Why Rand Paul's Biology Degree Claim Matters

The perception that a candidate would pad a résumé has the potential to cause real damage.

on September 9, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

For Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, an apparent slip of the tongue is causing a degree of trouble. 

While being interviewed by TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington last week, Paul twice asserted that he holds a degree in biology. Despite his many educational and legislative accomplishments, said biology degree is not one of them, as the Washington Post's Fact Checker column pointed out.  

Here's what Paul said on Feb. 12:

Arrington: “Let’s talk about economics because maybe you can actually explain this to me. I have an econ degree which means I know just enough not to understand any of what our government is [inaudible]”

Paul: “Mine’s in biology and English so this is going to be a great conversation.”

Later in their conversation, which focussed on Bitcoin, the open source currency system, Paul doubled down on his claim. 

“This is just me. I have a biology degree, okay? But with Bitcoin my concern always was whether or not something has real value. So I could imagine a kind of coin that was exchangeable. This gets back to the whole idea, does money have to be exchangeable for something to be of value?”

As the Post detailed, Paul holds a degree in medicine from Duke University Medical School, where he graduated in 1988. Before that, Paul attended Baylor University between 1981 and 1984, but never received an undergraduate degree. In a statement to the Post, Paul's senior communications director Brian Darling argued that while the senator does not hold a college degree in biology, he did study the subject. 

“In the jocular bantering with the host, Dr. Rand Paul mentioned ‘degree,’ but anyone who has read Dr. Paul’s official biography on his Web site can see that he was accepted early into one of the most prestigious medical schools in the country—Duke University School of Medicine,” Darling said. “Dr. Paul finished the requirements for medical school in two and one half years. While in college, Dr. Paul did study biology and English. He has no college degree and has a medical degree.”

Of course, whether Paul actually received a degree in biology, or just holds a run-of-the-mill medical degree, is not exactly the most pressing matter when it comes to selecting the Republican presidential nominee. On the other hand, the reason it has generated so much attention can be summed up in two words: Brian Williams. 

The perception that a candidate would pad a résumé, if only during an interview (Paul's website bio contains no references to a biology degree), has the potential to cause real damage, especially for someone like Paul, who actively embraces the culture of political trolling

Perhaps that's why Darling emailed an additional statement to the Post in which he argued his case in a different way. 

“It is unfair to give Senator Paul 3 Pinocchios because a M.D. Degree is the study of biomedical sciences according to the Duke University School of Medicine. In other words, a M.D. is a biology degree. Merriam-Webster defines biology as ‘a branch of knowledge that deals with living organisms and vital processes.’ Dr. Paul never said he had an undergraduate degree in biology, and it is accurate for him to say that he has a biology degree. You are making inferences from his statement that are unwarranted. It is common knowledge that the study of medicine is the study of human biology, and a MD has a doctorate degree in one area of study of the science of biology.”

Other news outlets have begun picking up on the story, and how could they not given the national obsession with Williams' memory problems. Salon ran with the headline "Rand Paul caught lying about his college record," and the Associated Press folded the degree issue into a larger piece on Paul's political missteps titled, "FACT CHECK: Rand Paul Backtracks on Vaccines, College." 

Paul has proven himself to be adept at the rough-and-tumble game of politics, but one wonders whether self-inflicted wounds, and the shifting attempts to explain them, will stand in his way from adding to his current résumé even further. 

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