NPF: THE REJECT PILE

Posted in No Politics Friday on February 18th, 2011 by Ed

Frontline is still killing it this season, most recently with "Post Mortem", an episode about the lack of standardization and reliability in post mortem medical examinations. Shows like CSI make the public assume that a team of crack investigators is on the case whenever someone dies, but in reality death certificates are signed by doctors on what amounts to an honor system, autopsies are rarely performed, and those that are performed are not often done well. Part of the problem is that most jurisdictions either elect coroners (who don't even need to have a high school diploma let alone any relevant training) or outsource post mortem investigation to private contractors staffed mostly with otherwise unemployable doctors.

For some reason this was the most interesting aspect of the episode for me. Lots of people get medical degrees. So what happens to the ones who, despite that fact, are completely incompetent? Alcoholics? Ex-felons? Previously I was under the impression that doctors who fell into this category all ended up working in prisons, which makes perfect sense. After all, who's going to care if the prisoners complain and who else would take such an awful job? But thanks to Frontline we now know that jackholes with medical degrees have other options. Like taking a circular saw to the cadaver of a car accident victim for eight hours per day.

This got me thinking more about analogies to other professions. What happens to shitty lawyers? Do they end up in a basement somewhere thumbing through manila folders for the rest of their lives, or is there some lawyering equivalent to "alcoholic autopsy specialist"? Where do engineers who lack the ability to engineer a birdhouse end up practicing their trade? Do teachers who get busted running meth labs out of their basements or appear on registered sex offender lists end up teaching calculus on an oil rig or something? Is there some hidden underbelly of the airline industry filled with pilots who couldn't even hang on to a job at a regional airline?

Tell me, where do the burnouts, losers, and felons in your particular field end up? Thirty years ago I'd say that for PhD-holding academics the "reject pile" meant adjuncting at terrible colleges, but the way the industry is today I think that's what about 75% of us are going to end up doing. We'll have to think of something more degrading for the true incompetents.