP and PiT: don't forget the other superior aspect of American Journalism: giving equal weight to both sides of an argument, no matter how vapid and ignorant one of the sides might be. At Fox News, they call it "fair and balanced," but it's rampant in most of the American MSM. Separate but equal is not un-journalistic (or something like that).

  • leigh says:

    like his authorship of language books somehow gives him the authority to decide. how is that at all relevant?
    fuck that. by making it to the phd, you've earned some damn respect. this is doubly true for the traditionally trodden-upon groups. grad school is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.
    and, respect is a two way street. i certainly hope this guy doesn't expect any from the academic world.

  • Alex says:

    Yes, that's right, in the US if you have an appointment that includes the word professor, then you are rightfully called "Professor", particularly when it comes to being addressed by students.
    Slightly tangential, but what about lecturers whose title is "Lecturer" or "Senior Lecturer" or something like that? In the classroom their duties and powers are generally identical to those of tenure track professors, and so students should treat them as they'd treat any other faculty member. (Indeed, I would say that tenure track faculty should accord them the same respect that they'd accord any other faculty member.) Moreover, somebody who has the title "Lecturer" at one school might have the title "Adjunct Professor" at another school while doing essentially the same work. And freshmen don't really understand our myriad titles anyway. (Who are the Assistant Professors assisting? What is a Research Professor--don't they all do research? And why are some called Lecturers--I thought they all lecture! Adjunct? What does that word even mean?)
    There was a minor internet controversy at one point during the election, when people were arguing whether Obama's appointment as a "Senior Lecturer" meant it was inaccurate to call him a law professor. Eh, if he's teaching a class without being supervised by somebody else (i.e. he isn't a TA) then as far as the students are concerned he's a professor. P for professor--that's good enough for me!

  • Dr J says:

    Here here DM, PP, PiT, Beaker and leigh. I too sense there is a double disrepect going on because of her gender.
    Here in the translational research field those of us with PhDs prefer to call the MDs medics...or better still as DM says we all prefer our first names...well nearly all the only people that don't are usually medics and then that is to be ignored.
    As for the title, they would do well to look to the UK, where a medical degree has been handed out for a very long time and IS NOT a doctorate. Nearly all medical degrees in the UK are bachelors degrees and as I understand it the ability to use the term Dr is a concession. Whereas the D in PhD stands for doctorate.
    Indeed, in the context of a doctor being able to heal people, it is also worthy of note that in Britain, those who have medical degrees and then go on to become fully qualified surgeons revert back to being Mr, Mrs, Ms or Miss. You've gotta bet that comes from the professions origins where the title Dr was not associated with clinicians.

  • Dave says:

    I do not think DM is qualified to comment on this issue, as he has no formal training in journalism.

  • becca says:

    On the one hand, I hate that women don't get extended the title when men do for the exact same credentials. On the other hand, insisting on titles is pretentious. Titles emphasize a difference between people "I have acomplished this, you have not" and the title "Dr.", especially, tends to emphasize this as an appeal to authority.
    Legitimate authority is derived from the knowledge or the character of the person, not from the letters after their name.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    On the third hand, Becca, is there not some good in leveraging a general respect for titles to increase the respect for accomplishments that have recently been far undervalued?

  • catgirl says:

    All these people are just too lazy to look up 'doctor' on Wikipedia. It's not supposed to mean physician, but instead an expert in a field. I also hate the subtle implication that some doctors are not as valuable to society as physicians who heal sick people. Plenty of scientists with PhDs save lives in different ways.

  • Becca says:

    Actually Stephanie Z, I'm firmly with the wizard on this one: "I can't give you brains, but I can give you a diploma".
    I hate the subtle implication that people without degrees can't be experts. I hate even more the notion that one's expertise must be certified by an outside body to count.
    Not to mention that respect for titles is discrete from respect for people (and the former should never be treated as a substitute for the later, which is a very minor fear I have in viewing this particular issue in a gender-aware analytical framework).

