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Answer by Tirumalai Kamala:

There are at least two questions or categories being probed here, namely, qualifications and titles.

In my opinion, qualifications and titles are not exactly synonymous. Qualifications are essential to practice certain vocations and trades. For example, if I needed brain surgery, at a minimum, regardless of their titles, I’d insist on qualified brain surgeons, anesthesiologists and nursing staff to perform and assist in said operation. Similarly, I’d prefer to have a qualified automotive mechanic fix my car, and that a qualified plumber fixes my tap, etc. In each case, risk assessment decides the choice. What’s the risk to life and limb in choosing an unqualified versus qualified person for that task?

Coming to science, I think there are two types of scientists. I consider those who would practice science even if they didn’t get paid for it true or vocational scientists. For them, science is a calling or vocation, not a job or career. Guglielmo Marconi and Peter D. Mitchell are striking examples of vocational scientists. Then there are those who choose science as a job or career. I consider such careerist scientists. Since science itself is likely to have less or little intrinsic value for a careerist scientist, titles and perks attendant to their position become more important. Parsed in this way, titles are likely more important to careerist compared to vocational scientists. Both are required to practice the Scientific Method and both are likely equally qualified.

Why the need for gatekeeping, i.e. qualification such as Ph.D. to become a scientist? This is partly due to the formalization process of science over the past couple of centuries, as part of a general trend whereby more and more aspects of human endeavor have become more formalized. A more revealing question is who are the gatekeepers of science today? Imagine vocational and careerist scientists as two parallel streams. Over the past century or so, in my opinion, the vocational scientist stream stayed the same or narrowed a little, i.e. similar number of vocational scientist. Meanwhile, the careerist scientist stream swelled up. Much of this change has to do with the exponential increase in funding, especially government funding for science, more so since the end of the Second World War. This in turn increased the appeal of science as affording a stable and well-paying career. Partly due to the formalization of science and partly due to the vocational versus careerist scientist demographic changes, these days both types of scientists would be required to have higher educational qualifications such as a Ph.D. Does one need to have a Ph.D. to make original and lasting contributions¬† in science? No. Just look at the list of Independent scientist. In my opinion, a Ph.D. is merely a test for perseverance, not intelligence nor intellect nor scientific aptitude. Also it requires luck as in lucky enough to have the opportunity to go to school for so many more years and lucky enough to have some sort of professional affiliation. Today, both types of scientists, vocational and careerist, need such luck because the scientific enterprise is so vast, intricate, formidable and well-funded that gentleman scientists of yore couldn’t compete.

What qualifications must one have to consider (call) themselves a scientist?