Occupational licensure vs. free speech

by Walter Olson on February 7, 2012

Is a pattern developing in North Carolina? First an official in that state sought an investigation of a man who prepared a traffic analysis for a neighborhood group agitating for traffic signals, on the grounds that he was practicing engineering without a license. [News & Observer] Now a blogger who offers dietary advice based on his own struggles against diabetes faces possible charges of practicing nutrition without a license [Diabetes Warrior; via Radley Balko, earlier]

{ 10 comments }

1 Nezuji 02.07.12 at 1:42 am

Reading the official investigation review that was posted by the dietary blogger, it seems clear that their beef is only with the counseling/consulting service which was actively pursued by the blogger. The notes in the review explicitly state that freely providing accounts of one’s own experience, and even general advice (as long as the lack of any license is made clear) is within the law.

2 Walter Olson 02.07.12 at 5:31 am

I’m not so sure. Cooksey says the regulator informed him he must not provide any individualized dietary advice to people who write in to him whether or not any money is sought. The notes in the posted investigation review seem to be consistent with that reading (i.e. warning him against “telling someone what they should [eat]” in response to a reader’s letter to him about her best friend’s diabetes problem.) I hope you are correct that their objections extend only to the paid counseling he had been offering as a sideline.

3 J.T. Wenting 02.07.12 at 8:18 am

he already shut down that service, but the suit goes forward to shut him down completely.
Can’t have dissent, can’t have people show how to go about your life without “professionals” telling you what to do, what expensive food supplements, medication, etc. etc. to buy.
That’s what the ADA and dieticians are afraid of, that people will stop paying them once they figure out they can live their lives quite well (in fact far better) without those organisations.

From what I’ve read on the site it always tells people to work together with your physicians, and if you have one who’s unwilling to do so (many won’t listen to anything that doesn’t match the idea of “unstable blood sugar -> diabetes -> insulin+drugs+high carb diet+carb counting”) find another doctor.

4 Richard Nieporent 02.07.12 at 8:19 am

He said there is a potential for violation if DOT and the public were misled by “engineering-quality work”- even if the authors did not claim to be engineers.

Lewis Carroll would be proud of this statement. Pray tell, how do you mislead DOT by providing the agency with correct information? This article has got to be from the Onion.

5 LMS 02.07.12 at 10:08 am

That is very interesting. I can see how practicing medicine without a license would be an issue, but offering dietary advice? As for practicing engineering in North Carolina without a license, I’d better keep a low profile.

6 Don 02.07.12 at 11:47 am

If this guy can’t offer advice to people in North Carolina without be licensed by the State of North Carolina, how do they treat, The South Beach Diet Website, the Atkins People, Weight Watchers, and the thousands of other diet plans and websites in the world?

7 Robert 02.09.12 at 10:54 am

As a licensed PE, I do get annoyed when I see people being called “Engineers” that aren’t, for example software developers being referred to as “Engineers.”

However, I would never object to someone doing independent research in any area as long as he doesn’t use the title “Engineer” when soliciting business. It’s as simple as that. I wouldn’t ever imagine asking the Government to stop some basement inventor or lone researcher.

8 MF 02.09.12 at 6:48 pm

Robert wrote: As a licensed PE, I do get annoyed when I see people being called “Engineers” that aren’t, for example software developers being referred to as “Engineers.”

That’s a pretty arrogant attitude to take, IMHO. I’m a software engineer. Yes, I said it. I definitely engineer software.

Let’s look at the definition of engineer from dictionary.com:

en·gi·neer
? ?[en-juh-neer]
noun
1. a person trained and skilled in the design, construction, and use of engines or machines, or in any of various branches of engineering: a mechanical engineer; a civil engineer.
2. a person who operates or is in charge of an engine.
3. Also called locomotive engineer. Railroads . a person who operates or is in charge of a locomotive.
4. a member of an army, navy, or air force specially trained in engineering work.
5. a skillful manager: a political engineer.

Look at defnition #1. Notice that word machine? A computer is most definitely a machine. Someone who designs computers is a hardware engineer, and one who designs software that runs on a computer is a software engineer.

Do you also object to the person who operates a locomotive being called an engineer? If so, you’ve got to go back 150 years or so to get that one changed.

9 Jerry Vandesic 02.10.12 at 12:09 am

I’m not sure about this one. I came into it thinking that the state was trying to clamp down on free speech from somebody that was simply trying to share his experiences, but the review of his web site indicated that there was more to it. He used his web site to solicit for business and charged for his services ($97/month for the basic package, more for premium packages). Sounds like he was trying to pass him off as a professional but avoid the license.

10 Franklin David Marks 03.04.12 at 10:15 pm

You just keep giving advice. The absurdity that only licensees can dispense advice or counsel is just insane.

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