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Engineers Have a Terrorist Mindset? 837

Posted by Zonk
from the only-the-ones-who-drink dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Do engineers have a way of looking at the world not all that different from terrorists? According to an article in the EE Times, they do. The story cites 'Engineers of Jihad,' a paper (pdf download) by two Oxford University sociologists, who found that graduates in science, engineering, and medicine are strongly overrepresented among Islamist movements. The paper also found that engineers are 'over-represented' among graduates who gravitate to violent groups. Authors Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog chalk this all up to what they call the 'engineering mindset,' which they define as 'a mindset that inclines them to take more extreme conservative and religious positions.' Is this just pop psychology masquerading as science?"
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Engineers Have a Terrorist Mindset?

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  • is it April 1? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by yagu (721525) * <> on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:03PM (#22223032) Journal

    First and foremost, to answer the question put forth in the summary:

    Is this just pop psychology masquerading as science?

    To parse:

    • is it pop psychology(?)

      this first would have to lend credence that the thesis warrants comparison to psychology in any way, let alone "pop" psychology which tends to be a few rungs down from the imprimatur of truly researched psychology. It isn't. It's not even close.

    • masquerading(?)

      You bet! No matter what this is trying to be in any genuine sense other than phooey, it's masquerading.

    • science(?)

      Not a chance. Anecdotally I would expect to be able to be able to think of a number of fellow engineers who match the description and thesis. I'm not sure I can even think of a single example. I can think of some peers from the past who I may describe as of a similar mindset, but those I would hardly describe as real engineers.

    I'm guessing this article was supposed to be released April 1, but someone jumped the gun. That said, it's not even a very funny joke.

  • Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shadow Wrought (586631) * <> on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:05PM (#22223072) Homepage Journal
    Many of the engineers I've known in college were absolutely convinced of tehir superiority and absolute rightness in all things. Certainly not all, but a fair chunk. Same with Fundamentalism. To a certain extent its still trying to change the world instead of yourself.
  • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zulater (635326) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:10PM (#22223136)
    I think there's a bit of a difference in "I'm always right" as opposed to "I'm going to kill those that don't think like me". Though IANATerrorist.
  • Useful degrees (Score:3, Insightful)

    by aproposofwhat (1019098) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:10PM (#22223142)
    Well, it's not surprising that people studying useful subjects are overrepresented among Islamists in the UK.

    After all, who wants a sociologist in their terror cell?

    More to the point, people studying proper subjects are more likely to encounter Islamists from other countries on their courses and to be influenced by them - since nobody is going to travel all the way from Iraq/Iran/Saudi/<insert hotbed of radicalism here> to study complete bollocks like sociology or any of the other pap degrees offered, it's no wonder that there aren't too many Islamist sociology and psychology students.

  • Probably True (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pinkocommie (696223) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:10PM (#22223152)
    I'm from Pakistan and would be willing to guess that this is true. The issue primarily why these results would exist is the concept of fine arts etc aren't as common in most 3rd world countries. In pakistan for example the revered professions are Medicine and Engineering. The best and brightest always gravitate towards those (top 500 out of 50K candidates get into the main tech university in Karachi).
    In any case, I'm willing to bet these are also the minds that go hmm there are problems with our society that need to be solved. One could probably divvy up these people into those that leave the country, those that stick behind and those that turn to religion for answers and eventually rise among the ranks of extremists etc.
    Terrorism vs extremism isn't as finely delineated as Bush et. al would like to make it out to be. If one could fix the issue of social injustice and lack of opportunities / education I'm willing to bet most of these problems will go away as well.
  • by Anonimouse (934959) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:12PM (#22223190)
    because they are sociologists. To quote an old telco advert, "Its an 'ology'. You're a scientist!" Its incredible what some of "ologists" churns out, and downright sad that they are given any credibility at all.
  • Re:Why not? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Goaway (82658) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:12PM (#22223192) Homepage
    There might just be less difference than you think.
  • by zmooc (33175) <zmooc&zmooc,net> on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:12PM (#22223198) Homepage
    It should be noted that due to US immigration restrictions, 80% of muslims migrating to the US are highly educated. Engineers. This should somehow skew the results.

