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.