03 February 2009

The original doctors

Cluelessness from the Los Angeles Times:

“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.

Yeah, because fact-checking and veracity at newspapers is so last century. It’s all feelings.

At issue is whether Jill Biden (pictured), wife of American Vice President Joe Biden, “deserves” to be called “Doctor” or not. I’ve blogged about this before, so this sort of stuff is no surprise. Disappointing, but not surprising. I still like Russell T Davies’ answer to this sort of small mindedness.

But what I love about the blogosphere is that there’s someone who will not only point out that this is wrong-headed, but give a fairly detailed analysis to drive the point home. From GrrlScientist:

Long long ago (in the early Paleozoic), Islamic law awarded the first Ph.D. degrees in the 9th century; a “Doctor of Laws” degree. Then in the middle ages (shortly after the extinction of the dinosaurs), the Ph.D. or Doctor of Philosophy degree (Latin; philosophiƦ doctor, meaning “teacher of philosophy”) was expanded to include all fields of scholarship except theology, law and .. medicine. Let me repeat this in tiny words for the journalists in the crowd: the Ph.D. became THE most advanced academic degree awarded by the vast majority of the English-speaking world and it is required for those Doctors pursuing a career as a university professor or researcher in most scholarly, academic or scientific fields. By comparison, medical practitioners (have) been known as “doctors” only very recently.

More commentary at:


I also have to agree with several of the above commentators that this whole thing shows up some fairly blatant sexism. Women with doctorates of any variety are far, far less likely to be referred to as “Doctor.” Sad to say, I've seen this in play on my own campus.

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