Rupert Murdoch owns the Wall Street Journal and a recent issue had an op-ed piece by an appalling, clearly envious, Joseph Epstein denigrating the wife of the US President Elect, Dr Jill Biden. He suggested that she, to whom he referred as “kiddo”, should drop the Dr before her name because her doctorate is not a medical degree, and it “sounds and feels fraudulent”1. Biden has a Doctor of Education from the University of Delaware. While many people have jumped to Biden’s defence, and she herself has said she is proud of the doctorate because of the effort required to obtain it2, I thought I’d add my two bob’s worth.
One of the telling sections about Epstein’s disgraceful diatribe is his statement that he “taught and Northwestern University for 30 years without a doctorate or any advanced degree”, but “only a B.A.”1. This reeks of envy that a woman would have an ‘advanced degree’ that he doesn’t. Epstein then casts aspersions upon the Ph.D., believing that in the good old days when the Ph.D. “held prestige” it was an arduous process where “one had to pass examinations in two foreign languages, one of them Greek or Latin, defend one’s thesis, and take an oral examination on general knowledge in one’s field”1. I’d suggest that Epstein’s 30 years at Northwestern gives him a limited purview.
I have a Ph.D. and gained it almost 40 years ago, presumably during Epstein’s ‘good old days’. I didn’t have to defend my thesis; it was sent to two experts in the field (both in the UK) for examination. Course work for the degree consisted of ‘Advanced Historical Geology’ (we used to call it ‘advanced hysterical geology’) where we would examine recently published papers and pick them apart. I also did ‘scientific German’ which equipped me with a basic knowledge of the German language, so I could translate the important bits of relevant papers with the aid of a dictionary. The last course, and one which I found the most useful over my career was ‘scientific Russian’, something that allowed me to translate the relevant parts of papers of interest, again with the aid of a dictionary. It also allowed me to not look completely blankly at the interlocutor during my nine weeks in Russia. After my Ph.D., I also studied Chinese, again, just enough to allow me to translate with the aid of a dictionary. Nowadays, such limited knowledge of languages that I possess has essentially been rendered useless, because it has been superseded by the several translating tools which are available online. There are even applications you can get for your phone which allow you to use the phone’s camera to translate such things as signs and menus, etc. In addition, you can get other apps which allow you to speak in English (in my case) into your phone, and your phone will translate and ‘speak’ that in your target language.
Back when I presented my thesis, all the photographs had to be printed in a dark room with many hours spent over many days and weeks doing so. I wrote the text with a biro on a writing pad, had it typed up by a professional typist in the mandated but awfully ugly courier font, had several photocopies made, had each of those leather bound and embossed with the title, my name and the name of the university. Nowadays it can be all done electronically and presented as a PDF, and sometimes consists as a series of published or submitted papers (I had three paper copies of published papers in a sleeve inside the back cover of my thesis).
In part, Epstein’s piece reads more like a famous Monty Python sketch where each of the characters, Yorkshiremen, are trying to outdo each other in explaining how hard their lives were when they were children3. However, it does highlight the depths to which Murdoch will sink to try to damage Joe Biden, even to the extent of attempting to abuse his wife for being a high-achiever. Murdoch is such a disgraceful character, and has such a pernicious effect on all nations in which he has media interests, that he should be prevented from owning any such media.