Daniel Lemire's blog

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Are there too many Ph.D.´s?

Would you accept work designing mass destruction weapons? Back when a was in college, one my most memorable philosophy assignment was a rebuttal to the claim that scientists working on weapons of mass destruction were responsible for the creation of the weapons. As intellectuals, and scientists, do we have to bear the full responsibility of our actions?

Somehow, we like to imagine researchers working on new weapons in lavish conditions. They are individuals with prestigious degrees who could have any job. Yet, they are enticed by greed to work on evil projects. Or are they?

I spent weeks in the library—the Web didn’t even exist!—documenting how difficult the job market for scientists was. As far back as twenty years ago, statistics showed that there were far more qualified scientists than corresponding jobs. (Ironically, years later, I became a scientist only to be surprised by how competitive the job market really is.)

Scientists may not be physically starving, but they have invested 10 or 20 years working toward a single goal: become a bona fide researcher. And jobs are scarce. Faced with reality, people compromise.

Yet, remember, this scarcity of Ph.D.-related jobs combined with a glut of Ph.D.s is not an accident:

By the fall of 1972, there are likely to be more Ph.D.’s looking for positions than there are (adequately salaried) positions with duties commensurate with Ph.D. training level in mathematics. (Anderson, Are there too many Ph.D.’s, American Mathematical Monthly, 1970)

Source: Sébastien Paquet.