Saturday, July 5, 2014

Well, They Are Phony Doctors

There's an old joke.
A woman gets introduced to another guest at a party, and since he was referred to as Dr. Jones, she says, "I have a question about this pain in my shoulder."

"I'm sorry," he says, "I'm not that kind of doctor. I'm a Ph.D., a doctor of philosophy."

"And what kind of disease is philosophy?"
The other old joke is that the letters stand for Phony Doctor, but according to an article in Slate, some of those Ph.D.s might truly be phony. Scott McLemlee (writing originally for Inside Higher Ed) cites a study that says
“at least 3 percent of all doctorate degrees in occupational safety and health and related areas” are bogus.
And by "bogus," McLemlee means that the supposed degree holder never did the work he or she claimed and either paid a diploma mill for the degree (typically based on "life experience"). And it's not just in occupational safety and health. How about medicine?
In Degree Mills, Ezell and Bear cite a congressional committee’s estimate from 1986 that there were more than 5,000 fake doctors practicing in the U.S. The figure must be several times that by now.
Though I'm not sure how McLemless can be sure about the increase. Obviously, the congressional committee's estimate is incontestable, but how can we extrapolate that to "several times that by now"? He doesn't offer an answer.

The real problem isn't that people are claiming to have a Ph.D. from the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople, but that they've bought and paid for Ph.D.s that required no real work.
Grolleau, et al. distinguish between counterfeit degrees (fabricated documents not actually issued by the institutions the holder thereby claims to have attended) and “degrees from bogus universities, sold outright and that can require some academic work but significantly less than comparable, legitimate accredited programs.” The latter institutions, also known as diploma mills, are sometimes backed up by equally dubious accreditation “agencies.” A table in the paper indicates that more than 200 such “accreditation mills” (defined as agencies not recognized by either the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education) were operating as of 2004.
That's a lot of phony doctorates. How many? Well, quoting Degree Mills again,
keep in mind Ezell and Bear’s estimate in Degree Mills that 40,000 to 45,000 legitimate Ph.D.s are awarded annually in the U.S.—while 50,000 spurious Ph.D.s are purchased here.

“In other words,” they write, “more than half of all people claiming a new Ph.D. have a fake degree.”
I know I'm just going to have to scrutinize my friends claiming Ph.D.s more carefully. "Yes, I understand your Ph.D. was awarded by Columbia, but is that a reputable institution? 'Columbia.' Sounds kinda foreign. Offshore place?"
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