Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Don't lump bad writers and Ph.D.s together

Re: Ph.D.s don't have what it takes, by Bill Maxwell, April 22.

I agree that Ph.D.s do not have a monopoly on idea generation. I disagree with the contention that Ph.D.s as a group are guilty of producing "existentially traumatized verbiage," and the implication that Ph.D.s are so unaware of their audience that all written communication includes "lit reviews."

Most of us, including Margaret Sayers, the clinical psychologist whose column you publish, are capable of writing clearly and succinctly.

Jennifer A. Hall, Ph.D., St. Petersburg

Fallacies galore

Re: Ph.D.s don't have what it takes, by Bill Maxwell.

Fallacy begets fallacy: Maxwell's column opens with: "A Times reader is shocked that we don't have a Ph.D. on the editorial board. "Not a doctorate among you . . . Not a new thought among you.' "

Fallacy 1: Only people with doctorates have new thoughts.

Now we come to Maxwell's response. (My eyes move to the column's bold headline): Ph.Ds don't have what it takes.

Besides being utterly defensive, the headline is a fallacious generalization. (What is the it they don't have?)

Next we have Maxwell extensively quoting Patricia Nelson Limerick, professor of history at the University of Colorado. (I would be surprised if professor Limerick was not a Ph.D. University professors usually are.) Provocative inferences relating to the incomprehensibility, the "impenetrable prose" of thousands of Ph.Ds flesh out the fallacious hypotheses imposed on us by Maxwell.

Scholars (Ph.D.s) are not only hiding their hubris (excessive pride), they also "hate and fear attacks on their work. Clarity exposes these brains to analysis."

I am upset, disappointed and surprised that Maxwell let the fallacious content of a letter from a Times reader beget fallacious responses in his column.

I would very likely be more upset if I were a Ph.D, especially one who could ably write a 7-inch editorial or a 16-inch column.

Don Davis, Seminole

A questionable contention

To categorize all Ph.D.s as pompous and unable to write clearly and concisely is just as "silly" as suggesting that non-Ph.D.s can't have new thoughts.

Wanda Dow, Dunedin

Different fields yield different styles

Re: Ph.D.s don't have what it takes, by Bill Maxwell, April 22.

This column hit home as far as I am concerned. Let me state that I am a Ph.D. (Princeton, 1970) and that I took most of his comments regarding the often diffuse writings of Ph.D.s much to heart. His main idea that journalists are better writers than most Ph.D.s is true. However, I would like to state that not all Ph.D.s are lousy writers. In fact, some of us do try to be coherent, concise and readable.

Maybe the main problem lies in the field in which a particular Ph.D. writes. For instance, in the "hard sciences" (and I plead guilty to being a chemist), the prose is rather straight-forward and concise.

I wish I could say the same for papers printed in social science journals or in journals catering to education. Here, the prose becomes obtuse and obscure in the extreme.

Scholars in the social sciences and in education have a very strong tendency to present their ideas in as obscure a manner as possible. Probably, this comes from the fact that they are often stating facts that have been stated innumerable times before. These people need to publish in order to get tenure. So, they put forth old ideas in a "new garb." This new garb is, alas, the "emperor's new clothes."

Maybe the problem with Ph.D.s as writers is that they have a strong tendency to hide weak ideas and concepts in obscure prose. Or, to misquote Dr. Samuel Johnson (a Ph.D.), "obfuscation is the last refuge of the academic scoundrel."

Milt Johnston, USF professor of chemistry, Tampa

Maxwell was on target

Re: Ph.D.s don't have what it takes.

Bill Maxwell's column poo-pooing a letter writer's complaint of a dearth of Ph.D.s on the editorial board of your paper is right on the money.

I still remember, way back when, in 1977, to be exact. I took three quarters of journalism from Alvin Sanoff at Wright State University. He was then on the editorial staff of the Dayton Journal Herald, and now a senior editor at U.S. News and World Report. Because he was a working instructor, I learned more from him than any other teacher.

One of my fellow students, an English major and "A" student, according to his Ph.D. department head, dropped our journalism class because of Sanoff's critique of his work. We exchanged papers a day before. He asked me what I thought. I decided not to offer my comments. His article was a meandering convolution of words.

"How could I get a grade like this when I'm an English major and get all A's?"

The answer was he had no writing talent. Even with a Ph.D., I doubt that he could acquire that ability, though he didn't give Sanoff the chance to try to help him.

Eric Hoffer, the late renowned writer/philosopher was a wanderer and a longshoreman, but not a Ph.D. He taught philosophy at the college level in California because he had talent, which should not be confused with alphabet soup after one's name.

Mr. Maxwell, keep shaking us up. We need it.

