Tell me where it hurts
Q. what’s the difference between God and a doctor?
A. God doesn’t think he’s a doctor.
This ancient wheeze came to mind this afternoon when a reader’s letter was turned over to me. Not a letter, actually, but a clipping with 12 “errors” marked in red ink, accompanied by an index card with a commentary.
The clipping was an obituary. The “errors” were the attachment of the title “Dr.” to the subject’s name. The commentary on the index card contrasted the years of study, state boards and other requirements for the M.D. with the “OLD BOYS CLUB,” “DIPLOMA MILLS” and “PHD BY RETURN MAIL” associated with the Ph.D. “NOT A MEDICAL DEGREE THEREFORE NOT A DOCTOR,” was the summary comment.
It was, you may have guessed, an anonymous mailing, with one nice touch: a return-address label from which the name had been snipped off.
For the record, The Sun’s house style grants the title of “Dr.” to anyone who has an earned doctoral degree. This reflects common practice. (I did have one professor in graduate school who insisted on “Professor” rather than “Doctor,” because doctors are people who make a living by probing in people’s orifices.)
It also reflects our reluctance to make invidious distinctions. We recognize that anyone who has managed to claw into the upper middle class by earning a medical degree or academic doctorate is keen to keep from slipping back among the rabble, and we don’t begrudge a little indulgence in titles.
If you’re unhappy with this policy, perhaps you should take a pill.