Engineers = Evil

Every now and then you come across a new study or news article that really just hits home. It helps provide some “professional” or “scientific” insight into something that you always kind of suspected but could never quite properly articulate to yourself. I came across just such an article today (and the study behind it) and it has me re-examining myself (and many of my friends) in a new light:

Is there a thread that ties engineers to Islamic terrorism?

There certainly is, according to Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog at Oxford University, who recently published a paper titled, “Engineers of Jihad.” The authors call the link to terrorism “the engineer’s mindset.”

The sociology paper published last November, which has been making rounds over the Internet and was recently picked up by The Atlantic, uses illustrative statistics and qualitative data to conclude that there is a strong relationship between an engineering background and involvement in a variety of Islamic terrorist groups. The authors have found that graduates in subjects such as science, engineering, and medicine are strongly overrepresented among Islamist movements in the Muslim world. The authors also note that engineers, alone, are strongly over-represented among graduates who gravitate to violent groups. [Link]

One risk factor alone usually does not provide cause for worry (although I do have two engineering degrees). However, when combined with other risk factors such as this one that I had previously written about, you can imagine why I have decided to do some real soul searching. I mean, us engineers do have a lot of things in common with terrorists besides the fact that there are a lot of South Asian engineers and quite a few South Asian terrorists. For example, both groups hope that there are virgins in the afterlife (cause there definitely ain’t many women in engineering school). Both groups also stay home on Friday nights and have time to become increasingly bitter.

However, contrary to popular speculation, it’s not technical skills that make engineers attractive recruits to radical groups. Rather, the authors pose the hypothesis that “engineers have a ‘mindset’ that makes them a particularly good match for Islamism,” which becomes explosive when fused by the repression and vigorous radicalization triggered by the social conditions they endured in Islamic countries. [Link]

<

p>I wonder if people that know me think I have an “engineer’s mindset.” I will now have to suppress it by pretending to be intellectually lazy and incurious. How do you liberal arts and business majors do it so well?

But the story gets even worse. It doesn’t matter where you live or how well you have it. Engineers EVERYWHERE are evil.

The authors note that the mindset is universal.

Whether American, Canadian or Islamic, they pointed out that a disproportionate share of engineers seem to have a mindset that makes them open to the quintessential right-wing features of “monism” (why argue where there is one best solution) and by “simplism” (if only people were rational, remedies would be simple). [Link]

<

p>Our resident scientific statistician, the commenter “Razib,” will no doubt leave several comments validating the scientific methodology used it this study. As a scientist (my other degree) I have to say I agree with their methodology also. However, it would be simply unscientific of me if I didn’t point out some of the criticism of their body of work:

The duo also cite Wikipedia. (Honest, they really do – note 4, page 4.) Based on this rigorous trawl, they decide that 196 of the 404 jihadis had “engaged in higher education at some point”. Within the 196 possibly-educated terrorists, the two surfer-sociologists identify the subject of study in 178 cases.

The degree that came “first by far” among the 178 graduate jihadis, according to Gambetta and Hertog, was engineering – with 78 of their sample group supposedly so qualified.

They speculate that the type of mindset who tends to become an engineer – apparently, conservative and religious are two of the markers – will also tend to become involved in Islamic terrorism.

In fact, the pair have had to push their little data set quite hard to get that many into the “engineering” box. The sociologists’ definition of engineering includes architects (as distinct from civil engineers), all “computer related studies”, town planning, “other” (which includes “rare subjects”) and 36 terrorists where the type of “engineering” studied was unknown.

If you strike out all the architects, computer-studies guys and other random inclusions among the 42 cases where the precise subject is known, and apply the same ratio to the other 36, you come out with just 44 real engineers among the 178 jihadi graduates.

That still leaves engineers 29 per cent more numerous than the next biggest of the sociologists’ arbitrarily-defined groups, the “Islamic Studies” grads. However, the groups are pretty random. If you rearranged them a bit, it would be easy to create one bigger than the engineers.

For instance, if one were to define a group consisting of literary, history, social services, philosophy, media, education, business, architecture, psychology and town-planning graduates – call it the “fuzzy studies” group, chuck in the sociologists too – it would come out at least 50 strong, probably outnumbering the engineers and hard sciences groups put together. [Link]

I think the above “critique” is just a shameless trashing of valid sociological findings in order to sound funny. In any case, if you know any engineers, please report them. But not me please, I am trying to change my mindset for the good of us all.