  • In anthropology, in the Southwest (AZ and NM specifically, but historically in CA as well) "DR" was higher status than "Professor."
    It is believed that this comes from the early days when you had institutions of higher education growing up in roughly the same places where exotic fieldwork (among Native Americans) was being carried out, or at least there was some overlap in time. The Anthropologists were effectively medical doctors, as far as the community was concerned, because they were the only people within hundreds of miles with any medical supplies and (because this sort of field work demands it) some medical training. So, "Doctor" came to mean something extra important, and surpassed "Professor."
    As a result, in the 1970s and 1980s, it was common to refer to Professors of Anthro at the Universities in AZ and NM as "Doctor" in preference to "Professor."
    This is, of course, totally off topic, but nonetheless interesting.

  • MattXIV says:

    I think how titles are used varies a lot based on the subculture and perceptions vary accordingly. In the industry I work in PhDs and MDs don't call themselves Dr. even in formal correspondence, so it comes across as pompous. The MDs probably could get away with it, but the PhDs would likely end up being mockingly addressed as "Herr/Frau Doktor" in an over-the-top German accent if they tried it.
    Around Sb, most people seem used to the academic subculture's usage of titles, which tends to be much more formal than most subcultures, and like many aspects of the academic subculture, many outsiders do see it as a bit pompous.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I have learned one thing from the various blog conversations on this topic- even journalistic "style" on this matter may be in flux. For example this link to perhaps an older version of the AP style guide says:

    2. Use Dr. on second reference for faculty who hold doctorates.
    Example:
    John H. Doe is president of the University of ABC. Dr. Doe has led the University for 15 years.

    OTOH, the Wikipedia entry currently addresses the issue:

    AP style on a variety of questions, such as whether to convert foreign times to local times in an article, and when to put "Dr." in front of the name of a person with a doctoral degree (only for certain medical titles; optional if the subject matter is relevant to the article).

    So this is larger than one random idiot. It is the entire profession we should be addressing with respect to proper academic titles.
    The biggest quacking canard I've heard so far is that the purpose of not using 'doctor' for PhD's is to "avoid confusion". What a circular pile of steaming fewmets! What's next? Officially deciding to use "schizophrenic" where "multiple personality disorder" is in order just because so many people use it this way? Of course not. Responsible journalist would go out of their way to use the term correctly. As they should use 'doctor' correctly.
    becca, your points are very good and normally I am right there with you. the problem is that we are talking about a systematic effort to belittle authority and accomplishment as a general principle across entire classes of people, not an effort to defer to individual credentials. it is a far different matter.

  • HERR PROFESSOR DOKTOR Dave says:

    "...we are talking about a systematic effort to belittle authority and accomplishment..."
    So, DM, let me get this straight: You, an anonymous science blogger, are criticizing the journalistic and/or writing skills of the Washington Post copy desk chief and author two well-reviewed books on writing and language use?
    Sorry to have to ask, but you know I'm not too bright. Despite my Ph.D.

  • Field Notes says:

    As both a working newspaper copy editor and a former "Professor Doctor so & so" I can affirm that this a trade-wide decision to not call PhD's doctors. Blame the entire Associated Press and all the journalists and publications that abide by AP style.

  • Greg Laden says:

    Mr Dave, you should refer to DM as Doctor Monkey, please. Dr. D. Monkey.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    As it happens, Greg, the pseudonym DrugMonkey does not in fact have any academic degrees whatsoever. The blogger who uses the 'nym may, but that is probably irrelevant.
    Dave, I started out criticizing one specific journalist, yes. I am coming to understand that the critique is more accurately applied to broader trends in journalism. Now did you have anything useful to contribute with respect to whether journalists should or should not use the appropriate honorific when referring to those with PhDs?

