One of the silliest flaps of the ongoing election season, among several serious ones, is the recent brouhaha over the preference of Joe Biden’s wife, Jill, for the honorific “Dr.” in public recognition of her 2007 Ed.D. from the University of Delaware.
At least until you become a public figure, ask Donald Trump, your name is your name and you’re pretty much entitled to call yourself whatever you want. So long as it’s not done with criminal or fraudulent intent, no one should quarrel with Mrs.—or Dr.—Biden’s choice or that of anyone else. Whether he’s Cassius Clay VI (you can look it up) or Muhammad Ali, Cat Stevens or Yousef Latif, Marion Morrison or John Wayne, it should be up to the person, or the person’s booking agent. ‘Nuff said.
Yes, apparently Whoopi Goldberg (neé Carolyn Elaine Johnson) on “The View” expressed the view that a President Joe Biden should name Dr. Jill Biden as Surgeon General. But even assuming that Ms. Goldberg was genuinely confused that Dr. Jill might be a medical doctor, she’d be equally wrong in thinking that a president could name a family member to the Cabinet. That’s been illegal since President John F. Kennedy named his brother Bobby as Attorney General in the early 1960s, and we all know how that turned out. Besides, entertainers should probably do what they do best, entertain us, and not otherwise be taken too seriously.
Yet there is a serious side to the whole “doctor” thing, and that is the apparently growing tendency of both the general public and public officials in the United States, what is supposed to be a democratic republic, to rely on the perceived wisdom of experts, particularly those with names preceded by “doctor.”
A nation that once grew up watching Marcus Welby, M.D. (“Make Us Well, Please!”) and seems increasingly confused about “science” can perhaps be forgiven for looking in trying times for comfort and assurance from people wearing lab coats. Yet that’s not the way either science or public policy, or a democratic republic, actually works.
Science is a continuously evolving discipline that relies on observation, hypotheses, testing, and theories, all of which change over time. Based on limited tools of observation, the scientists of Aristotle’s time thought that everything was made of only four elements (earth, air, fire, and water); later ones believed the atom was indivisible; as recently as 1947, when the late Chuck Yeager daringly proved otherwise, scientists thought humans couldn’t travel faster than sound; and even Einstein rejected quantum theory , a fundamental precept of today’s astrophysics and quantum computing, on the grounds that “God does not roll dice with the universe.” Even now, astrophysicists still can’t find that last quark.
At this point we’ve all now seen, if not acknowledged, the folly of letting “science,” to the exclusion of all else, control our public policy. Lockdowns in the name of science have helped turn an otherwise serious public health problem into an economic apocalypse and a threat to our very system of government, while the good-natured Dr. Fauci, elected to no position by anyone, still can’t seem to make up his mind: are masks essential or should they be limited to front-line health care workers? Do they stop or slow the spread of microscopic viruses at all? Will a vaccine lead to herd immunity if 60 to 70 percent of the population gets inoculated, or will it take 90 percent? No one seems to know, least of all Dr. Fauci, all the while enjoying his newfound celebrity status.
Public policy in a democratic republic should be resolved by informed representatives of an educated public, acting within constitutional limits, not by executive branch heads or appointees whose duty it is to see that the laws the people make are faithfully executed, and certainly not by experts just because they have “Dr.” in front of their names.
So, let Dr. Biden, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, and Dr. Fauci call themselves whatever they want. But, please, as we prepare to enter 2021, can we stop blindly waiting on the doctors and scientists to save us all and get back to the business of self-government?
David L. Applegate(email@example.com)is a Chicago-based trial lawyer, partner at the law firm of Williams Montgomery & John Ltd., and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute.