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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Physicians and Lawyers: On the Presumption of Ignorance

It would surprise virtually every American (but only a few Europeans) to know that neither the JD nor the MD degree is a doctorate.   Each one is the first degree in its school, or discipline.  Yet we presume them to evince advanced knowledge, even allowing people with two undergraduate degrees to be "professors" (really instructors) in American law and medical schools. In the school of law, the sequence of degrees is: JD (same as the LLB), LLM (hint: M...Masters), and JSD (Doctorate in Juridical Science). The JSD degree includes advance study, a comprensive exam (an academic exam graded by faculty--not a industry-qualifying exam like the bar), and a defended dissertation. A doctoral degree must be the terminal degree of a field, contain a comprehensive exam, and include significant original research in a defended dissertation. The JD misses on all three points. The title of the first degree in law, the LLB (bachalors in letters of law) was replaced with "JD" largely for marketing purposes in 1901 in the founding of the U of Chicago law school (by three Harvard professors) because prospective students were complaining about having two "B" degrees after seven years of school.  People don't like to think they have gone to school for seven or eight years for two undergraduate degrees, but this is precisely what they have done. Nevertheless, the new law school in need of students complied with the "customer" complaint with a feat of mirrored marketing that was perhaps intentionally ambiguous.  To eviscerate the ambiguity in  Juris Doctor and a doctorate, one must look beyond the mere words.

In medicine, the MD is the first degree. Substantively, it contains survey courses and some seminars, just as in a BA or BS program in liberal arts or sciences. The D. Sci.M. is the doctorate in the field of medicine, and the M.D. is a prerequisite (so the latter cannot be the terminal degree of the field).  The fact that some schools give the D.Sci. M. degree as an honorary degree does not mean that it does not exist elsewhere as the real, terminal degree. Particular medical schools may give the degree as honorary where there are not enough prospective students interested in a doctorate in medicine. 

In divinity schools, the M.Div (before 1968, called the BD) is the undergraduate degree. It is followed by the STM (the masters) and the DD.   When the BD name was changed to the M.Div name, a perhaps-deliberate ambiguity was created wherein one apparent masters would be followed by another (M.Div. and STM).   It evinces a category mistake to have two masters degrees with one being substantively prerequisite to the second. Substantively, the M.Div. program consists of a year and a half of survey classes, followed by senior seminars (just as in the undergraduate law, liberal arts & science, and medical programs).  To regard a graduate with a M.Div., JD, or MD as having achieved advanced knowledge in the respective field is a fallacy perpetuated by the superfluous esteem we heap on the "professions" on account of their association with money (the religious vocation being revered for sacrificing the vaunted wealth).

It makes no difference how many degrees a person has in other fields before commencing study in a professional school. In beginnning to study law, medicine or theology, one begins with survey courses. Furthermore, it doesn't matter whether one's particular school or even country offers the doctorate in the field.  Try telling people that your BA is a doctorate in English because no Ph.D. in the field is offered at your college or even in one's country.  Every field (just like life itself) has a first degree and a terminal degree.  A student does not obtain advanced knowledge in two or three years in a law, medical or divinity school, but only a first degree's worth in liberal arts and sciences.

Sadly, we as a people have esteemed the physcians and lawyers so much that we have vaunted them by unwittingly appreciating their degrees into the stratisphere.   One degree in a given field does not a doctor make.   Europeans have been correct in refusing to call an American physician, "Dr. Smith."   The fact that Mr. Smith would take offense just points to the arrogance that lies in ignorance.  The rest of us enable Mr. Smith to claim the doctoral title before his last name because we don't know any better.   We give physicians titled trophies that they do not deserve.  Moreover, the use of vocational titles (including Professor Jackson) risks a vocational reductionism wherein a person is rgarded (and comes to regard himself) as that which he or she does.   Is vocation really so important that it eclipses or overcomes a person's identity?

Maybe it is time that we say "enough is enough" on the green glitter and deflate those who have vaunted their own entitlements going along with being a  professional  to a value or level more fitting to what they have earned.   The extent of illusion that a society can create and maintain is astonishing, yet being in the illusion (think here of the Matrix) we do not see it.  It is time to see the green numbers on the wall.  No wonder even the hint of such sight is apt to incur the wrath of the agents who instinctively protect the illusion because they benefit inordinately from it.   It is time, ladies and gentleman, that we wake up, as the sun is already quite high in the sky and there is much to be done.