I’ve been chewing on the idea of intellectual pedigree and authority when it comes to Ghostbusters, and I’m no longer really sure it much matters in-universe that Patty Tolan wasn’t a scientist?
Of the three known* academics, the only one with any real academic cachet is Erin, who’s up for tenure at an ivy league school and kissing Charles Dance’s ass because he’s being a big dick about what she needs to do to get it before she gets summarily fired for having views on the supernatural that the administration finds vaguely embarrassing.
Which, I mean. That’s a huge move. We see her actively preparing for a lecture before everything really gets going, so it seems like the school is mid-semester. For the school to tell her to get all her shit and get out in the middle of teaching at least one course because of a book and a youtube clip communicates a lot about exactly how much the institution valued her, you know?
Abby and Holtzmann are working out of the basement of a school so scummy the previous dean went to jail and the current dean communicates with inventively rude hand-gestures, and it comes to light that they’ve only got that much support because the administration literally forgot they were there.
The book that starts the whole landslide is, in spite of being technically detailed and accurate enough that spoiler can use it to spoiler his own spoiler to spoiler the spoiler, clearly viewed as paranormal bullshit that could cost Erin her job. We even see Abby blaming an obvious Ghost-hunters parody called “Ghostjumpers” for the public perception of the field as a joke.
In terms of credibility with authorities and institutions, the three ghostbusters with science degrees have somewhere between jack and shit in spite of their credentials. If everyone’s rolling their eyes and making jerk-off gestures the second someone brings up ghosts, the four of them are on a fairly equal footing with the out-group in terms of expertise. And in-group, none of the women ever question each other’s conclusions**, extending a reciprocal trust in one another to be right about the facts they’re asserting.
So Abby, Erin, and Holtzmann are definitely academics, and they do have degrees, but their work and reputations have been delegitimized to the point where no one takes them seriously. Most of their initial motivation is, in fact, to establish themselves as serious researchers doing non-bullshit, actual science.
They’re all outsiders to the point that there’s no realistic gate to keep against an uncredentialed but sincere and serious neophyte. Even assuming Patty doesn’t have a degree, she’s not operating at a significant handicap compared to the other three in terms of how they’re perceived prior to being proven right.
*It’s not addressed in the movie one way or another if Patty’s got a degree. The film ephemera identifies her as a “municipal historian,” which suggests either an appropriate BA and a shitload of relevant fieldwork or an appropriate MA. This would hardly preclude working for the MTA in the current economic climate.
**The one beat when Patty volunteers obscure historical information is “How do you know that?” rather than “How do you know that?”, and the accuracy of her information is never in doubt. After that, it’s just assumed that she’s the exact sort of person who’d know obscure historical information.