    Were I live, in the Netherlands, only 30% of the muslim immigrants are highly educated (the rest is practically completely uneducated...); if you'd do the same test in the Nederlands, you might find morons have a terrorist mindset;-)
  • ESR (Score:3, Insightful)

    by emj (15659) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:14PM (#22223222) Homepage Journal []

    I guess I'm an idiot for this
  • Re:Why not? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by KublaiKhan (522918) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:15PM (#22223232) Homepage Journal
    I suppose I could see that. Engineers do tend to try to put things into precise terms--black and white, right and wrong, within tolerances and unacceptable. This is similar to fundamentalist views of the world, in a way...
  • So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gnuman99 (746007) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:15PM (#22223236)
    So what?

    If the criminals and terrorists are either "uneducated hoards" or someone with some education, I'd expect someone in science to do a "better job" as a criminal than the "uneducated hoards" or someone with a fine arts degree. One of the tasks you learn in *real* science (what the pseudo-scientists here don't seem to grasp) is the ability to plan ahead. Yes, plan ahead. Therefore maybe criminals and terrorists with some science background will get further in their game than square 1.

    Furthermore, maybe people that want to get "ahead" in their criminal organizations enter college to gain education in the material that they will find useful. You know, an engineer or a chemist may be a more useful profession for them than a poet.

    But then what will these pseudo-scientists find next in their statistics? That some of the non-science terrorists/criminals like to play chess or other strategy games? Or that they are fanatics *before* starting their university education?

    75% of people know these statistics are bogus 19 times out of 20.
  • extreme beliefs (Score:2, Insightful)

    by pyphil (1228870) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:17PM (#22223274)
    I always thought that those with degrees in science, medicine and engineering were overrepresented within the realm of atheist or agnostic belief frameworks. I guess we cant go without forming a very strong opinion about the universe around us.
  • Duh Sherlock. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Steauengeglase (512315) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:18PM (#22223294)
    OK, lets back up the truck for a second and try to view this as something other than "those jerks in IT are such elitist pigs" mindset for a second. I have an organization that going to inflict terror on a given population. Am I going to recruit a wet nurses or an engineer?
  • by OnslaughtQ (711594) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:19PM (#22223300)
    I don't think engineers are terrorists, but rather terrorists are engineers. Some rudimentary knowledge of bomb making, architectural structures, and other engineering fields are usually ideal if you're going to blow up a building.

    A marketing or business major would not be suitable for the young terrorist. This would lead to things such as radical groups forcing us to buy that blue jacket which we don't really like and think is overpriced anyway, but now we have to buy it or concede that they are right.

  • Or maybe... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by susano_otter (123650) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:20PM (#22223310) Homepage
    Or maybe it's that Engineers are recruited more aggressively than liberal arts majors because likely to bring useful skills and a concrete, analytical mindset to the mission.
  • by Travoltus (110240) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:21PM (#22223314) Journal
    do terrorists have an ENGINEER mindset?

    Terrorism requires the knowledge to bypass security and/or blow stuff up.

    To do that, you need engineers. Otherwise all you get is a bunch of talkers, not doers, or at least doers who blow themselves up more often, and who fail to even reach their targets.

    What this means is, your average engineer does not have a terrorist mindset, but terrorist groups must recruit engineers in order to Get Stuff Circumvented/Done[tm]. So they recruit engineers as often as they can, because otherwise they cannot Get Stuff Circumvented/Done[tm].
  • Re:Why not? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by moderatorrater (1095745) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:22PM (#22223328)
    A lot of the reason for this is that engineers live and work in a world where 1+1=2, and everything follows a similarly, objectively correct principle. Whereas when you deal with religion or human behavior, 1+1=2 in some cases, 1+1=3 for high values of 1, and 1+1=-9 when you're dealing with another continent. The Americans likes one all powerful God who knows everything, but lets us live our lives as we see fit. The Japanese like their ancestors to be in charge, Indians tend to like a lot of Gods who have human tendencies and are shaped like animals, while Europeans like their gods to be dead. None of these can be proven correct, none of these can be proven wrong, and all of these tend to get people worked up enough to fight and, sometimes, kill over. If you can accept opposing points of view, then this isn't a bad thing. If you're used to being able to see things absolutely correctly because it follows principles which are correct, then suddenly these beliefs are irrefutable facts that are only opposed by people who are wrong. This certainly doesn't apply to everyone, or even the majority, but I can see people who have these tendencies being overrepresented in both engineering disciplines and terrorist organizations.
  • by Joe_in_63640 (1228646) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:26PM (#22223406) Journal
    Submitted as Brain-Chow:
        I once was told in a Stats class that;

      " Among Lazy, Illiterate American Auto workers,
      that 40% of all sick time was taken on a Monday
      or a Friday". The class ( mostly) was dumbstruck.

