“I have a biology degree, okay?”

— Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), in remarks at the Lincoln Labs “Reboot Congress” conference, Feb. 12, 2015

This column has been updated with an additional explanation by Paul’s spokesman.

We first spotted a version of this quote in a Bloomberg column by David Weigel, and then checked the quotes with our colleague Jose DelReal, who had attended the conference.

This is a bit of an odd one, given that Paul does not have a college undergraduate degree.

The Facts

Paul mentioned his alleged degree at the conference not once, but twice. First, in an exchange with TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington, Paul said:

Arrington: “Let’s talk about economics because maybe you can actually explain this to me. I have an econ degree which means I know just enough not to understand any of what our government is [inaudible]”
Paul: “Mine’s in biology and English so this is going to be a great conversation.”

Then, later in the conversation, expounding on what he considered the virtues of Bitcoin, Paul said:

“This is just me. I have a biology degree, okay? But with Bitcoin my concern always was whether or not something has real value. So I could imagine a kind of coin that was exchangeable. This gets back to the whole idea, does money have to be exchangeable for something to be of value?”

The interesting thing about these references is that previously Paul’s staff has blamed the media for misunderstanding his unusual educational background.

Paul attended Baylor University between 1981 and 1984 but never graduated. Yet he was able to attend Duke University Medical School and received a degree there in 1988. At the time, Duke’s medical school did not require students to have a bachelor’s degree, though the policy has since changed, according to a 2010 report in the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Ron Paul, his father and the former member of Congress, does have a biology degree.)

“In the jocular bantering with the host, Dr. Rand Paul mentioned ‘degree,’ but anyone who has read Dr. Paul’s official biography on his Web site can see that he was accepted early into one of the most prestigious medical schools in the country — Duke University School of Medicine,” said Brian Darling, Paul’s senior communications director. “Dr. Paul finished the requirements for medical school in two and one half years. While in college, Dr. Paul did study biology and English. He has no college degree and has a medical degree.”

Update: After this column appeared, Darling e-mailed a supplemental statement making the case that, in effect, a medical degree is a biology degree:

“It is unfair to give Senator Paul 3 Pinocchios because a M.D. Degree is the study of biomedical sciences according to the Duke University School of Medicine. In other words, a M.D. is a biology degree. Merriam-Webster defines biology as ‘a branch of knowledge that deals with living organisms and vital processes.’ Dr. Paul never said he had an undergraduate degree in biology, and it is accurate for him to say that he has a biology degree. You are making inferences from his statement that are unwarranted. It is common knowledge that the study of medicine is the study of human biology, and a MD has a doctorate degree in one area of study of the science of biology.”

The Pinocchio Test

This is the second time in recent weeks we have had to fact check something that Paul’s staff suggested was an off-the-cuff remark not to be taken seriously. We’d be more inclined to brush this off if Paul had not made this assertion twice in one day — or if his staff in the past had not blamed the media for misreporting on his college credentials.

Paul studied biology (and English) at Baylor, but he didn’t earn a degree. There’s no excuse for resume-inflation, even when it’s jocular. We can’t quite say this is worthy of Four Pinocchios, but the senator should be more careful in the future.

(Update: We are curious what readers think of Paul’s additional explanation. We’re not sure what to make of it, given that at the event he said his degree was in biology and English. That doesn’t sound like a medical degree. A medical degree involves the study of biology, but some well-credentialed readers have emphatically noted that a medical degree is not a degree in biology. See some reader responses here.)

Three Pinocchios

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