As of this week, the New York Times is operating under a new stylebook rule: “Dr.” is for doctors who are doctoring–not philosophizing, and certainly not running the Senate.
Dr. should be used in all references for physicians or dentists whose practice is their primary current occupation, or who work in a closely related field, like medical writing, research or pharmaceutical manufacturing: Dr. Alex E. Baranek; Dr. Baranek; the doctor. (Those who practice only incidentally, or not at all, should be called Mr., Ms., Miss or Mrs.)
Anyone else with an earned doctorate, like a Ph.D. degree, may request the title, but only if it is germane to the holder’s primary current occupation (academic, for example, or laboratory research). For a Ph.D., the title should appear only in second and later references. The holder of a Ph.D. or equivalent degree may also choose not to use the title.
Do not use the title for someone whose doctorate is honorary.
The rule, standards editor Allan M. Siegal wrote in a staff e-mail, is meant “to level the playing field when we write about politics and public life, removing any suggestion of special authority that might attach to people who use a title that isn’t relevant to the field in which they are working or competing.”
Such as? “There are many examples,” Times spokesperson Toby Usnik writes, “including Senator Bill Frist and Howard Dean.”
And Henry Kissinger, Ph.D.? Is his title germane to his work?
“The point is mostly (no pun intended) academic,” Usnik writes, “since Henry Kissinger always preferred us to call him Mr., and we did. (Condoleezza Rice also prefers Ms.)
“If Kissinger were in government service today, and teaching was not his primary occupation,” Usnik continues, “he would be Mr. under our current rule, and we would not ask for a preference.”
In fact, a pass through the archives reveals that under the old system, Mr. Kissinger and Ms. Rice didn’t always get treatment befitting their modesty. Usage went both ways; even sometimes–for Ms. Rice, under joint bylines–in the same piece.
Number of appearances of selected honorifics in the two years prior to the new rule:
“Mr. Frist” 34
“Dr. Frist” 205
“Mr. Dean” 65
“Dr. Dean” 830
“Mr. Kissinger” 47
“Dr. Kissinger” 3
“Ms. Rice” 400
“Dr. Rice” 20
“Mr. Erving” 0
“Dr. J” 4