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Dr Jill Biden

The Wall Street Journal has come under a torrent of denunciation for publishing a “sexist” opinion article that calls Jill Biden, the first lady-in-waiting, “kiddo”, and questions her right to use “Dr” in front of her name.

The article, written by a former adjunct professor at Northwestern University Joseph Epstein, purports to offer Biden “a bit of advice”. Opening on the provocative note of calling her “Madame (sic) First Lady – Mrs Biden – Jill – kiddo”, the author goes on to recommend that she drop the honorific of “Dr” before her name.

“‘Dr Jill Biden’ sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic,” Epstein writes. He justifies his condescension towards her title on grounds that it referred to an “Ed D – a doctor of education, earned at the University of Delaware”.

Perhaps not the politest article ever written. And I’m not entirely au fait with American practises. The English solution is fairly simple. Which is that a PhD doesn’t use the title Dr. outside purely academic arenas. That’s reserved – socially, societally, not formally – for MDs.

Pointing out that this might be the way to do it doesn’t deserve a torrent of denunciation of course.

28 thoughts on “Dr Jill Biden”

  1. So Much For Subtlety

    The English solution is fairly simple. Which is that a PhD doesn’t use the title Dr. outside purely academic arenas.

    News to me. I know a small number of academics who insist on the use of the Doctor.

    There are two problems here – one is that medical doctors have usurped the academic title until most of us mean a medical doctor by the term doctor. But the other one is that a Doctor of Education is on par with a Doctorate in dog training. Only less useful. It is a fake degree.

    I do not know what the solution is but getting kiddo to stop using it is a good start

  2. I also know quite a few British PHDs who use their titles professionally. Perhaps it’s the influence of the continent, I seem to remember ze Germans all use their titles, although it’s ages since I did any business there.

  3. Frankly, people using the Dr. honorific when they’re not a medical doctor is really, really cringey. Particularly when it’s in a soft subject.

    And yes, Prof. Brian Cox and Dr. Brian May are equally cringe… (although Cox gets a pass if he’s dealing with the subject of his professorship).

  4. The only people who could object to someone with a PhD using the honorific Dr in a professional context would be those who do not have a clue what is required to earn one, certainly in science and engineering (the drop out rate is typically 30-50%).

    I personally don’t use it on business cards, email signatures, etc., but I don’t have a problem with my colleagues who do.

    When in South Africa, I was advised to use it on my application for a telephone landline. I had my phone in a couple of weeks, my boss was still waiting six months later.

  5. > News to me. I know a small number of academics who insist on the use of the Doctor.

    News to me also.
    As far as I understand it “Dr.” should be used for academics if one would otherwise have used “Mr.”, “Mrs.” etc., e.g. in a letter, or introducing someone in a formal setting. Otherwise, it shouldn’t be an issue.

    > Frankly, people using the Dr. honorific when they’re not a medical doctor is really, really cringey.

    How are they using it? I’d think that insisting on it in circumstances other than the above might perhaps look a bit pretentious.

    Caveat: I happen to know many people with PhDs; I have one myself and work in the biological sciences.

  6. “I personally don’t use it on business cards, email signatures, etc., but I don’t have a problem with my colleagues who do. ”
    I used the title on a credit card back in the days when people had to sign in shops for a CC purchase. I though it would make it less likely that some chancer would try to use *my* card. Other than that, once I left academic life, no co-workers ever knew about the title, except the creepy guy, who found out somehow.

  7. The article doesn’t ‘question her right to use ‘Dr’ in front of her name’ – what it does is question her choice to use ‘Dr’ in front of her name. In the US, as in the UK, the regular use of the term ‘Dr’ by those who are not medical doctors, even if entitled to use the honorific, outside a very well-delimited academic sphere, is generally seen as pedantic, self-important and self-aggrandizing. A person who does this, or who insists that others address them in this way, is generally derided as being excessively full of themselves.

    Some doctorates generally attract the honorific, but only when used in the strict context of the field in which they apply. So I call my dentist ‘Doctor Jim’ at the office and ‘Jim’ at the bar. Similarly, my vet is ‘Doc O’Reilly’ in working hours, but not at any other time.

    I know plenty of people with non-medical doctorates. None of them insist upon being referred to at all times as ‘Doctor’, and I would consider anyone that did to be an elitist jerk. And especially someone who rejoiced in a doctorate in education, teaching humanities at a second-tier community college. Like Jill Biden.

    Whoopi Goldberg nominating her to be Surgeon General is priceless – tells you all you need to know about the vapid credentials fetish of the Left. Which is exactly what Jill Biden is playing to – trying to use her piddly qualification to make herself appear more-talented and more-worthy than You.



  8. I think Tim is completely wrong here. Dr Biden has earned a doctorate and with that the right to use the title. Which circumstances one would use the title in vary. As first lady she will probably deploy it rather more than Dr Bloke here does.

