Honorary Degree As is our custom at commencement season, The Scientist has identified a sampling of scientists who have received honorary degrees (see story on page 1). The practice of conferring degrees honoris causa dates back more than 300 years in the United States, the first having been awarded in 1663 by the College of Rhode Island. However, not much about this tradition has been published by sociologists in recent times. A search of the Science Citation Index and the Social Sciences Citation Index from 1980 onward failed to turn up any scholarly papers on honorary degrees.

Honorary degrees, it seems, attract more attention in the popular press than in the professional literature. The mass media annually cover degrees awarded to media superstars and business luminaries (J. Barron, "For this year's graduates: pomp, circumstance and a little rock-and-roll," New York Times, May 29, 1995, page A8). These celebrity degrees are...

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