Only in Germany

… will it matter to the vain to proudly carry a “Dr.” (used for PhD and other doctoral degrees) in front of their names.

It’s not like you’re forced to put it there, it’s very often literally abused to convey a sense of authority when there isn’t necessarily any. Let me elaborate.

For starters, a simple “Dr.” doesn’t convey anything whatsoever about the institution that awarded the degree, nor the circumstances under which it was awarded, nor even the area of expertise. Sure, a “Dr. med.” implies medical education. But I’d hold that the generalist may not necessarily know too many details about dermatology in particular. This is very similar to how I know little about Microsoft Word and Excel, although a lot of people deem me knowledgeable in the area of “computers”. Yet the not-so-subtle title in front of the name will unduly give more authority1 to an argument voiced by such a person than is often justified.

In a discussion about physics, I’ll gladly bow to the physicist who carries a “Dr.” title, because then the sense of authority is more likely justified. Doesn’t mean I won’t try to check the facts, but it means I’ll be more inclined to accept an argument that can withstand a few pointed questions. But if the same physicist would discuss with me about politics or religion2 or whatever else, why should I grant him the benefit of added authority because of a title?

I have no extra respect whatsoever towards people who carry their title this way. In fact I will be much more suspicious towards them. The only exception is really the “Dr. med.”, because that has for a long time been awarded to students of medicine despite the doctoral theses not always meeting the high standards generally applied to doctoral theses in other fields. Also, the title “Doctor” is often used to address someone of the medical profession who doesn’t necessarily carry that title (yet).

But then plenty of institutions will award the doctor degrees under more than questionable circumstances. In the past, my understanding of this process is, doctoral theses had to advance the field of expertise to which they applied considerably. Now either some of these fields have become very shallow, not meeting any standards for scientific work, or the theses are. If a thesis collects and assembles mere facts and maybe draws some conclusions from it, that’s most of the time nothing groundbreaking and new. Yet the titles are being awarded.

I guess it’s the underlying social norm we have to address in order to fix this. I don’t give a flying fuck about some politician having or not having a doctor degree. What matters are their subject matter competence and leadership skills.


// Oliver

  1. this, of course, is also a social problem in that the standards in a society imbue the rule that such title carries authority in peoples’ minds []
  2. the only group of people in an argument about religion as a whole would be preachers and doctors and professors of theology. []
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