MD vs PhD

amit mehta amehta at leland.Stanford.EDU
Wed Jul 2 04:27:49 EST 1997

[apologize for confusion over groups--previous reply not posted
on two groups from thie list]

On Tue, 1 Jul 1997, Mark Brandt, Ph.D. wrote:

> In article <Pine.GSO.3.96.970630185345.18895A-100000 at elaine5.Stanford.EDU>,
> amit mehta <amehta at leland.Stanford.EDU> wrote:
> [snipped]
> >         The common high sounding claims of pursuing scientific truth are
> > about as meaningful here as those of medical philanthropy.  Scientists
> > also seek invidious comparison but of a different sort.  First, the
> > surrounding community usually does not penetrate the quasi-mystical screen
> > of esoteric terminology, and the scientists do not really give them the
> > respect which ostentatious displays would indicate.  Hence, in a
> > meaningful sense, scientists are more vain than physicians. In fact,
> > little interaction with the surrounding community is required.
> Vanity?

Actually, "more vain than physicians," a comparison almost completely 
deleted in the excerpt you reply to.  I may have been unclear before.  The
paragraph before the one you take issue with describes the outward
arrogance and conspicuous pecuniary waste that I argue are the median
physician's signs of supplication, transparent attempts to provoke envy
from and thus pay homage to the surrounding society.  For instance, the 
runaway "little respect for doctors" thread continues to reverberate with
burlesque sounding declarations of philanthropy, likely disingenuous
downplay of guaranteed opulence, and assurances that craving socially
invidious status should not cause shame.  The almost endless repetition of
that last almost feels surreal.
	The median scientist is more arrogant precisely because she sees
herself as "beyond" these things, dismissing contemptuously exactly what
the physician caters to.  Rephrasing, the scientist sees no need for the
above supplication which is more or less a trademark of the physician.
The "little interaction with surrounding community" is just further
support for this point (i.e. no ostentation; in fact, almost no contact
at all...), and the reference to esoteric terminology was only an
elaboration on this lack of interaction.

> Tell me, how would you explain, for example, the molecular details of
> protein synthesis, without using "esoteric terminology"? 

I wouldn't, nor did I ever advocate discarding a specialized vocabulary.
I'm not pretending to stand outside the culture of science.

> There is a second problem; individuals in the "surrounding community" 
> tend not to be *interested* in the details.

agree, although I'm not sure this is a problem.

> > The currency of the scientist is the all-important publication
> > and the prestige it affords, again of no relevance in the "real" world and
> > to the culture so included, not respected by a group which instead creates
> > a closed subculture of its own. 
> I suspect that this is true of most subcultures; I strongly doubt that it
> is limited to science.

As argued previously, I don't think it is so true in medicine; the primary
audience is on the outside there (cf original post)  

> > Incidentally, one will find outward
> > arrogance within the scientific community, for reasons above described,
> > but this is never effective unless backed by influential publications.
> > Even then, the arrogant display is redundant and often counterproductive;
> > the publications alone constitute the desired pecking activity, although
> > they carry no meaning outside the largely closed scientific community.
> Except for the fact that these publications are the source of essentially
> all advances in knowledge.

Replace "except for" with "aside from" and I agree completely.  I hope you
agree this is not relevant to my point.  In fact, I think it feeds an
earlier argument--silent arrogance is implicit in attitudes that the
scientists' "intellectual" pecking is somehow more noble than its more
beastial counterpart.

> I would be interested in hearing your solutions to these problems.

I was only trying to compare the degrees.
But since you ask, I think the rising corps of PhD-trained science writers
and reporters will do a good job communicating with those interested.

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