Saturday, December 19, 2020

Dr. Jill Biden

 This is Joseph.

There is a terrible article in the Wall Street Journal. See this excerpt below:

The argument is a bit muddled, but it seems to be that honorary doctorates are occasionally given to poor choices (this is an earned doctorate) and that standards have slipped. I think standards slipping is simply incorrect on the face of it, at least over in my area. The sheer amount of work that is required to accomplish a PhD has most definitely not decreased (at least not radically). Certainly there is no particular reason that a PhD (or Ed.D., like Jill Biden has) should not have the honorific of Dr. 

The last argument is that it is confusing with physicians, who have started using the same honorific despite having a clinical M.D. I think it is appropriate that modern physicians are also addressed as Dr. but see no reason that it should exclusive to them. In fact both dentists and pharmacists also have clinical doctorates, earned at great effort as well. 

It is true that it might be gauche to be Dr. X at a party, a criticism that applies to both physicians and academics. But in any context that Mrs. Biden would be appropriate, Dr. Biden would be even more appropriate. Not having out with friends, but in contexts in which Joe Biden would be Mr. Biden there is no reason for it not to be Mr and Dr Biden where they are present as a couple. 

The defense of it is actually even worse:
“Why go to such lengths to highlight a single op-ed on a relatively minor issue?” wrote Mr. Gigot, who elsewhere said the responses reflected “what was clearly a political strategy.” “My guess is that the Biden team concluded it was a chance to use the big gun of identity politics to send a message to critics as it prepares to take power. There’s nothing like playing the race or gender card to stifle criticism.”
While I agree that arguments should be allowed and that stifling them is bad, a bad argument does not become good just because it uses gender. Further down Mr Gigot points out that this bad argument applies to male PhD and Ed.D.'s as well. True. What is missing is a compelling reason to change etiquette just because some people may not know that the term Dr is used by several classes of professions. To take an example from his piece, Dentists and Pharmacists don't deliver babies -- do we drop their Drs as well? What about an MD who specialized in an area where they never delivered a child -- does the cardiac surgeon have to say "I have a medical degree but I have not yet delivered a child so call me Mr"? To say it is to see how silly the arguments are. 

And this:
He also noted that Mr. Epstein’s argument that holders of doctorates should not use the “Dr.” honorific applied to men as well as women, and he said criticizing Mr. Epstein’s use of “kiddo” to refer to Dr. Biden was misplaced, since Mr. Biden has also used the term in reference to his wife. He compared the Biden staff members’ tweets to those in which President Trump has referred to the press as the “enemy of the people.”

Ok. I don't actually believe that I need to say this but here goes. A spouse may often address their partner in a far more informal way than a third person. If a random woman can up to me and called me "honey" or "lover", it would be alarming even if my spouse can say such things. If the point of the article is to be about etiquette then why does it start like this by making a far more gauche gaffe than going by Dr in an informal social engagement? Over-familiar strangers seems like a worse etiquette concern than an EdD holder going by (her properly earned title of) Dr. 

Finally, we have a new sport of people making fun of her dissertation. Honestly, I can't even. A dissertation is a teaching document that shows a program of research. Of course they vary in quality and not every dissertation will shine. But the question of whether the underlying research was adequate to justify a degree has already been determined by a panel of experts in the research she undertook. 

In any case, I have probably put more thought into this than the original article writer did. But it seems like a very weak argument and not one that has added much to the discourse. 


  1. What I want to see is his next column, complaining that they call Martin Luther King "Dr. King" even though he never delivered any babies either!

    1. If you went back and dug through the Buckley columns/National Review op-eds of the era, I'd be surprised if you didn't find this very complaint.

  2. A buddy of mine with a research PhD in Psychology (who never referred to himself as doctor) dismissed uppity MDs with the observation that "they were calling people like me 'Doctor' back when they were calling people like you 'Barber'", an accurate summary of the history in Europe anyway....