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Lately I have seen that some people (some ex-presidents in my country and some others) have been getting the Honoris Causa degree from some universities. Some of which have never even gone to University. I would like to know how much is that degree worth. By "worth" I mean compared to a normal achieved PhD, can an Honoris Causa graduate give lectures at a university? Can that person be called a doctor at all? Is it possible for one to get an honorary degree in science, or engineering? How much demonstrated work would it take to get one?

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    An honorary degree is not a replacement for an actual education. – Compass Apr 13 '15 at 16:45
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    Isaac Asimov was awarded fourteen honorary doctorate degrees from various universities. I think he deserved most of them. I believe the reasoning behind giving him them was something like "well he DID write our science textbooks..." – Hannover Fist Apr 13 '15 at 23:16
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    @HannoverFist Asimov also had an actual PhD in biochemistry. – cpast Apr 14 '15 at 2:59
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    Worth how? The only example you show ("can you give lectures?") is not very useful, since you can give lectures on an university without having any PhD (it's the university's decision). This is as much a question about the worth of "a PhD" as it is about the worth of "a honorary PhD". Is "Nuclear Physics PhD" worth as much as "Theology PhD"? What value do you put on being a PhD in the first place? You have to be a bit more specific :) – Luaan Apr 14 '15 at 13:15
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    Think of it like being knighted. How good do you think Sir Elton John is with a sword? – Daniel Apr 14 '15 at 16:50
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I think your question indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of what a honorary degree is, and who gets one. Fundamentally, an honorary degree cannot be compared to a regular PhD. All the rules for getting a PhD fly out the window, as do all the perceived benefits for doing a PhD. If you get an honorary PhD, nobody will suddenly assume that you possess the subject knowledge of the holder of a regular PhD.

Similarly, you seem to assume that an honorary degree is somehow an easy way towards a PhD. This is not the case. By and large, by the time you get an honorary degree, you either already have enough degrees or you will never need one again in your life.

Can that person be called a doctor at all?

Yes, as long as you don't pretend to have a "regular" PhD.

can an Honoris causa graduate give lectures at a university?

Sure. Everybody can give a lecture given that he gets invited or appointed to do so. In the usual case, somebody important enough to receive an honorary doctorate is also somebody that an university would love to get for a lecture.

Is it possible for one to get an honorary degree in science, or engineering

Sure.

How much demonstrated work would it take to get one?

Usually none.

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    The last "Usually none" sounds somewhat misleading (to me at least). I was under impression that honorary degrees are often (although not always) conferred to prominent scientists (think Nobel-prize-winners level) in which case there certainly is a lot of demonstrated work done. – just-learning Apr 13 '15 at 18:22
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    Some universities give an honorary degree to every commencement speaker, who might well have done nothing but be famous. – jakebeal Apr 13 '15 at 19:26
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    Not even that. We gave an honorary degree to a commencement speaker whose main distinction was that for several years he was the CEO of a company notorious for its terrible service. At least he spoke for free. – Anonymous Apr 13 '15 at 19:48
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    Many professional areas have university accreditation requirements that relate to academics having PhDs in the relevant area. I wonder whether honoris causa would satisfy these? – Jeromy Anglim Apr 14 '15 at 3:25
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    @JeromyAnglim That seems exceedingly unlikely. Aside from that, the only fields I know around here that formally require a doctorate for something are Medicine and academia, and in both cases HC would certainly not qualify. – xLeitix Apr 14 '15 at 5:09
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An Honorary degree, which is often, but is not necessarily a doctorate, isn't really an academic degree in any sense, and shouldn't be viewed as such. They're usually given for making a mark on the world in some way - be it scholarship, public service, etc.

can an Honoris causa graduate give lectures at a university?

Do you mean teach classes? No more likely than any other member of the public that has achieved a bit of notoriety. Universities occasionally have noted writers, figures from the business community or industry scientists teach, and they don't necessarily have PhDs. If you genuinely mean give lectures - of course, as anyone can give a lecture at a university, if they're invited to do so.

Can that person be called a doctor at all?

Yes, though trying to obfuscate that into "looking" like a PhD or MD would make me think much less of that person.

Is it possible for one to get an honorary degree in science, or engineering?

Yes. These are often given to people who have made significant advances in science or engineering - for example, you might give one to a Silicon Valley-style tech entrepreneur even if they haven't done graduate work. Alternately, I've seen them given to people with science or engineering PhDs recognizing work to advance science generally.

How much demonstrated work would it take to get one?

There's no meaningful "Do X, get an Honorary Degree" threshold. It's not something you work toward, it's a recognition from a university that they think what you've done is worthwhile.

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    A slight disagreement: anyone can get hired to teach classes. One does not need to have an honest PhD for this (or even to be a professor in many departments). E.g., I think it is relatively common for successful writers to teach classes. – Kimball Apr 14 '15 at 1:45
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    You might run afoul of actual laws trying to act like an MD if you only had an honorary degree -- I can't imagine those degrees are accepted as medical credentials. – cpast Apr 14 '15 at 3:05
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    "looking" like a PhD or MD would make me think much less of that person. Performing as an MD without having/being one is illegal in many countries. – Mast Apr 14 '15 at 9:26
  • @Mast Yet there are aspects to being an MD besides practicing, and that's what I'm talking about. – Fomite Apr 14 '15 at 11:30
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    @cpast: If you're referring to practicing medicine, then no, an honorary degree is definitely not enough. But it's also important to note that a "real" MD is also not enough -- board certification is required. – Ben Voigt Feb 29 '16 at 3:38
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As Compass states, an honorary doctorate is not a formal credential of any kind. It can be awarded by a university on the basis of one's works and achievements, and does not require a thesis or other publications or research contributions.

Consequently, honorary degrees do not carry the same privileges as a traditional degree. You can list it as an honorary degree, but you shouldn't use it to claim you're a "Doctor." And it certainly would not satisfy the requirements of having a PhD or equivalent in a faculty search.

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    The answer is in line with this short document about honorary doctorate guidelines randomly found online. Shorter version: "purely titular (...) confer no rights on the recipient and carry with them no formal academic qualification" and "use of the title ‘Dr’ before their name is restricted (...) may not be used within the broader community". – Daniel Apr 14 '15 at 17:03
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It is usual to give e.g. visiting heads of state high military/civil medals, some insist on getting a honorary PhD instead. I.e., it might just mean "came to visit".

Or the university could decide to give somebody a honorary degree for academic contributions. In our case a Dr. hc to a colleague (who long ago moved back to to Germany, now retired) who essentially founded computing here in Chile (in particular involving what later became our department in a central rôle), and over the years helped to nurse it along.

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