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Your Ph.D. Isn't from the EU? Then You're Not a 'Doktor'

(Editor's note: Please see update at bottom.)

Do you have a Ph.D. from a well-regarded American university such as Harvard, Cornell, or Caltech? If so, don't go to Germany and put the title "Dr." on your business card, Web site, or résumé. It's illegal, and you could end up in prison for a year.

Under a 1930s law from Nazi times, only people with Ph.D.'s and medical degrees from German universities can use "Dr." as a title, though the law was amended in 2001 to include degrees from EU countries too. (There is a way for non-EU degree holders to apply for permission to use the titles, but apparently, it's not worth the trouble.)

Recently, seven Americans -- all researchers at institutes of Germany's prestigious Max Planck Society -- were investigated for title abuse. One was an astrophysicist with a Ph.D. from Caltech. Another, Ian Thomas Baldwin, has a Ph.D. from Cornell. His colleagues have been calling him "Prof. Dr. Baldwin" for a decade, but apparently, the law says he instead should be "Prof. Ian Thomas Baldwin, Ph.D., Cornell University." (It looks like his Web page is in compliance, thank goodness.)

Honorifics are taken quite seriously in Germany, reports the Washington Post. (If any of you who have lived in Germany know about this sensitivity, please feel free to leave a comment.) Fortunately, though, prosecutors have now recommended against filing charges, but the Americans could still face a civil fine.

Meanwhile, German officials recently suggested changing the law to allow the "Dr." title to be used by people with Ph.D.'s and medical degrees from U.S. universities, but only if the university is one of the approximately 200 accredited by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

It all raises the question: Do Germans with Ph.D.'s and medical degrees expect to be called "Dr." when living abroad?

UPDATE: According to a post on the Marginal Revolution blog, the law mentioned in this post may have just been changed.

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France isn't the only one pushing nuclear power

KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images

Nicolas Sarkozy has been raising quite a few eyebrows since he assumed the presidency, not least by leveraging French civilian nuclear expertise to gain diplomatic advantage in the Middle East. This week, the International Herald Tribune noted "unease" among nonproliferation experts "at the idea of exporting potentially nuclear-bomb usable technologies to proliferation-prone regions." The article also notes that, even putting proliferation concerns aside, obstacles to the large-scale spread of nuclear power exist -- some of which include high infrastructure costs, waste management issues, and personnel shortages.

France is not the only country seeking ways to surmount such obstacles, though. The U.S.-led Global Nuclear Energy Partnership is one of the best known of these initiatives. The core proposal behind GNEP is to employ advanced reprocessing technology to close the nuclear fuel cycle as much as possible. This entails recycling burnt nuclear fuel over and over until it is no longer useful for producing electricity or weapons. In so doing, GNEP aims to increase effective fuel supplies, decrease the amount of waste produced by nuclear power plants, and reduce the danger of nuclear proliferation. As initially conceived, existing nuclear exporters would (exclusively) perform enrichment and reprocessing services and provide them to any GNEP partner that agreed to refrain from enriching or reprocessing fuel on its own.

So far, it has signed on 21 nations as partners and has several others observing or interested. Most recently, the UK joined, praising GNEP for promoting "responsible nuclear development." In theory, this all sounds great, but GNEP has been attacked from several angles. Perhaps most crucially, the National Academies of Science and Engineering found that the required technologies are "too early in development" to justify large-scale implementation. Others (pdf) argue that reprocessing is economically unsound (at least for now); that waste issues won't be eased significantly; and that, using current technology, the initiative may actually be more proliferation-prone than the current nuclear fuel cycle.

As a result, Congress slashed funding for GNEP in the FY2008 budget, but the Bush administration has requested a significant increase for FY09. In addition, the program does seem to have broad international appeal. Partners include countries as widely spread as Bulgaria, Ghana, Poland, Senegal, and South Korea. With so many other nations involved, GNEP seems likely to persist in some form despite congressional opposition. But given the state of reprocessing science today and the political restrictions under which it operates, GNEP will likely undergo some significant changes in the future.