        - Never stopping to think that 40% of every
    American work week is a Monday or a Friday.

        The well had been poisoned, tho, and despite
    the clarity of the punchline-like analysis, many
    insisted on various faults, like unions, wage status,

        I feel pretty certain of two things -
        1. That we've been so conditioned by Big Media to
                  the insidious Eevil of 'Terrorism' that it invokes
                  a knee-jerk response of denial in any other view.

        2. Smart people make very good Engineers and very formidable
                  enemies. You won't hear of Inept Terrorists in the news.
                  Only the Smart Ones.

                                        - Just my $0.02
  • Re:Probably True (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Otter (3800) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:31PM (#22223488) Journal
    If one could fix the issue of social injustice and lack of opportunities / education I'm willing to bet most of these problems will go away as well.

    I'm not sure I follow your last bit of reasoning there. If anything, the fact that groups like al-Qaeda (run by an engineer and a physician) and Hamas (run by a physicist who succeeded a physician) are led by the most educated members of local society tends to argue against poverty and lack of education as key causes of terrorism. Same thing on a country level -- it's Saudi Arabia that exports terrorism, not (for the most part) Yemen.

    Improving people's economic prospects and education is a good thing in its own right, and doesn't require any defense. But it's not obviously a solution to this problem.

  • The problem is... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ShiNoKaze (1097629) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:33PM (#22223518)
    Engineers tend to be trained to think. This is a problem for people in charge.
  • Engineers? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SerpentMage (13390) <> on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:35PM (#22223548)
    Ok let's see Engineers are suspect to Terrorism because they view things as right and wrong.

    Assuming that this is the truth, that then puts ANYBODY WITH ANY IQ in the sciences and math as potential terrorists! So let's not stop at engineers, but head on over to physicists, and math folks.

    Oh wait, maybe this is a bigger and badder idea... What if this is a way to eradicate the "intelligent."

    Think hard about this. Who does any dictator knock off first? Oh yeah the intelligent and who can think for themselves.... Gee let's make engineers the scape goats and suspects here...

    Come on people do we see the boggieman at every corner...

    Think about why maybe many immigrants are engineers. Could it be because engineers can get visa's and jobs here? Maybe its because visa's are not given out to basketweavers!
  • Re:is it April 1? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Naughty Bob (1004174) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:38PM (#22223586)
    I think that the conclusions of this study are too sweeping (or they've been 'sexed-up' to generate more interest). But you make no effort to explain the over-representation of 'graduates in science, engineering, and medicine' in the extremist groups.

    I have an engineer-type mindset, and when I believe something, I really believe it. I have always figured that it was because my engineery thought patterns, and the corresponding deductions I make about life in general, give me a set of well reasoned, watertight stances about which I then feel compelled to become hardline (the compulsion arising from the rigor of my reasoning). I also take pride in changing my stance whenever someone convinces me I'm wrong.
  • by ianchaos (160825) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:39PM (#22223600)
    Many of the terrorists which have been part of the popular news media the last few years have had the eventual goal of creating a very structured and ordered society. While this may seem to fit the barest idea of what an engineer might approve of, it is a far stretch from matching the what I know of engineering types.

    1. Engineers are just as interested in knowing how things work as they are in making sure they work orderly. This would lend itself to a desire for more openness in working systems. To easier be able to lift the hood and see what's going on. Most terrorists seem interested in extremely closed societies with no openness.

    2. Terrorists main method of operation is to create fear and chaos in order to eventually gain control. Chaos is not an engineer's friend. While an engineer would be glad to have created order from chaos, he would not create disorder in an attempt to create a working system.

