Sunday, January 11, 2009

On Credentials and Academic Honesty

There are a few things I want to talk about in this post, mainly dealing with the use honorary degrees, bogus degrees from diploma mills, and the various types of doctoral degrees.

So often I hear someone referred to as "Dr. X". This happens a lot with televangelists. Take Mike Murdock for example. He has at least one honorary doctorate. No earned degrees though. And yet you hear him referred to on television as "Dr. Murdock". This makes it sound as if he's some type of scholar. The title "doctor" makes one seem to be an expert in their field.

At some point we have to ask if this is a little bit mis-leading. When I hear "Doctor" I typically think of someone who has earned a Ph.D., Ed.D., Th.D., J.D., M.D., D.M.A., or some other equivalent terminal degree. I don't think of someone who found favor with certain school officials who then decided to award an honorary degree.

I'm not diminishing honorary degrees, many people who are awarded them probably deserve a certain level of recognition. What I do want to question is the use of an honorary degree to establish academic credibility or expertise power (e.g.- leading people to trust you because you are an "expert" on the issue). My great-great grandfather was awarded an honorary Master of Science degree in recognition for his contribution to the field of geology. What I ask is that honorary degrees are awarded in recognition for an outstanding achievement in the field, not as a means of associating with a high-profile individual that might get recognition for the awarding institute.

In the case of Mike Murdock, the man has not contributed a single thing to the field of theology or ministry. If anything he perpetuates the idea that pastors are just greedy, self-seeking hucksters. But he conveniently hides behind the "Dr." title to establish his credibility.

There are also the diploma mills and fake degrees. People like Roland Martin claim to have a masters degree when it's from an unaccredited university called by some a diploma mill. In Martin's defense, I attended a debate he had with former Secretary of the Treasury Bay Buchanan, and Martin is a very smart man. He has been awarded several journalistic rewards and is a intelligent political commentator.

What I wonder is why the need to claim a fake degree? As far as I know he earned most of his awards before his "masters", and he has an accredited bachelors, so why the need?

During the aforementioned debate the issue of faith and politics came up. Martin was arguing for Obama, Buchanan for McCain; and there is a stereotype that Christians must be Republicans. To establish his Evangelical credibility Martin said "I have a master's degree in Christian communication". I have a friend, a fellow Christian, who is skeptical of seminaries (in fact, trying to discourage me from ever attending one). After the debate he pointed out that having a seminary degree does not necessarily make you a capable or integral pastor (Martin had, among his profanities, also said he was speaking at a Church the next Sunday).

Of course I had done a little research on Martin and knew the degree was unaccredited, but even so, it doesn't give those of us who take education seriously a good name. There are legitimate seminaries, and serious minded pastors and theologians who attend them and actually earn their degrees. There are doctors of various subjects who have earned their degrees.

And this brings me to the last point I want to make. Increasingly the Ph.D. is becoming the degree of choice for many pursuing doctoral work. But it should be noted that not all fields offer Ph.D.s. For a musician focusing on composition, performance, or conducting, the terminal degree is the D.M.A. (Doctor of Musical Arts). It typically takes three years of full-time study to complete, and often requires a master's degree for admittance. As such I think the D.M.A. is academically equivalent to a Ph.D., it's just a different title.

There are also professional degrees, such as the D.Min., M.D., and J.D. Again I believe these degrees are equivalent to (though distinct from) a Ph.D. A D.Min. requires at least 30 hours of study, with a pre-requisite of a 90-96 credit hour Master of Divinity. A M.Div. would be equivalent to a Ph.D. in most fields (with the exception of a thesis/dissertation, sometimes). A M.D. is a professional degree as well, not an academic degree. But I still think a medical doctor is academically qualified to teach subjects of medicine at the graduate level. I find it odd that some people look at the D.Min., Ed.D., PsyD, or other doctoral degrees that are not Ph.Ds. as "lite" doctorates.

Well, this may be my most boring blog to date, which is probably quite an accomplishment in itself, but I think we need to open this dialogue.

God bless!


Blogger Lee said...

Hi Joey,

Long time no speak - Hope you had a good Christmas.

Now, to your post

I don't disagree with you (so please don't fall off your chair)

This is why the argument from authority is a logical fallacy.

To broaden your rant to one of my own if I may, if a quote from a professor in history (say) with all the 'right' background, qualifications and experience in a respective university is given that sounds a little like:-

"I don't see how the Big Bang could have happen…" by Professor what-not.

His professorship is pretty meaningless in this context, since it is not in physics, cosmology, or mathematics…

Even IF his professorship was in Physics or the like, the quote is STILL meaningless, since it is only a personal opinion.

Have to admit though… if I had the money (and knew where to buy one) I have been tempted to buy myself a doctor of theology or what it is called – I think it would be funny in a debate who is using the argument of authority.

See ya


Sun Jan 11, 11:33:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Lee said...

My great-great grandfather was awarded an honorary Master of Science degree in recognition for his contribution to the field of geology.

Oh I'm sorry, but I just have to ask... how old do you think your great-great grandfather thought the Earth was and why? A young Earth and geology do not go together you know.

I'll get my coat...


Sun Jan 11, 11:35:00 PM 2009  
Blogger FishHawk said...

Does this mean that all of the time that I spent designing and printing out diplomas for myself is in vain? Come on now, aren't you being awfully judgmental?

Mon Jan 12, 01:29:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Lee said...

Hi FishHawk,

I suppose if your diplomas that you wrote say 'honestly, would I lie to you' then we will have to believe you


Mon Jan 12, 01:37:00 AM 2009  
Blogger sweetswede said...


Leading up to this post I became interested in finding out how easy it would be to acquire a fake degree. Within about 5 minutes I found a website that let you print off degrees, you're allowed to fill out what level it is and what field it's in. I've thought about making up a fictional character, affixing "Th.D." after his name and posting a blog to see what would happen and if people would treat "Dr.X" any differently than just Joey (it would be on a completely new blog, not on this one). It would be a funny experiment, but I'm just concerned some people may actually start following said fictional theologian.

But yes, the argument from authority is a mistake; glad we agree on that.

I'm not positive how old my great-great grandfather believed the earth to be. I found he was published several times in "The Nautilus", and I'm attempting to access those articles. No luck as of yet, but I'm going to see if it's cataloged in my university's online database.


You did use paper and ink to print those diplomas, so there is some intrinsic value in them. Aside from that, I think your reputation probably is a better way to gain credibility :-)

God bless!

Mon Jan 12, 07:47:00 AM 2009  
Blogger FishHawk said...

Okay, I suppose my reputation as a blithering idiot will have to stand. Thank you both for the encouragement.

Mon Jan 12, 11:59:00 AM 2009  

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