    The medics are a very special case in the UK, they are the only people allowed to use the title without holding any doctoral degree. Many but not all medics do complete an MD and/or PhD. They all (surgeons excepted) call themselves “Dr.”. The MD is much less common in the UK than elsewhere, because outside of the anglosphere you need it if you want the title. About 90% of German doctors have an MD, most obtain it purely for the title. As for me, being in the somewhat unusual position of holding a PhD in medicine but not an MB, I sometimes need to explain more carefully.

    Both academic and medical doctors tend to not use the title personally, particularly when buying services, as it comes with a 30% mark-up. Friends will know, but those pompous enough to insist on its usage around the dinner table tend not to have any friends.

    Professional and academic practice is also largely first-name these days. I will often be introduced as “Dr. Bloke” and then go by first name thereafter. Titles and honorifics are for CVs, business cards, and high-up people you don’t know personally, in very formal circumstances. Like the First Lady of the United States.

  9. the first lady-in-waiting

    Dunno, given the mounting evidence of enormous vote fraud, there’s a chance she might be waiting for some time. Not an overwhelming chance, but not zero either.

    I don’t expect American institutions to do anything about it (the FBI is a fully paid up part of the #resistance and the courts are either political enemies or conservative cowards), but the executive branch still has cards to play if it wants to. A Trump card, if you will.

    Incidentally, I reckon the MSM/Big Tech consensus to prevent any discussion of the thousands of sworn eyewitness testimonies, statistical anomalies, Chinese fuckery and blatantly illegal behaviour by Democrat run districts is a symptom of weakness, not strength.

    Doesn’t mean Biden is soon to receive the Ceausescu retirement package, but it does mean aggressively manufacturing consent via Pravda suggests you never had consent in the first place.

  10. There are a lot of women who really dislike the way Mrs/Ms/Miss titles work and prefer to use a title that doesn’t immediately display their marital status. I think this is why a lot more women use academic doctorates when men are more content to be just “mister”.

    “Ms” was invented in theory to resolve the issue, but it doesn’t seem to have worked, because, while it’s mostly replaced “Miss”, it hasn’t shifted “Mrs” much.

    My experience these days is that it’s mostly “Mrs” for married and widowed women who have the same surname as their husband (changed to his or double-barrelled), “Ms” for women who don’t (unmarried, married to another woman, divorced, retained their maiden name on marriage to a man) and “Miss” is mostly for very young women – undergraduates might use Miss, but not much past that age. For women who use their maiden name professionally and their married name in private and family life, it’s almost always Ms Maidenname and Mrs Marriedname.

    But there are a lot of women who want to avoid this, and using another title (Doctor, a military rank, Senator, etc) is a good way to not have to address that question. Lot of women dislike “Mrs” because, while they’re quite happy to be married, they don’t want to be seen as an appendage of their husbands.

    [A] PhD doesn’t use the title Dr. outside purely academic arenas. That’s reserved – socially, societally, not formally – for MDs.

    You mean MBBSes (or BM BCh (Oxon) / MB BChir (Cantab)) in the UK; there are almost no MDs here.

    Aside: the American EdD in the 1950s was a “professional doctorate” like their MD or JD (which would be a master’s in the UK) but has gradually come to require more and more original research and about half the institutions that used to award them now give out PhDs in education without having changed the curriculum at all; I don’t know how high the standards were at the University of Delaware when Dr Biden got her EdD, but new-minted EdDs are basically PhDs these days – the MEd degree is the usual American qualification for teachers whose first degree is not in education (equivalent to our PGCE).

  11. Awarding a doctorate for some sort of teacher training schemozzle just seems intrinsically comical.

    Does that sound like intellectual snobbery? Probably, and well deserved.

    P.S. An old Cambridge colleague used occasionally to rant about the standard required for an MD – pathetic, in his view, compared to the standard required for a PhD in any STEM discipline.

  12. The whole point here is that she’s got a D.Ed and uses the title “Dr.” outside of a professional context.

    Which is cringey, elitist, credentialist, and intended to make people think she’s a medical doctor or an academic high flier when she’s neither.

    It’s in her twitter handle, even. @drbiden

  13. the executive branch still has cards to play if it wants to. A Trump card, if you will.

    I really hope there is a master stroke on its way, but time is getting fucking short.

  14. BiW – Yarp.

    Strong likelihood is Trump will concede. He’s in a uniquely bad position, and has been since winning the 2016 election. As we found after the Brexit referendum, most of the institutional class no longer feels the need to be bound by democratic or legal outcomes. Which is a problem, since they control the institutions and define the law. The months of unchecked domestic terrorism the US was subjected to by Antifa/BLM, which are proxies of the Democratic Party and its donors, underlined what the good guys are up against.