  • Dave says:

    "Now did you have anything useful to contribute with respect to whether journalists should or should not use the appropriate honorific when referring to those with PhDs?"
    It's a complicated question. I think journalists may avoid the honorific if using it might cause confusion. Indeed, we can probably agree that the lay public generally assumes, in the absence of any other information, that 'Dr. X' would be a physician. In the case of Dr. Biden, that would be an incorrect assumption and make readers wonder why an M.D. would be making a living teaching at community colleges. However, if avoiding the use of an honorific unfairly detracts from one's authority in an area of expertise, then that too would be misleading. In summary, I think it would be appropriate to refer to Dr. Biden as such if one were discussing her as an educator or in relation to that field or in reference to her expertise in that area. In any other context, such as the fact that she is wife of Vice President of the United States Joe Biden (who has J.D., incidentally), I see no need for the honorific.
    This, of course, is my lay opinion.

  • becca says:

    "the problem is that we are talking about a systematic effort to belittle authority and accomplishment as a general principle across entire classes of people"
    The question is whether the classes of people in question are 1) women or 2) holders of the PhD degree.
    If they want to belittle women, I'm outraged.
    If they want to belittle holders of the PhD degree, I'm amused more than anything.

  • The correct answer is to completely ignore anything and everything that our sorry excuse for a Fourth Estate says and does concerning everyfuckingthing. Over the last thirty years, they have been reduced to nothing more than craven greedy power- and celebrity-worshipping courtiers. Everything they do is designed to coddle and cosset the objects of their pathetic affections--the people and institutions they are supposedly investigating--in order to ensure that the free shitty box-wine chardonnay and ground-pig-sphincter wienies keep flowing. Motherfucking despicable pieces of shit.

  • Dr. Isis was awarded the title "Dr." by an accredited U.S. university after years of study and hard work. She completed qualifying exams and wrote a thesis which was successfully defended to committee of her (now) peers in a forum that was open to the public. It is not pretentious to use it and it is not an attempt at posturing. It is the appropriate use of a title that was bestowed in acknowledgment of the completion of a particular level of education.
    If members of the Associated Press and other journalists believe they have the authority to remove a title from individuals awarded said title by U.S. universities except when they decide that an individual has earned it, then I have the authority to tell them to go fuck themselves.

  • Cashmoney says:

    Nice post at Media Matters about the LAPompousFlap

  • Dave says:

    Can we petition Scienceblogs to put in place some system whereby all of CPP's comments pulse red and fling spittle? Because that would be totally cool. I would be tempted to pay a monthly subscription for that. Seriously.

  • rb says:

    sorry, but my take is simpler, if I am addressing someone in the context of their profession, I will use Dr. (even MD), if I am not I will use Mr. Ms, Mrs, whatever. Thats all I ever expect. If one of the neighbor kids called me Dr. RB, I would tell them to stop it. SInce being Dr. has nothing to do with being Mrs. Biden. then I would not use Dr. (if the gender roles were reverse I would say Vice-Pres and Mr. Biden. If Bill Clinton has a doctorate and Hillary won the whitehouse, I would use Pres and Mr Clinton. Hell even in the movies where the pres occasionally has a doctorate (American President), he was referred to as Mr. Pres. not Dr. Pres. I have never used Dr. outside of professional occasions (and even there generally only in classes with undergrad.)

  • DuWayne says:

    This is an extremely confusing issue for me, a college student (not the Phd = Dr.).
    My remedial algebra (yes, I am algebra inept, but have a fucking great teacher) instructor is a retired high school math teacher, with a masters. He has never expressed a preference for address, nor do I remember his name. He walks in, asks if we have any questions, answers said questions and proceeds to teach us fucking algebra like nobody's business.
    My college research and writing instructor (who absolutely adores me - and will be sending students to my blog) has a Phd, but cringes when anyone refers to her other than Sara. She has in fact gone on a bit of a tare about being called Dr. Sara, because she thinks it sounds pretentious for someone who (as she puts it) is a particularly well educated poet.
    I have no idea what degree my humanities instructor has. She's Peg and that's how she prefers to be addressed.
    And my writing about literature instructor exists somewhere out on the internets. I know not whether he has a Phd or a masters. I know that he has this whole online class thing down. He also apparently spent some time trying to figure out if I had plagiarized my first assignment, asked me about another poem and realized that it was just my way of describing things. He mostly wonders why the hell I took the class.
    I'm honestly not sure what to call half the fucking people I run into at school. Especially since I really suck at names - saying "hi professor" would simplify my life immensely.
    And Dave -
    I'm not an asshole*, yet I am capable of seeing asshole when I see it. You sir, are an asshole.
    It really makes no difference whatsoever, what DM's background in journalism is. He is criticizing a very common, systemic mistake made by most journalists. They don't seem to know what a Phd should be referred to as. One would think that the man behind the mask, probably does, given he very likely has one. And certainly works with those who do.
    And even if he didn't, there are plenty of Dr. bloggers around these parts who do.
    *Ok, so I'm really just not honest all the time.