    3. Engineering is generally a respected, fairly good paying career choice. What is the incentive to give up a promising future for a life of uncertainty and danger.

    I just don't see it.
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:40PM (#22223612) Homepage
    "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)..."

    Frederick W. Taylor, advocate of "scientific management," and who literally articulated as a principle that everything could and should be done in "the one best way." In my experience, it is managers, not engineers, who tend to have the "one best way" mindset. Recently, things that used to be called "recommendations" are now called "best practices," and as nearly as I can tell nobody ever has or thinks they need any data to back up the idea that the "best practices" are actually best.

    Engineers, in my experience, are the very last people to claim there is "one best way." On the contrary... the more conservative engineers are constantly articulating tradeoffs (different ways presenting different combinations of good and bad features), while the bolder ones are constantly coming up with wild new ideas. Sometimes it is difficult for a group of engineers ever to stop brainstorming, because they are so intrigued by the challenge of finding new ways to do things... and, if nothing else, because they like the competitive one-upping of thinking of ways to do something that their colleagues didn't think of.

    I find this paper very disturbing. I lived through the McCarthy years... There was no definition of the word "Communist." A communist meant anyone the government didn't like. If you pointed out that some reputed "Communist" was, simply, factually, not a Communist, not only did it not matter but it made you suspect yourself. (During the McCarthy era, for example, all homosexuals were automatically "Communists.")

    These days, the word "terrist" seems to have the same sort of elusive meaning. It's only a matter of time before it becomes meaningless to point out that someone is, simply and factually, not a terrist. So what, if they were friends with terrists and didn't turn them in... or if they had a "terrist mind-set..." or if they were an engineer, because, just as all homosexuals were automatically Communists, all engineers automatically have "terrist mind-sets."
  • Missed the point (Score:2, Insightful)

    by IP_Troll (1097511) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:46PM (#22223720)
    I think the study missed a huge point.

    Terrorists typically come from developing nations. Colleges in developing nations typically only teach engineering/science because that is what they need. People that goto college in developing nations typically have been tapped to be the leaders of their communities. It is a rare honor and they are going to study a major that has a clear and direct benefit to their communities. They are not going to study political science... because it is completely useless to them. (as opposed to somewhat useless to us) Liberal arts will not give their community food or water.

    Colleges in nations outside of Europe and North America do not have the same liberal arts program. In fact, it is same to say that they have NO liberal arts program. When the dictator of your country kills everyone critical of his tyrannical rule, there are no professors left to teach critical thinking. When the only majors offered in a college are engineering or science people are going to major in those topics.

    Also, engineering and science students in accredited western schools have to take humanities and social science course as part of their curriculum. You cannot make a comparison between the education received in a western college and one of a college in a developing nation.

    This study reads like some poli-sci adjunct professor is lobbying for more federal funding.

    To make this study creditable at all there has to be an in depth analysis of the options provided to the students, not just "violent people commonly study engineering" ergo "engineers are violent".
  • Re:is it April 1? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by alcmaeon (684971) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:49PM (#22223766)
    From reading the article, it seems to me Diego and Steve [yeah, sounds like a gay disco duo] have never met parents from the Middle East. Basically, a kids has one of two choices about higher education: medicine or engineering. This is so prevalent, it is a joke among the relevant demographic. Now, me, I'm shocked that theatre majors seem to be underrepresented in "Islamist groups."
  • by gnick (1211984) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:52PM (#22223800) Homepage

    A+B=C is a "rule", just as "obey god" is
    I'm not sure that it's fair to equate an engineer's "rules" with a religious fundamentalist's "rules". Engineers have models of how stuff works. They use those models as appropriate and adjust them when necessary per a new situation or acquisition of new data.

    I live in Newton's world even though I know that his "rules" are a little flawed. I occasionally need to visit Einstein's world because I'm doing something weird. No problem. However, if Newton's world were written in scripture, then any situation requiring Einstein's stuff would be painfully ignored or explained away through magic.
  • by raygundan (16760) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:57PM (#22223882) Homepage
    I'm not sure it's a superiority complex, but the end result is awfully similar. Engineers are one of the few subsets of people that are in active control of changing the world around them. It's what they do for a living. They think about a problem, come up with a way to implement a solution, and then build it.

