Commenter qaz raised an issue the I think I last took up following an observation of Larry Moran. That was also in the context of discussing so-called over-production of PhDs. The new comment from qaz frames the issue as follows:
I AM advocating graduate PhD-level science training for the rest of the population - imagine if our politicians actually understood science (or even critical thinking) for example. A lot of professions would be improved by having scientific training. (But they don't need it, you say. I say, why can't they have it? Why can't spending five years doing some good science not be a part of someone's path in life, even if they don't go on to do NIH-R01-Research?)
This sounds to me very much like the argument for a bachelor's level education in decades past. Even a current argument, I suppose, since college education is still not a universal in the US. An argument I wholly endorse. So I am pretty sympathetic to qaz's comment. It would indeed be a good thing if more people had graduate level training in the sciences. Just so long as they weren't all resentful at Teh Systeme, that is. Good for many things including public support for funding science, resilience against anti-science policy-making and broader influence of science-y thinking across the public sphere. Naturally, I think that we could easily devote resources we use for other purposes (say, making war) to double or even triple the enterprise of publicly funded science and that would be a better use of the money regardless of scientific outcome. I mean have you priced out the latest military hardware in R01 equivalents? Aaaaanyway....
The main objections I can see are these.
First, does the opportunity cost of 6 additional years in graduate study really compute for general edumacation purposes? Is it really worth this additional time for the individual? Worth if for society to have these young folks spending their 20s doing this stuff? I suppose if it were a job with something like close to the same compensation (individual opportunity cost addressed) and accomplishing needed work (the NIH mission) we can cover those.
Second, will the inevitable market consequence cause problems for the existing doctoral model? The response to growing numbers of bachelor's degree workers was a cycle of credentialism. The degree became a handy employer screen for various job categories, whether directly relevant or not. The market responded by providing easier and easier ways to attain this credential, the bachelor's degree. Do we want the University of Phoenix awarding doctorates?