  • Mike Dunford says:

    @Field Notes (#17)
    I've got a copy of the AP style guide. It doesn't say what you seem to think it says. You might want to pull it out and read the entries for "doctor" (p. 76 in the 2006 edition) and "academic degrees" (p. 5, same edition).

  • Dave says:

    No problem, DuWayne. I like your honestly. As an aside, though, I have a Master's degree in addition to my Ph.D. and tenured professorship. So you need to refer to me as MASTER Doctor Professor Asshole. Thanks.

  • @ DuWayne#27: with respect, this isn't about what one prefers to be called, but rather an issue of what you have the right to be called if you so choose. I prefer to be known by my first name by everyone but if people are going to insist on using a title and surname, as a PhD I have every right to ask that I be addressed as Dr.

  • Dave says:

    Holy crap. I just noticed* this topic is all over ScienceBlogs, and it looks like the use of honorifics has strong backing from the blogosphere. That's pathetic. If your sense of self-worth or reputation hangs on a few letters before or after your name, then you are a loser, plain and simple. When I rank the five smartest and most successful people I have ever known, only the fifth in rank has a Ph.D. One other has a M.S. When I think of the most useless and moronic people I deal with regularly, about half have a Ph.D.
    [*The fact that I frequent DrugMonkey and not most other Sb sites is a compliment to DM.]

  • JaneDoh says:

    Dave, as has been pointed out in many past discussions of this issue, the use or non-use of professional titles has been and is used as a tool to put uppity women and underrepresented minorities in their place. It is easy for you as a white male to say who cares what newspapers do, but as a woman in a very male dominated physical science, I am often assumed to be a secretary, undergrad (I look young), graduate student, or technician. This is a big problem for me as I am trying to establish my lab in a new TT position. Even in the classroom, many students assume I am not a PhD. This has DIRECT consequences for my teaching evaluations, as has been shown in several studies.
    I agree that using a professional title in an informal setting is pretentious. But how is it pretentious to refer to "Dr. Biden" in articles about her career as an educator (which is the context for many of the recent articles about her)? I have been to MANY conferences where all of the male speakers were introduced as "Dr. Lastname" and all of the female speakers were introduced as "Mrs. Lastname" or "Ms. Lastname" (even the invited ones). This attitude is the one reflected by the media in mocking Dr. Biden.

  • [*The fact that I frequent DrugMonkey and not most other Sb sites is a compliment to DM.]

    Oh, my GOD. You are SO full of yourself!

  • cookingwithsolvents says:

    re #20 (Dave) and causing 'confusion' among the masses about non-medical Dr's
    Isn't part of press's JOB to educate people? I would certainly include the fact that PhD's have earned the honorific "Dr." as something which should be generally known. In today's world ('restoring science to its proper place' and all that) it is more important than EVER for the press to afford PhD's all the rights, benefits, and responsibilities thereof.
    Whether or not the person wishes to be called "Dr. solvents" or just "cooking" is up to the INDIVIDUAL and for conversation, not published discourse. This holds even if the publication is a newspaper.

  • If your sense of self-worth or reputation hangs on a few letters before or after your name, then you are a loser, plain and simple.