    I don't think they believe they're superior-- but when an engineer decides one way or the other about an issue, he sets out to do something about it. A lot of people are content to hold a viewpoint but go on about their business, but it has always seemed to me that an engineer with a viewpoint on an issue that he won't back down from is simply doing what engineers do. He's thought about a problem, looked at his limited options, and is pursuing the solution his believes is correct.

    This mindset, however, is not common. Most people, when confronted with an issue (even one they strongly feel needs to change) that is outside their ability to control, will simply go about their lives. The engineer, although similarly powerless to enact change in, say, global politics, will do the only things he can, like annoy everybody around him trying to convince them to see his viewpoint. They try to think rationally, and they believe when they've reached a conclusion that other people could be convinced rationally to see their viewpoint. Again, this is what they do day-in and day-out at work, convincing co-workers to choose a particular design path on purely rational merits. It just doesn't map to the messy grey-area that makes up normal life with irrational people.

    (none of this is peer-reviewed, and was made up on the spot, and may or may not match your experiences.)
  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:57PM (#22223886) Journal
    More to the point, engineers, when confronted with a problem, tend to find the most direct solution to the problem. If the problem is 'the Caliphate needs to be restored,' or 'some people in the world are not Muslims and everyone should be' then the most direct situation involves blowing people up.
  • by Crazy Taco (1083423) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @12:59PM (#22223906)

    I'm guessing this article was supposed to be released April 1, but someone jumped the gun. That said, it's not even a very funny joke.

    I think the more likely explanation is that this is an attempt by sociologists to get revenge for all the times they were told in college that sociology isn't a real major, sociology isn't a true or hard science, etc. Being an engineer myself, I happen to agree with that assessment, but perhaps the sociologists are getting the last laugh. :p

    ...... Unless of course we all really do have a terrorist mindset. In that case, publishing such an offensive article was a gross miscalculation on their part! :D <sarcastic news flash> Everywhere across the nation, engineers begin to dust off their bomb building kits, preparing to take on the evil forces of sociology</sarcasm> :D

  • by SnapShot (171582) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:03PM (#22223934)
    I'm not so sure about that. Many of us like our NIH, DoD, DoE, or univeristy grants. Many of us would be for a new orbiting space telescope, or a new Internet backbone (that isn't all filled up with random commercial crap and pr0n), or a manned trip to Mars, or a new super-collider, or a thousand other basic science projects that corporations are less likely to fund.

    I'm sure there are some scientists who are libertarian enough to only work for corporations that are not receiving subsidies from the government, but I doubt it's the majority.
  • by Grishnakh (216268) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:10PM (#22224022)
    I think what they have in common is both rigidity (eg, A+B=C is a "rule", just as "obey god" is as well) as well as a willingness to follow everything to its logical conclusion (eg, C=B-A and "obey god, god says infidels should die, therefore kill them").

    I'm an engineer, and I definitely follow this. This is why I'm against religion.

    In my view, the fundamentalists of every religion are the correct ones. The "moderates" are wrong, because they're picking and choosing which parts of their holy texts to believe in and follow, and are ignoring others. The problem is that every religion's holy texts are full of horrible teachings. The Christian Bible, for instance, has many places where it condones murder, genocide, rape, genital mutilation, and more. It doesn't just describe these events, it makes clear these are perpetrated by "God's chosen people", so it's OK. Some Christians try to argue that things changed when Jesus came around, but that's silly. For one, Jesus specifically said he did not come to change Moses' Law. He also said he came not to bring peace to Earth, but a sword, and to set the world on fire. Moreover, if God is omnipotent, why would he change his mind and become kinder and gentler after an event?

    The way I see it, you have to accept everything in a religion, including all the silly or horrible things, or you have to reject it altogether. Since all the religions are full of horrible teachings, the logical conclusion for me is that we must simply reject these religions.

