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Readers respond to fact check on Rand Paul’s statements about college degree

(Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)
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Our fact check of Sen. Rand Paul’s statements about his undergraduate degree has quickly become one of the most widely read ever — and also among the most controversial. The column has about 2,500 comments from readers arguing about its fairness.

That’s a lot of material to wade through, so we thought we would share some of the e-mails we received directly from readers, many of whom — like the Republican senator from Kentucky — have medical degrees. As you can see, many letters said the column was on target — but at least half (or more) said it was ridiculous. Because readers did not expressly say they wanted their name printed, we are using initials instead.

Many readers also asked about the period when Paul set up his own board of ophthalmology. For more on that, we recommend the in-depth look at this issue by our colleague David A. Fahrenthold.

We always appreciate feedback from readers, and we thank those who took the time to write.

‘He lied’ 

A degree in biology — whether it is a B.A., M.A., or Ph.D., is a degree in biology. It is not a medical degree, an M.D. The reverse is also true. That is a matter of fact. Physicians must study biology, and they study various aspects of it in medical school, but it is not correct to say that an M.D. is a biology degree. It’s much more complicated than that. Rand Paul may have studied biology as an undergraduate, but he did not earn a degree in biology. Other people have, and do. He lied.

— W.M.H. (M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D.)

‘Three wooden blockheads for you’

The man has a medical degree which is one form of advanced biology degree. When he claims a biology degree, it’s a more everyman way of describing his medical degree. I’m not a fan of RP but this is unfair to the man.

Three wooden blockheads for you.

— H.V.

‘I can’t imagine claiming a degree in biology’

Like Senator Paul I have an M.D. (University of Iowa, 1984). Unlike Senator Paul I also have a bachelor’s degree in biology (B.S. in Biology from Wheaton College, 1979).  I can tell you that my studies toward the B.S. were very different than my studies in medical school. Needless to say, my studies in medical school focused almost exclusively on human biology and clinical medicine. However, with respect to my biology degree, I took two quarters of human physiology, otherwise I studied the broad range of life science, from zoology to botany to cellular biology to ecology and more. I can’t imagine claiming to have a degree in biology based on having gone to medical school.

By the way, like Senator Paul, I also reside in Kentucky.
— R.E. (M.D.)

The first two years of medical school are equal to a bachelor’s degree

I am also a graduate of Duke Medical School. I went much earlier than Dr. Paul, but at least in the 1950-60s, Duke did indeed accept people after three years of college.
And this is what hasn’t been said: The first two years of the medical school basic science courses were considered the completion of an earned bachelor’s degree. That may not have been true when Dr. Paul attended, but it was when I did.

— R.R. (M.D.)

‘Simply dishonest’ 

Rand Paul’s biology degree claim is simply dishonest and their spokesman’s explanation is shameful. Simply put if he had made that aversion in a job interview he would not be considered further for the job, plain and simple. I have a masters in Chemical Engineering. I wouldn’t claim to be a Chemist unless I actually had a Chemistry degree (which I also have). Anybody that when to college should no better. Paul should get more than 3 Pinocchios!

— J.F.

‘Reporting this was plainly irresponsible’

Misstating your academic credentials is a serious offense when it’s done for reasons of self-aggrandizement; it cost the CEO of Yahoo his job, for instance. Rand Paul didn’t do that.

He colloquially understated, not overstated, his academic credentials. And he clearly did so to make the point that he was talking about a subject in which he had no academic training.

There was absolutely no news here.  Period.

Reporting this was plainly irresponsible, and pretending to show balance by adding a statement from his spokesperson doesn’t change that fact.  Both you and the editors of The Washington Post have shown exceptionally poor judgment with this article.

 ‘You deserve 3 Brick-Bats’

I don’t agree with many of Rand Paul’s statements, and yet you deserve 3 Brick-Bats for criticizing his (lack of a) B.S. (BS) “degree” in your childish picayune tantrum. Shame, Shame On You!

— R.J.H.

‘I do not put a degree on my resume’

As another physician who left college early to enter medical school without a college degree, I state that I studied chemistry and physics in college and I do not put a degree on my resume.

Dr. Paul should have stated he is a physician and that he studied biology in college which would have been two true statements and get the point across that he wanted to make.

— H.L.K (M.D.)

‘I would have given him maybe One Pinocchio’

I neither like nor agree with Senator Paul but in this case I give him a pass. And I’m not inclined to ever give anyone a pass on saying they graduated from somewhere they didn’t. His matriculations are on the unusual and highly creditable side of things and in an exchange like the one described I think explaining it would be pretentious and interruptive to the point at hand. No, he doesn’t have an undergrad or other degree with biology on it but it’s not a stretch to me to equate an MD with “have studied biology extensively” which is connotation of “have a biology degree”.  And he does have a degree – an MD which is a higher and harder to get degree than an undergrad biology degree.  I would have given him maybe One Pinocchio for “Mine’s in biology and English.”

— T.F.

‘Gotcha journalism’

A medical degree from Duke University so far exceeds some college bachelor’s degree based on a major in biology that it is absurd to be designating “three Pinocchio’s” for Rand Paul’s statements. You may not agree with his politics, but one has to concede that he is sufficiently grounded in biology to make informed statements on the subject. This is “gotcha journalism” carried to its most ridiculous extreme.

— B.R. (M.D.)

‘Semantic navel gazing’

I think you are caught up a bit too much in semantics here.  No Rand Paul does not have an undergraduate biology degree. But an MD is a graduate degree in a biological science and would a sufficient credential for any job that requires a BS in biology, in fact leaving you overqualified for anything but graduate school. To contend Paul is “inflating his resume” by saying he’s got a biology degree is ignorant.

This constant semantic navel gazing that you engage in is not furthering any public understanding of important issues.

— J.O.

‘1 to 1.5 Pinocchios at most’

I don’t usually give the politicians much slack, and I am by no means a fan of Rand Paul, but I’m inclined to give him considerable slack on claiming a biology degree. Even claiming an English degree doesn’t seem totally out of line, though that would depend on how far he got with it.

There are many merged degrees that don’t fit the norm, such as the 6-year MD programs that have fallen out of favor. Rand went through college and completed a medical degree. While it may not be 100% accurate, it’s still totally reasonable for him to say that he has a degree in biology.

I sometimes think that you go too easy on these guys, but in this case, for someone I don’t care for at all, I think you’re going way too hard on him.  The reasonable range in my perspective is 1 to 1.5 Pinochios at most, and only for mentioning the English degree.

— R.H.

 ‘Not a biology degree’

Rand Paul’s medical degree is prestigious, but it is not a biology degree.

If it is then by extension my law degree (juris doctorate, aka JD), means I am a doctor too.

But we all know lawyers are not doctors.

— A.W.

‘Three Pinocchios is fair’

There are many skills that go into being a physician (chemistry, biochemistry, biology, pharmacology, psychology, immunology, and yes, English and accounting). It would be equally untruthful for Dr. Paul to claim that he had degrees in any of these areas. I think Three Pinocchios is fair.


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