I am now Dr. Dick Talens. (Doctor Dick has a really nice ring to it.)
You heard that right. Thanks to an honorary doctorate in "Drug and Alcohol Counseling" (See the irony here?) from my friends at the LADC, I can legitimately, legally, and officially, be called Dr. Dick Talens.
You might think I'm being silly. You might think that I'm trolling. (Hint: I'm always trolling.) But I'm going to make an argument for why, for the purposes of marketing, calling myself Dr. Dick Talens is no worse – and arguably better – than what occurs every single day both in the fitness industry and at most family practitioners' offices.
The "Dr." title is placed in front of someone's name in order to signal legitimacy as a highly-educated professional. There's nothing wrong with this; while the specifics depend on the field, you can generally assume that there was a decade of studying, research, and hands-on experience that was spent accomplishing this degree.
That being said, there are three observable phenomena that you should know about. While these don't apply to everyone, I believe that they apply to a majority of the population.
1. The "Infallible Doctor" phenomenon
This is the tendency give undue credence to anyone with "Dr." in front of their name. We have a limited amount of mental energy to appraise the knowledge of another human being, and it's only logical that we default to certain heuristics. Recall the last time you read an article on any controversial claim. It's likely that there was someone with "Dr." in front of their name who was used as supporting evidence. Did you question her credentials? How about her field of specialty?
2. Vertically/Horizontally unscalable domain expertise
Would you trust therapy from someone because he/she has a PhD in Pelican Breeding? Of course not! These domains are unrelated.
How about weight loss advice from a Medical Doctor? You probably wouldn't find that to be a far stretch.
Unfortunately the truth is that you have just as much chance as receiving good weight loss advice from a medical doctor as you have receiving therapy from someone with a PhD in Pelican Breeding.
Domains are neither necessarily vertically nor horizontally scalable. Let's dive into both of these.
Horizontal scalability refers to domain knowledge being applicable to a (seemingly) related field. For example, there is the assumption that because doctors are experts at curing disease, they are also experts at preventing disease.
But they're not. Doctors spend very little time learning about nutrition in medical school. I write about this extensively here. There's a good chance that your doctor knows just as much about helping you lose weight as your next door neighbor.
Another quick example – I've also seen physicists attempt to pass off their knowledge of "energy" as applicable to nutrition, simply because calories are a unit of energy. Smell the bullshit here?
Vertical scalability refers to domain knowledge being transferable from a micro to a macro level. Famed economist and author Nassim Taleb points out that experts in the micro-workings of financial instruments have never been able to predict the macro implications. You would think that a single expert on financial derivatives could have predicted the financial crash of 2008, but they couldn't; knowing things at the micro level does not scale to the macro level.
Let's go back to the example with medical doctors. Ostensibly, someone with an MD in endocrinology would be able to help a patient lose weight, due to the fact that they understand the inner workings of hormones and the human body. But that's not the case.
Sure, they might legally be able to prescribe medicines that aid in weight loss, but there is very little overlap in the domains of "weight loss" and being able to aid someone with weight loss, a subject that is much more dependent on habit, psychology, and nutrition.
It's worth noting that some of the world's leading weight loss practitioners are medical doctors, including two friends of mine, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff and Dr. Spencer Nadolsky. However, their expertise comes from learning the specific weight loss domain across thousands and thousands of patients, not necessarily from their medical degree.
3. The Doctor-Hubris phenomenon
Taleb is actually a victim of the very cognitive biases that he identifies, as he frequently tries to dispense insights in nutrition, something that he knows very little about. The irony that someone who has identified these cognitive biases actually demonstrates them is a prime example of the Doctor-Hubris phenomenon. Doctors will frequently think that they know more about an unrelated domain than they actually know.
This is why Dr. Oz, aside from being a complete charlatan, truly feels that he has the ability to dispense weight loss advice. He once mentioned something along the lines of "I perform surgeries all the time. I know that saturated fat is bad for you."
Really? Does the surgery domain scale to the nutrition domain?
Comically, my dad is a medical doctor who frequently tells people to eat less meat. He also happens to be the only person in my family who is fat.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, describe in a nutshell while putting two letters in front of your name is usually bullshit when it comes to the fitness industry. It's simply a marketing tool that exploits human thinking. Consumers see phenomenon #1, which is irrelevant because of phenomenon #2, and exacerbated by phenomenon #3.
The next time you see Dr. in front of someone's name, really examine the expertise in their domain and the domain that they are trying to apply it to. In the meantime, I will be using the Dr. in front of my name to shed light on this oft-used bullshit.
Dr. Dick Talens (Honorary Doctorate in Drug and Alcohol Counseling*)
(p.s. *Ironically written when drunk)
(p.p.s Apologies to all of the actual legitimate people in the fitness field with "Dr" in front of their name, i.e. Mike Nelson, Yoni, Spencer, etc.)