    And of course, there's zero evidence to support any of these religious claims anyway. As an engineer, if I doubt something, I can set up an experiment and determine if it works or not. I can't do that with religion; it's just stories written down by ancient people, which claim to be true, but have nothing else to support them. While this is just conjecture of course, I think it's far more likely that all the ancient "gods" were actually alien astronauts than real gods, although the most likely explanation is that people just made this stuff up and it got passed down orally over centuries and twisted around.
  • by Your.Master (1088569) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:11PM (#22224032)
    I'm not so sure about that. Slashdotters tend to be libertarians. Scientists in general are often in favour of government funding for research projects, and my anecdotal evidence is that most engineers I met were into public healthcare and so forth. I mean, it's all efficiency optimizations, and the free market does not optimize for perfect efficiency because people are not perfectly rational and trustworthy actors (of course, command economies do not optimize either for exactly the same reasons).
  • by Wanderer2 (690578) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:16PM (#22224110) Homepage

    Good example was a recent case where some "terrorists" had loaded their cars up with cans of gasoline and then planned on lighting them on fire believing this would lead to massive explosions (this happened over in England btw)

    Pedantic correction but that was Glasgow Airport in Scotland []. Not that everyone in the countries involved would see it as pedantic...

    ...but yes, a good example of very inept terrorists where the reporting made it seem as if the end of the world were nigh.

  • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:16PM (#22224112) Journal
    Except that atheism is kind of an extreme position in itself. It takes a person with a big head to look at the 95% of the earth's population that believes in a supreme being and declare them all delusional.

    I guess I have a pretty big head.
  • Re:is it April 1? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by utopianfiat (774016) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:24PM (#22224214) Journal
    So what you're saying is,
    you're a terrorist. :P

    in all reality, what you're saying is Zonk, like most american retards, are equating islamic fundamentalism with islamic radicalism with "islamofacism". THEN EQUATING ALL THE ABOVE WITH TERRORISM.
  • Re:is it April 1? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Johnboi Waltune (462501) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:24PM (#22224228)
    A lot of these Chinese students have been taught all their lives that Americans are barbarians, decadent, corrupt, etc,etc... From their point of view, they have been sent into a hostile environment to get an education, and then return to the PRC to use their knowledge to help their country get ahead of the US. Some of the Indians are that way too when they first get to the US. It's part culture shock and part xenophobia. They are the ones with the problem, not you.

    A lot of them get over it once they've been exposed to our culture and people for a while, and they realize what they were told before coming to the US is just one side of the story.
  • MOD PARENT DOWN. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Socguy (933973) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:32PM (#22224374)
    Why is this modded insightful? While the parent obviously disagrees with the research paper, he has offered no relevant criticism of the paper other than to make a couple ad hominem style attacks on the paper.

    is it pop psychology(?)
    this first would have to lend credence that the thesis warrants comparison to psychology in any way, let alone "pop" psychology which tends to be a few rungs down from the imprimatur of truly researched psychology. It isn't. It's not even close.

    You bet! No matter what this is trying to be in any genuine sense other than phooey, it's masquerading.

    And a personal anecdote (under the category of science no less.)

    Not a chance. Anecdotally I would expect to be able to be able to think of a number of fellow engineers who match the description and thesis. I'm not sure I can even think of a single example. I can think of some peers from the past who I may describe as of a similar mindset, but those I would hardly describe as real engineers.

    While the parent is certainly entitled to have and express his opinions, the parent has made no real insightful contribution to the discussion because the parent neglected to include any evidence to support his statements. Therefore, the parent should be modded down, at least until such time that he more fully supports his assertions.
  • by mr_mischief (456295) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:38PM (#22224462) Journal
    Engineers are well-known (by researchers, theorists, and others) as "get it done" types. They want to know as much theory as they need to make practical applications, and to make things that do something useful. As long as they're making progress, rough guidelines that take margins of error into account are as often as good as pure theory.

    Terrorists are people who've decided to make people take notice of their views. They're not idealists who talk about people converting because they've come to accept what the terrorists see as truth. They want to get noticed and to get their message out to people. The media is an effective way to do that, if you can get the attention of the media. Blowing people up is a quick way to get in the news. Notice that the message spread by terrorists and the means of spreading it are often condemned by others wanting to spread a similar but more peaceful message, yet it's hard to deny who gets their message to a wider audience. It's much more common to hear "join Islam or die", "join the Communist Party or rot in jail", or "love America or leave it" than to hear "if you'll pray with us, you might see Mohammed was right", "it's better for us all if we're all communists, please take this pamphlet and consider it", or "this is the land of the free, the home of the brave, and the place where it should be safe to dissent", even though there are peaceful and considerate Mulsims, Commmunists, and Americans. (I'm an American and I love my country, but I think we have not only a right but a duty to be heard when we have a grievance against our leaders -- that's what the country was founded on!)

