Immune To Ignorance II. Faux “Experts”
The road to scientific excellence begins with the scientists you work with. Is there an impostor amidst you?
ByAnthony L. Almada, B.Sc., M. Sc.
“We’d like to welcome Dr. A to our show tonight. His new book, ‘All You Need to Know about Nutraceuticals but Were Too Malnourished to Ask’ comes on the heels of his cult favorite, ‘Supplements for Stupid People.’ “
“Thank you, Deanne. It’s my pleasure to be here tonight and I do love your show!”
“Thank you, Dr. A. Okay., who’s our first caller? Good evening, Constantine from Corvallis. You’re on the Nutrition Nucleus Show.”
“Thank you, Deanne. Good evening Dr. A. I’m a nutrition and metabolism professor at the University here and have read both of your books. We’ve even used them as reading list items for my graduate nutrition class this fall.”
“Thank you, Constantine. I hope they were informative.”
“Oh indeed they were but not nearly as informative as your CV. One of my students noted that your biography states you have a Masters from Montana of the Mountains Health Sciences University and a Ph.D. from Stanford University.”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Constantine, I’m not sure where you’re going. Is this relevant to our listeners?”
Yes, I believe it is, Deanne. Please let me get to the point. I went to Digital Dissertations online [wwwlib.umi.com/dissertations/gateway] and discovered that your Ph.D., albeit from an excellent institution, was on religious paradigmatic shifts in 16th century Sri Lankan vegetarian females. And then…”
“Excuse me, Constantine—“
“Please allow him to finish, Dr. A.”
“Thank you, Deanne. I was about to say that your Masters degree in Nutrition is from a ‘university,’ which has never been accredited and was recently stripped of its ability to award post-graduate degrees. How you can tout yourself as being an authority when the rigor and quality of your training is questionable or wholly irrelevant? Your book cover states ‘Doctor’ A. and ‘Stanford Ph.D.’but in my book you are an untrained, self-proclaimed ‘expert.’ I worked my derriere off to get my advanced degrees—in NUTRITION, at REAL universities. I did real benchtop and human research, not a distance learning library-based book report. I’m insulted that you put the same initials after your name that I do after mine AND yet do not reveal where your Ph.D. expertise resides. To me you are ethically malnourished!”
“Dr. A, uh, did you want to respond to Constantine’s comments? Dr. A, where are you going…?!”
Perhaps more insulting than the MD turned Master of Diets (see Nutraceuticals World October 2003 Proprietary Perspectives column) is the impostor expert with advanced degree initials after their name. One best-selling “Ph.D.” author, Robert Haas (Eat To Win), was “exhumed” while he was under contract for Twinlab. He dropped the terminal degree after he was “outed.” This past May a high-ranking official in the Homeland Security Department (who frequently was addressed by the salutation “Dr.”) was caught with her hands in the cookie mill, having obtained a Ph.D. degree from an unaccredited, distance learning diploma mill. That mill can sure grind away credibility when it is unveiled. The most recent high profile example appears to be the “Ph.D.” that wrote much of Dr. Phil’s The Ultimate Weight Solution. “Dr. [Maggie] Robinson [Ph.D.] is clearly the preeminent nutritionist in America today…” lauded Dr. Phil in his Acknowledgements section. Gee, I’ve never seen ANY of her research publications in reviewed journals nor does a dissertation search yield anything. I may be mistaken but something stinks here. Such actions are not illustrative of embellishment but outright deception.
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines a diploma mill as “An institution of higher education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and granting diplomas that are either fraudulent or, because of the lack of proper standards, worthless.” The number of faux Ph.D.’s that circulate within the natural products industry is not small. The perception they create among the ignorant—those not knowing their academic legacy—often does not differ from those that have degrees from reputable institutions. What almost invariably differs is their command of the language of science—from correct pronunciation of science jargon to understanding intimate details. One can only speculate as to their ability to perform under scientific duress and be highly capable “trophy” employees for any company seeking excellence.
The other side of the spectrum involves “stretching” and “distorting” the truth. One popular writer and journalist in the natural products industry continues to use Ph.D. after their name but their dissertation topic (from an excellent university) bears no relevance to nutrition or life sciences. Many others exist but editorial staffs historically elect not to verify academic credentials or require the authors to disclose the discipline of their advanced degree. Perhaps more egregious are those that do NOT have any degree but state they do on their resume/CV. Cases in point: George O’Leary, short-lived coach of Notre Dame’s football team (lied about having a degree from NYU) and the CFO of Veritas software (stated he had an accounting degree from Arizona State University and a Stanford MBA when in actuality he had only an undergrad degree from Idaho State University).
Where hides the proprietary perspective? In this exigent era of scientific depravity that infects our industry, the first step to adding real science is to hire real scientists that also are experienced. Verify the degree by calling the institution in question or, with the applicant’s permission, go to an online, low cost directory [www.studentclearinghouse.org]. A company’s scientist should be one that the board, stockholders, employees and management team would be proud to put on air, in an interview with a national daily health journalist or tête-à-tête with an old school physician. This savvy and sharp scientist will not only imbue the business entity with a higher benchmark but may also add economic value through their contact network. This could include intellectual property/technology transfer opportunities through academic colleagues, insights and connections to execute clinical trials more swiftly and inexpensively and the accelerated attainment of genuine innovation.NW