71 thoughts on “Engineers = Evil

  1. as been whether the iBook Air is cool or not.

    I think you mean the macbook air. And secondly, all nerds are mathematical and technical, its geeks and dorks who spread out.

  2. as been whether the iBook Air is cool or not. I think you mean the macbook air. And secondly, all nerds are mathematical and technical, its geeks and dorks who spread out.

    :D . I said I am not much of a techie.

  3. And secondly, all nerds are mathematical and technical, its geeks and dorks who spread out.

    Ok, what’s the difference between nerds and geeks? I use them pretty interchangeably. And what are dorks? Just uncool people?

  4. I think everyone has their own definitions. I use them like this

    nerd = mathematical, techie

    geek = someone just obsessed/knowledgeable about any one thing

    dork = someone mostly socially inept, doesnt necessarily have to be smart.

  5. Hate to go on a tangent here, but reading the original post, something really rubbed me the wrong way.

    I mean, us engineers do have a lot of things in common with terrorists besides the fact that there are a lot of South Asian engineers and quite a few South Asian terrorists.

    Oh come on. We all know you mean “Indian” engineers and “Pakistani” terrorists.

    I hate people claiming the catch-all argument ‘over-politically correct’ in order to mask racist or exclusivistic rhetoric, but slandering one community with another’s ills is un-PC and hogwash. What’s with all the obfuscation? Yeah, yeah, “brown pride”, “south asia bhai bhai” and all that hogwash, but seriously… why drag my name through someone else‘s mud?

    Just state the facts. They’re damned pretty self evident.

  6. Just state the facts. They’re damned pretty self evident.

    Ambedkar, learn to recognize a satirical post labeled “humor” before making a foolish comment. How’s that for facts.

  7. Razib, from your post ‘Is the academy liberal’, engineers are 51% liberal, 19% conservative, and 30% are ‘middle-of-road’. The number of middle-of-the-roaders, seems, at first glance, to be more than any other group. Again, 34% of engineers are democrat, 13% republican, and 53% are independent, which seems more than any other group. This suggests to me that most engineers do not have strongly help opinions.

    Taking another look at the graph, it is actually quite interesting how so many engineers are moderates. Overall only 13% identify as neither conservative nor liberal, but among engineers the number is 30% (more than twice as high). Also engineering is the only group where a majority (53%) identify as neither Democrat nor Republican. The distribution in all other groups appears to be bimodal with a conservative camp and a liberal camp with a few stragglers in between. Engineers seem to be the only anomalous group with a generally strong tendency towards moderate, and then people falling either way based on different reasons, with an overall bias towards liberal. Assuming such a distribution it’d seem unlikely that there’d be many engineers who are extremely conservative (or liberal) in outlook: one would expect the tails to peter out by the time we get there.

  8. Rather, the authors pose the hypothesis that “engineers have a ‘mindset’ that makes them a particularly good match for Islamism,” which becomes explosive when fused by the repression and vigorous radicalization triggered by the social conditions they endured in Islamic countries

    Bin Laden supposedly has a degree in civil engineering and the chief architect of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has a degree in mechanical engineering from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Ramzi Youssef who planned the failed “Bojinka Plot” in ’95 that was a major influence behind the 9/11 plot has a degree in electrical engineering from the UK. The nexus between Islamic terrorists and engineering has been known for a while. Nothing exactly new of note in that paper

  9. I saw this corelation first explained at Razib’s site first. It seems that jobless people team up and find obscure connections which has no practical use whatsoever. If some one does a further analysis they can probably dig other obcure correlations as well – like among the terrorists, straight hair folks and taller ones are more common than the curly hair folks and shorter ones. I am glad this post is under humour. There isn’t anything of academic value in this paper, IMHO.

  10. Abhi: I know this is a satirical post, and supposed to be humorous, but folks in the old country (where I learnt my fundamentals of Engineering) takes this very seriously. Also it is how you define “Evil”. If you believe the old Hindu scriptures and Mythology Brahma – the creator recruited an engineer called “Vishwakarma” to build this world. Now, you don’t believe “GOD” would trust an “Evil” force to do a long lasting and creative firmament, do you? One more thing, there are engineers and there are licenced and registered “Professional Engineers”, like me. Code of ethics would prevent a true “PE” to destroy anything, rather than create. I am just saying……….