    No one has made any assertion that would lead anyone who is paying attention to conclude that they think their "sense of self-worth...hangs on a few letters". Learn to read for some motherfucking comprehension.
    What some are irritated by is the fact that some shit-for-brains sorry excuse for a "journalist" who works at a pathetic sorry excuse for a "newspaper" has strongly and derisively asserted that PhDs and other non-MD doctorates, do not *deserve* to be referred to with their appropriate title in a context in which *all* MDs and *some* specially and arbitrarily selected subset of non-MDs are referred to as doctor.
    I don't give a flying fuck how people refer to me, so long as they do not use it as an arbitrarily selective tool for withholding or granting respect. That is what people object to in the Biden situation.

  • DuWayne says:

    PiT -
    But part of the problem I have, which I imagine will be alleviated some when I get done with transfer credits and head to an actual university, is that quite often I don't even know what honorifics should apply. And having visited the sites of the possible universities I will be transferring to, it's not always firmly denoted there either.
    Trust me, I think it's important to recognize honorifics in the context of a formal setting. I am working towards earning such honorifics myself and given the amount of work that will go into it, I damn well expect to get the respect for it.
    I actually have a somewhat more relevant to this discussion question. I am writing some blog posts to help me throw down what I am trying to get into a paper on addiction. I have had exchanges with a couple of psychologists who's work is going to be cited and have a semi-formal, yet first name relationship with them. There is also a psychologist who's work I'll be citing with whom I haven't (yet) actually had an exchange with.
    So with the first two, I will refer to them as Dr. Who (sorry, the geek in me...) initially, but subsequently will use their first names. So the issue becomes, do I use the first name of the other doctor I'm going to cite, because that is how I am referring to my other sources? Or should I call her Dr. Who all the way through?
    Dave -
    When one is writing an article about an educator, that is biographical or specifically about their career, then the honorifics should be applied.

  • Dave says:

    Aw, c'mon people. This is getting ridiculous. Academic titles are like tuxedos. People like to trot them out for special occasions, and they tend to make otherwise impotent people feel important, but ultimately they say very little about the qualifications or character of the person so decorated, except that the person was willing to expend the time and expense to get one.
    As for whether non-use of Dr. Biden's title is some sort of conscious or unconscious dig at her, I have no freaking idea. Maybe. Maybe not. In my opinion, the fact that Jill Biden has a Ph.D. is one of the least impressive things you can say about her.
    http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/jill_biden/

  • Barn Owl says:

    If your sense of self-worth or reputation hangs on a few letters before or after your name, then you are a loser, plain and simple.
    But nevertheless you're careful to state above that *you* have an MS, a PhD, and a tenured professorship.
    Not that such things matter to you, of course. Similar to the commenters in the blagosphere who state that "IQ tests are meaningless", and then go on to point out that their own IQ was last determined to be 175+. *rolls eyes*

  • DuWayne says:

    Barn Owl -
    Just what's wrong with recognizing that I have an exceptionally high, higher than most everyone, make MENSA folks look like morons, stratospherically fucking exceptionally massive IQ, and mentioning at the same time it's meaningless? I mean damn, doesn't that fact that I clarify of how little importance IQ really is, mitigate any pretentiousness that mentioning how completely amazing, bow to it peons, my IQ is might imply?
    (I'm not actually sure what my IQ actually is)

  • Dave says:

    "But nevertheless you're careful to state above that *you* have an MS, a PhD, and a tenured professorship."
    Awards too. Don't forget about those. And lots of publications. And grants. Do you want my entire C.V.? I can send a photo too.
    ...
    OK, so I think we've established that those who feel intellectually threatened, for whatever reason, like the idea of titles and widespread acknowledgement of such. In contrast, white male assholes with giant egos, like me, do not care so much about such things. We wield our power in more insidious and therefore less attainable ways. This, apparently, is a conscious or unconscious plot to maintain the status quo white male power structure.
    Correct?
    If so, given my obvious status as a white male asshole, I stand by my opinions as delineated above. However, I understand why others' opinions might differ. What puzzles me is the strategy by some bloggers and commenters here. Defending traditionally white male titles seems a poor strategy for undermining our authority.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    Yes, Dave, I think that separate but equal titles is a much better idea.