Lilyan V. Dayton, New Port Richey

In the Dinky camp

Re: Taco Bell's dog: cute or callous? by Jack Payton, April 21.

In his column, Payton asks, "Does Dinky stay or does he go?"

My response: I'm for Dinky.

However, not being a hyphenated-American of Latin extraction, my opinion probably carries little weight with those who are.

When you stop to think of it, Taco Bell could have chosen from a number of indigenous Mexican critters far less appealing than a cute little Chihuahua dog in their search for a universal symbol. I wonder how the critics would respond if Dinky were replaced by a horned toad or Gila monster.

As Payton pointed out, Dinky has never behaved in a manner that would bring criticism or dishonor to himself or his origins. My impression, in viewing the commercials, is that he appears to be pretty much above it all and very much in charge.

If I wanted to find fault (and it would be a stretch), I would have to take umbrage at the "Viva Gorditas" commercial which appears to glorify a communist revolutionary. But, of course, the other read is that Dinky is a democratic revolutionary bent on the overthrow of an oppressive dictatorial regime. As always, it's in the eye of the beholder and who thinks whose ox is being gored.

G.S. Frissell, Palm Harbor

Look for insults elsewhere

Re: Dinky the doggy.

I'm very fond of Gabe Cazares, but he needs to lighten up a little! Dinky is not insulting to Hispanics, but endearing.

Paddington Bear doesn't denigrate the British, and neither does Pooh.

I won't rush to Taco Bell, but the ad is catchy, so let it be! There's so much else to care about, things that are far more insulting to us all, like the Florida Legislature!

Helen Kerwin, Clearwater

Indian rights deserve protection

The American Indian Movement of Florida Inc. is greatly disturbed at the consistent series of attacks upon indigenous nations' sovereign status and indigenous peoples by the Times.

First came the series entitled Seminole gambling: A trail of millions that, perhaps unintentionally, was an outright attack upon the sovereign status of Indian nations. Moreover, the lack of understanding by the Times was exhibited in the series' title _ a direct correlation to the genocidal "Trail of tears," which affected the indigenous people of what is now the Southeast United States _ including the Seminole people. The articles were buttressed by an anti-treaty rights, anti-sovereignty stance by the Times editorial board.

Now comes another anti-Indian editorial. This one entitled Now seeking Native Alaskans (March 13). The woeful premise of this editorial is that "St. Petersburg has virtually no Alaskan natives or American Indians." The 1990 census reported that 1,985 American Indians live in Pinellas County, far more than none. Moreover, there are 5,467 American Indians living in the Tampa-St. Petersburg metropolitan statistical area, a significant leap from the Times' estimate of zero. Finally, according to the 1990 census, over 30,000 American Indians live in the state of Florida, far more than none. Out of that population there are several American Indian contractors and subcontractors seeking work. Florida AIM is aware of five companies in the Central Florida area. The Florida Governors Council on Indian Affairs even has a program in reference to American Indian contracts, which is significant for a population that the Times argues does not exist.

The Times also declares that there is no evidence that Native Americans have been discriminated against by the city of St. Petersburg or in Pinellas County. The American Indian Movement of Florida has filed nine EEOC complaints on behalf of American Indians in the bay area in the past three years. Considering the admitted small population of American Indians, that is a significant number of filings by one organization and further erosion of the Times' argument that no American Indians have been discriminated against.

While the Federal Aviation Administration may have many important things to do, we would argue that insuring a minority group is not excluded from a process is also important. The Times' inane argument is that they believe there are not enough American Indians, Alaskan natives and Asian people to warrant any protection for those minority populations. This is simply a veiled argument of backwater racism that the Times apparently has no problem dredging up in regard to indigenous people.

Sheridan Murphy, state executive director, American Indian

Movement of Florida, St. Petersburg

Rest for a tired old man

Re: B.N. Chaudhuri, Nepal's oldest man, obituaries, April 22.

Let's forget the frightening prospects that Newt Gingrich may run for president and George's baby boy Jeb Bush is running for governor of Florida.

More enlightening and upbeat news is to be found in the obituary of B.N. Chaudhuri of Nepal! This wonderful old soul died recently at the age of 141 after a lifetime of smoking. His diet consisted of only pork, rice, yogurt and milk, and he had never set foot in a hospital!

When he was only 139 he was quoted by the Katmandu Post as saying "Oh, God! It's too long a life! I am tired."

We are happy for you, B.N. May your soul rest in peace.

Mrs. Ted Mitchell, Indian Rocks Beach

Share your opinions

Letters for publication should be addressed to Letters to the Editor, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. They can be sent by e-mail to or by fax to 893-8675.

They should be brief and must include the writer's name, address and phone number. Please include a handwritten signature when possible.

Letters may be edited for clarity, taste and length. We regret that not all letters can be published.