30. Accuracy of Credentials and Competence
in Public Communications
Before completing her doctorate, Carrie Medlin took a teaching position
at a university where she has now been for seven years. She has still
not completed her dissertation. In classes, students call her "Doctor"
Medlin. Medlin is interested in the area of family violence and is
often asked to speak to community groups on the topic. As a speaker,
she is commonly introduced as "Doctor" Medlin. She does not explain to
students or community groups that she has not completed her doctorate.
Most of Medlin's research on family violence is based on questionnaires
given over the years to students who take her course on sociology of
the family. One morning, Susan Duncan, who went to graduate school with
Medlin, sees Medlin discussing family violence on a
nationally-syndicated television talk-show. The talk-show host
introduces Medlin as an expert on family violence with a Ph.D. in
sociology. Medlin expounds on family violence but does not mention that
her research is based on student surveys.
1. Is Medlin's failure to correct misconceptions
about her credentials an ethical issue?
2. Does Duncan have any ethical responsibility in
Reflect on the above questions and form your
own answers before clicking the Discussion
key to review the commentary provided with this case.
Medlin has misrepresented her academic degree by allowing others to
repeatedly refer to her as "Doctor" Medlin. Students and community
members often think that all university faculty have doctoral degrees
and in some situations it is awkward to correct this idea on the spot.
However, Medlin also misrepresented her experience and competence on a
nationally-televised program, jeopardizing the welfare of the
discipline. Sociologists value the public trust in the discipline and
should be concerned about the ethical behavior of other sociologists
that might compromise that trust. Duncan should confront Medlin to
prevent further unethical conduct.