    Trump is lawful good, which is both a necessity and his greatest weakness. If he was the evil fascist dictator the media has portrayed him to be, his enemies would’ve been hung for treason years ago. Perhaps starting with politically active judges who ruled that it’s illegal for the president to enforce laws.

    He doesn’t have to concede tho. In light of the vote fraud and evidence of Chinese meddling, he can decree martial law and take direct measures aimed at preserving constitutional government.

    This is not the wacky Qanon-tier, tinfoil millinery fantasy it might appear. People like General Flynn, the former national security advisor and first victim of the FBI’s broader efforts to support regime change in Washington DC, are openly calling for it. This has attracted less attention in the press than it should, because the Narrative demands normalising the idea that a senile husk of a man who barely even campaigned for himself somehow won millions more votes than Barack Obama at the height of his popularity.

    Doesn’t mean that it would work tho. It’s a very risky option, given who controls the Pentagon, the intelligence community, the Senate Republicans, the Supreme Court etc.

    But the personal alternative may well be DRUMF being hounded to jail and/or the grave by a weaponised bureaucracy that’s bent on revenge for him winning the 2016 election. And the political alternative is institutionalised cheating ensuring permanent Democratic hegemony of the federal government until the USA goes bankrupt and/or dissolves.

    So it’ll come down to whether or not The Donald is prepared to go all in. He probably won’t (it’s out of character), but he could. It’s not the end either way tho. Trump winning won’t resolve anything and neither will Trump losing – the deeper structural problem of an increasingly remote and hostile elite attempting to rule over an increasingly fractured empire that’s facing multiple simultaneous demographic, cultural, social, economic and technological crises will remain. People hoping for a return to what passed for normality pre-2016 are gonna be disappointed.

  15. As we were chatting about Italian on another thread, it’s worth mentioning that female medics in Italy are Dottoressa. And anyone with a degree can be referred to as Dottore, particularly by subordinates wishing to curry favour (or take the piss).

    In the UK, few medical professionals (outside academia) hold doctorates. My S-i-L is an exception, after 20 years practising in oncology, she’s gone back to take a DPhil.

  16. Well, on the matter of titles etc, this is the country which is frankly ludicrous enough to confer the honorific “Esquire” for attorneys, regardless of their sex.

    Jane Doe Esquire
    Attorney at Law

    I await Dennis popping up and explaining to me why your average septic really is not a dumb-ass.

  17. I thought for a while about moving to Germany just for honorific of ‘Engineer’. Then I realised that being a typically lazy Australian I had never picked up my degree so I wouldn’t be entitled to the title.

  18. In America only MD’s and pretentious twats who think the rest of us give shit use Doctor.

    How many time is ‘doctor’ Krugman called that? And he won a Nobel *and* is a partisan hack.

  19. ” Dr in Germany
    December 14, 2020 at 12:16 pm

    I think Tim is completely wrong here. Dr Biden has earned a doctorate and with that the right to use the title.”

    In the US there is no ‘right to use a title’ – except the title ‘engineer’.

    I could call myself a doctor right now – even tell people I have a doctorate in education – and there’s nothing the law could do about it.

    So, has she ‘earned’ the title? That’s for the beholder to decide. Some college somewhere does not grant titles that Americans have to respect.

  20. I have a friend who teaches and researches in Sweden at a university there, specializing in the biology of blood feeding insects. She insists that when I send her mail, I DO NOT use Dr., but if my OCD required it, to put PhD. at the end. She really doesn’t care to be Dr., and for the most part, not even Prof. “Those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter”.

    She was shortlisted for a position at Jena, and works with German Academics all the time, and relates some interesting anecdotes about their obsession with “correctness”. In Germany, a wife takes her husband’s title, so for example, you get Frau Professor Schmidt. (in the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey-Mathurin novels, we see something similar as in Mrs. Sgt. James, the Marine Sgt’s wife.). They also mix things in a way the rest of us don’t, so you get things like Engineur-Dokter Schmidt or Engineur-Professor Schmidt and so on.

    When two academics marry, you get the ludicrous situation where Doktor-Professor Schmidt marries a female colleague with the same qualifications, so she becomes Doktor-Doktor-Professor-Professor Schmidt.

  21. It’s been observed that the less technical or rigorous the degree the more likely the holder will insist on being called Doctor.

  22. Someone with two doctorates should be formally addressed in German as Herr Doktor Doktor Schmidt. They don’t always understand why Brits find this so amusing.

  23. If I am explicitly asked for my title on a (typically web-based) form, I always select ‘Dr’, on the assumption that it is the (only) correct option. I would never otherwise use it. This has led to the guy at the garage servicing my car addressing me as ‘Dr Sewell’, which I found really embarrassing (‘you can call me Martin’). Upon my next visit, he started a conversation about my title of Dr, and how his brother, despite being a Dr, didn’t use his title. Which of course was even more embarassing…

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