  • Lorax says:

    I usually use my title when teaching undergraduates and I use other peoples titles when addressing colleagues via email phone or otherwise unless requested. Of course the only possible reason for this is that I am "intellectually threatened," "have no sense of self-worth," etc. Yep, the only reason one would use a title is because they are evil.
    The best part of taking that approach in an argument is completely shuts down discussion, but of course I only say that because Im kind of stupid and feel invalidated.

  • Dave says:

    "I usually use my title when teaching undergraduates and I use other peoples titles when addressing colleagues via email phone or otherwise unless requested. Of course the only possible reason for this is that I am "intellectually threatened," "have no sense of self-worth," etc. Yep, the only reason one would use a title is because they are evil."
    I do basically the same thing, Lorax, but I am willing to admit that the reason actually *IS* because I feel intellectually threatened or unworthy. For example, I also use titles when addressing colleagues I don't know well. I do this because I worry about pissing people off with inappropriate informality. The fact that I am worried about the repercussions of pissing these people off is evidence that I feel threatened and unworthy. Similarly, though I don't ask undergraduate students to address me using my titles, I don't correct them when they do. Why? It's not that I get some vague thrill from being called 'Doctor' or 'Professor'; I don't. Rather, its because I'm worried that excessive informality might complicate what is basically a business relationship. The fact that I don't want to (or can't) deal with those complications is, again, evidence that I see my status as fragile and capabilities as limited.

  • Becca says:

    "I don't give a flying fuck how people refer to me, so long as they do not use it as an arbitrarily selective tool for withholding or granting respect. That is what people object to in the Biden situation."
    Thank goodness. That at least I can agree with.
    "In my opinion, the fact that Jill Biden has a Ph.D. is one of the least impressive things you can say about her."
    Actually, I think I agree with you too. I think she's someone I'd want at my dinner parties, if I were the sort to throw them.
    ("I can send a photo too." No thanks. But if you're on RateMyProfessor, I do want to know your # of chilli peppers)
    metacommentary- me agreeing with Dave and CPP in the same thread? Is it getting cold in here?
    "Yes, Dave, I think that separate but equal titles is a much better idea."
    So why not just call everyone comrade?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I also use titles when addressing colleagues I don't know well. I do this because I worry about pissing people off with inappropriate informality. The fact that I am worried about the repercussions of pissing these people off is evidence that I feel threatened and unworthy.
    See now most people do this out of simple common politeness. Why does it have to be fear of some unspecified "repercussions"?
    I fear this is a hopeless task but is there any chance at all you can actually read the comments and think about the meaning a little harder? This situation is totally and completely removed from a single individual insisting that they be called by their honorific by all and sundry. The vast majority of us who are annoyed by this anti-honorific journalistic practice have said straight up (hence the 'please read' part) that we eschew the titles and rapidly ask people to use our first names in our daily professional lives. [The exception being the student-professor relationship which I agree has specific issues]
    The issue is a possibly intentional effort to undercut the standing of academics in the lay audience and the possibly selective use of the 'rule' in a way that systematically disrespects individual academics of specific characteristics including sex, age, ethnicity or what have you.
    I think the consensus is that journalistic practice should be consistent. If Dr. is to be used, it should be applied to all for whom the title is accurate. If not, there should be no arbitrary exceptions.

  • Arlenna says:

    Dave, how many times do you need to be told "IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU."
    Are you capable of stepping outside your trollskin and looking at this as a wider issue for people OTHER THAN yourself, and guys like you, people who struggle every day with perceptions about what they are qualified to say and qualified to manage?
    Perceptions of expertise and authority mean EVERYTHING in this business, and those perceptions are fundamentally harder to create for people who don't look like the dudes in the Google image search for "Professor" or "Doctor." In our cases, it has nothing to do with insecurity--it's about functionality and being able to do our jobs as best we are capable--something that we are prevented from doing if people aren't listening to us because they assume we are not qualified enough to have a say. Being called Dr. there makes a huge difference.