  11. It is a well known fact that students who have a low IQ,and are generally talentless at anything other than wasting their parent’s hard earned money take up humanities. At this stage, they get enrolled in classes with women who are passing time till they marry professional men. The resulting mixture of idle men and bored women leads to a comfortable student life where the ‘humanities’ are truly explored. The serious, intelligent students meanwhile focus, and study. And discover. That ultimately people are bastards, life has no meaning and all their heroes were false. They also have to bear the brunt of ugly, ruthless and serious minded feminine company in classes so dull that self evisceration with butter knives are popular fantasies. They struggle for years and years and take up jobs which guarantee them refuge from the cretins that surround them, but still have to serve society largely led by similar cretins. Some of them manage to take charge (eg.Bill Gates), but generally they remain pawns in a game they have grown to hate. Then they decide to have a blast. Peace.

  12. sakshi, there is a difference between political outlook re: Dem/Republican and political outlook re: things like, the role of the state, the role of defense, etc., right? I’ve met tons of engineers with strong political affiliations (most self-identified moderate to mod-left with a healthy chunk of conservatives), but we differ on things like the role of the state, the role of the university, opinions on the political economy of science funding, etc.

    An example: My dad is certainly mod left (economically centrist, socially mod left), and he is extensively opposed to California (and the country’s) pattern of prioritizing prison expansion and incarceration over social spending and higher education spending. However, he’s a structural engineer, and until the last 10 years, his firm was heavily involved in building prisons around the country during the economic recession because it was the only work they could find. While he’s changed his mind since then, at the time he didn’t see this as connected to or related to his political concerns.

    That said, I think that application is true in many other fields, as well, I just find it happening more often in engineering where so much of people’s research money comes from defense, etc., that it seems more normalized.

  13. An example: My dad is certainly mod left (economically centrist, socially mod left), and he is extensively opposed to California (and the country’s) pattern of prioritizing prison expansion and incarceration over social spending and higher education spending. However, he’s a structural engineer, and until the last 10 years, his firm was heavily involved in building prisons around the country during the economic recession because it was the only work they could find. While he’s changed his mind since then, at the time he didn’t see this as connected to or related to his political concerns.

    A nice way of looking at this would be to say that he is willing to go along with the national consensus even when it disagrees with his personal opinions. At worst this can be seen as personal opportunism or hypocrisy. But nothing about this suggests an inordinate faith in one’s beliefs.

    Incidentally, I am down with a fever, so was bored enough to read through part of the report, and in all the cases they have good data, engineers are not overrepresented in right-wing groups: they admit that engineers were not overrepresented among Nazis, or neo-Nazis. They seem to be underrepresented (4 out of 10,703) among Italian fascist (so we know all these terroristy engineers are Islamic but not Islamofascists ;) ) . The case they seem to be making, on really iffy data, that there is something special about Islamic extremism that appeals to engineers like nothing has done before. I hope IEEE sues them for libel ;) .

  14. in all the cases they have good data, engineers are not overrepresented in right-wing groups

    That is, extremist right-wing groups.

  15. Sakshi, right on. The problem is that these people have no clue about the social position of engineering certain parts of the world or the complex reasons for why this is so. They are generalizing their parochial worldview to what they do not know and do not understand.

  16. Professor Calculus,

    Herge would be turning in his grave were he to know that he has readers like you. You are breathtakingly cynical and breathtakingly stupid. That’s a a combination guaranteed to lead to self-destruction. Its also probably why the other posters have wisely decided to ignore you. It means they don’t even think its worth their while flaming you. How pathtic is that?

    You’re just a sad guy who never grew up. Preeti

  17. It is a well known fact that students who have a low IQ,and are generally talentless at anything other than wasting their parent\’s hard earned money take up humanities.

    I am not sure about IQ but usually BA gets last preference from students in India, it is considered a timepass and namesake degree.

  18. Relax guys It was a misguided spoof. I guess I need a crash course in creative writing from the nearest center for humanities training, art appreciation and liberal progressive though…Rats! there I go again.

  19. Tell me about it!

    I had to put up with these EVIL human beings for the past 15 years after I graduated with an EE degree

    I had to be “de-programmed” though use of illegal subtances to realize what vile people these Engineers (and Allopathic MDs) are!

  20. If artists ruled the World can’t say it would a good thing either…..every group outside Professionals in Civil Service are prone to do wierd things …..