  • Dave says:

    OK, I think I get it. But I still disagree. I just don't see the conspiracy that some people here seem to fear.
    Maybe that's because there's no conspiracy, or maybe it's because I'm ignorant. Whatever. I can't figure out any way to definitively determine which is the case or whether we're all wasting our time.

  • Danimal says:

    I posted this comment on another SB a while ago, but I think it bares repeating here. I do not hold a PhD, instead I hold a MS degree. However, I am frequently addressed with the title of doctor. I always wondered, if that was because my first name starts with "D" and my middle name starts with "R". Thus in journal citations my name appears as D.R. Danimal. Anyways, my normal response to someone addressing me as Dr. is "do not call me doctor, I work for a living." This of coarse is taken from the military and is used by enlisted soldiers who are called sir, since only officers are addressed as such. The saying goes, "Do not call me sir, I work for a living." Implying officers are useless and do not do real work.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I can't figure out any way to definitively determine which is the case or whether we're all wasting our time.
    Under the wackaloon optimism that progress may actually be possible.....
    There is rarely any way to "definitively determine" bias. First, nobody can really get into the head of anyone else. Second, even people who *think* they are unbiased show some very interesting evidence that they are in fact biased on implicit association tests.
    Therefore, we address this by looking at differences from expected value. To test the hypothesis vis a vis gender bias, one can look at the "exceptions".
    I'm developing a much bigger pile of pissed off when it comes to the overt decision that academic doctors get stripped of their titles but MDs do not. Here, we need to get at the why/when so we can decide whether this is just ignorance, unintended consequences or malicious intent.
    Given the way the so-called independent MSM worked hand in glove with the prior administration and the Republican party agenda in general in recent years.... well, I'd not be surprised one bit if this was part of an intentional effort to undercut the public perception of the value of knowledge and science. I'm not saying it IS, way to early to know, but it would be entirely consistent with the anti-science agenda that has been well explicated in other forums.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    So why not just call everyone comrade?

    Mostly because the libertarians start screaming, Becca. It's fun for a while, but it does make it very hard to hear anyone else.

  • Stephanie Z says:

    DM, the reason to cut out any title is space--column inches. It's the same reason most of our society doesn't know that "if" and "whether" are different words.
    I have no idea why it's differentially applied to medical and other doctorates. If I had to guess, I'd say it dates back to the days when PhDs were more rare and more people read their news. Most readers would not have encountered someone with a PhD, but they would a medical doctor. So there probably was some confusion.
    However, the situation has changed. There are more PhDs and fewer (and more educated) readers. There's no reason to worry about confusion now. So whatever function the style choice served when it was adopted, it now has the effect of artificially endorsing one kind of doctorate over another. I'm fine with reporters and editors saying there's no offense intended, but they do need to realize that there are consequences.

  • Arlenna says:

    Well, as JaneDoh said above:
    "as a woman in a very male dominated physical science, I am often assumed to be a secretary, undergrad (I look young), graduate student, or technician. This is a big problem for me as I am trying to establish my lab in a new TT position. Even in the classroom, many students assume I am not a PhD. This has DIRECT consequences for my teaching evaluations"
    as has been my precise experience as well. So, yes, this 'conspiracy' exists no matter how inadvertent it might be, and having people attribute our irritation with it to our PMS-ing, insecure pomposity is pretty unconstructive and insulting. It's a barrier to our productivity and effectiveness, and should be addressed as such.

  • daedalus2u says:

    There are multiple issues here.
    The most important issue (as I see it) is dissing someone and discounting their opinions and ideas for reasons which have nothing to do with those opinions and ideas.
    Discounting someone’s science because they don’t have a PhD, are female, are non-white, are liberal, or are a democrat, or haven’t published in mega-pretentious journal are all “the same” as far as I am concerned, and are completely on par with accepting someone’s “science” because they do have a PhD, are male, white, conservative or a Republican.
    If you don’t understand the science involved, you don’t have the authority to talk about it as if you do. No title, honorary, position of authority, or belief system does give you the authority without the understanding.
    That is the main reason people (mis)use titles, to inappropriately add or subtract credence to ideas that the people misusing the titles don’t understand.
    I think DM is correct about MSM and the GOP and Conservatives working hand-in-glove to reduce the credence given to learned folks because (usually) learned folks have different ideas than they do.
    The expertise of MDs is pretty narrow, the treating of disease. It is very important, but it doesn’t extend to other things that are important too, such as global warming, economics, education.
    In my opinion, if MSM wants to not use the title Dr for people with PhDs, then they have to use PhD after the name. Then there is no confusion with MDs, and no dissing of learned folks. My guess is that they don’t want to do that and won’t do that because leaving it out is about dissing and diminishing the appearance of authority.
    I think it would be ok for them to use any of the titles Dr Jill Biden, Jill Biden, PhD, or Mrs. Joe Biden, PhD.

  • David Marjanović says:

    I posted this comment on another SB a while ago, but I think it bares repeating here. I do not hold a PhD, instead I hold a MS degree. However, I am frequently addressed with the title of doctor. I always wondered, if that was because my first name starts with "D" and my middle name starts with "R". Thus in journal citations my name appears as D.R. Danimal.

    Nah. It's simply the standard assumption that all scientists are doctors, so if you write to a scientist you don't know, you call them Dr.. Has happened to me several times (reprint requests and such), and I don't have a doctorate yet.
    What, though, do you mean by "instead"? Is it possible in the USA to do a PhD when you aren't a Master?

  • David Marjanović says:

    I wrote:

    It's simply the standard assumption that all scientists are doctors

    Because, of course, most of them are. It's an almost safe assumption. Also, in the English-speaking world, professors tend not to be insulted when they aren't called Prof. and are merely called Dr. instead -- where I come from, Prof. is an academic title that requires writing a big thesis...

  • Dave says:

    The comments by JaneDoh (#32) and Arlenna (#52) are quite interesting, in that I also look quite young for my age (which is not that old anyway), so much so that it is frequently commented on and to such a degree that I have been explicitly advised by my wife and colleagues to dress more formally and wear my glasses at meetings and when giving invited seminars, so people do not discount me offhand based on appearance. A couple years back, I was helping a couple TAs proctor an exam for a colleague, and a student handed in his exam and asked if I knew who was teaching the next section of the class. I told him I was, and he laughed and walked away. The next week, when I showed up to lecture, he told me how surprised he was to see me, as he was sure I could not be a professor. Lately I have been attending a lot of administrative meetings with deans and stuff, and almost every time I am stopped at doors under the assumption that I am a student going someplace I should not be.
    It never occurred to me that these experiences were insulting evidence of some conspiracy to keep me down. Thanks to you folks, I shall henceforth be properly offended at what I used to consider a compliment.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I shall henceforth be properly offended at what I used to consider a compliment.
    Having experienced disbelief that I was a PI running my own show, I presume* because of perceived age, this can be both a nice compliment and something considerably more negative depending on circumstances. It is not that difficult to tell the difference in most cases.
    I am reasonably insensitive to whether anyone dismisses me on the basis of anything, including age, for rather obvious reasons but this does not mean they have not done so. It also does not mean that it doesn't rightfully bother other people in the same position.
    *actually, confirmed in a couple of cases

  • Danimal says:

    David Marjanović wrote "What, though, do you mean by "instead"? Is it possible in the USA to do a PhD when you aren't a Master?"
    Standard progression is BS, MS, PhD or equivalents. But it is possible to earn a PhD with ever earning the MS. I think this varies by University. For example, some University require a thesis for a MS, others do not. The MS at some Universities is often a consolidation prize for those unable to earn their PhD.

  • daedalus2u says:

    The university I went to required a thesis for a BS degree.

  • [...] covered this same issue wrt to MSM dropping the title of Dr. Biden back in 2009. Maybe I'm just a little irritated that people can mistake me for a TA or office administrator. [...]

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