    Much of what terrorists do requires skills most people don't have. Making a reliable suicide vest takes skill. Aiming an aircraft at a skyscraper was not something left to chance, but something the hijackers trained for in actual flight schools. Terrorist paramilitary camps exist to train people in how to fight with tactics developed over generations. Those who want to be effective terrorists appreciate that an engineering degree in chemical engineering is probably a good way to learn about explosives and poisons. Those who want to write software for their cause need to know how just as those who write software for other reasons do. They need to know how buildings are supported to bring them down more effectively, just as professional and peaceful demolitions crews do. These people take engineering degrees or go to flight school or training camp because they have made the pragmatic decision that it suits their ends.

    So really, yeah, I can see it. Engineers do what they need to do to build buildings, bridges, computer processors, new plastics with better impact resistance, or cars with better safety ratings. Terrorists do what they need to do if their goal is killing, maiming, and getting noticed. Both are very goal-oriented, and very pragmatic. Being effective at terror often takes some engineering skills, which reinforces some of the correlations.

    All of does mean that someone who's a terrorist might be lead to study engineering. It doesn't mean that people studying engineering are any more likely to become terrorists than they otherwise would be.

    I'm sure most of the Muslim people studying engineering are studying it for professional reasons, too. We have wackos in the West who were good at destruction because of their education and training (for example Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph, Michael Swango, Josef Mengele, Richard Angelo, Charles Cullen, Kristen Gilbert, Stephan Letter, Christine Malevre, Norbert Poehlke, Beverly Allitt) many of whom have been nurses or physicians. That doesn't mean someone who's studied electronics, pyrotechnics, or medicine in the US or Europe is going to be a serial killer or mass murderer. The same is true of the Middle East.

    Actually, another reason is applicability. People don't study American business law to take back to Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Indonesia, because the laws aren't the same. Engineering is largely transfe
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:43PM (#22224562)
    I see nothing special about engineers and the alleged connection to extremism. I will illustrate a use of terror tactics that requires no engineering at all.

    I have no degree. Yet I have worked in IT for 20+ years, the last 10 in management. I have had only 3 employers during that time. One of my jobs required a master's degree -- and this was in an organization that vigorously checked academic credentials to the point where 5% of all finalist candidates were rejected for lying. I never claimed to have a degree, so there was never any need to check transcripts.

    My strategy has worked well. I spent a grand total of 6 weeks unemployed over 20+ years -- lost my job when my employer was bought out. I am a millionaire thanks to their stock. It's ok to be treated like crap if you get paid.

    I could have pursued academic credentials, but I opted out when I saw the opportunities that I would have to leave on the table.

    If I apply for a job, I know (based on a lack of credentials) that I will get summarily rejected 90% of the time. I get reasonable consideration only 10% of the time. I am a serious candidate and perhaps a finalist even less often than that. Is this a problem? Not really.

    How many jobs do I need?

    How many do I have now?

    Is my non-degree status costing me money?
    I doubt it. I am already in the 99th percentile for salary. How much higher can I possibly go?

    If I need a new job, won't it be difficult to find one?
    Here is where the terror strategy fits in: It costs me nothing to TRY. I can apply for as many jobs as I want. The cost is trivial. Granted, I need to offer SOMETHING that will ultimately persuade someone to hire me. However, the number of failed attempts means nothing if I can get what I want ONCE. I am a failure ONLY if the industry is 100% successful in locking me out for an extended period of time. Like a terrorist, I can thrive on a 1% success rate.
  • Re:Why not? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by The Mighty Buzzard (878441) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:53PM (#22224700)
    Engineers are, by nature, problem solvers. All it takes is for them to start seeing people who don't think like them as a problem and the solution is obvious. They can either change the thinking of said people or stop them from thinking at all. The latter is far easier and has a proven track record of working.
  • Re:The Engineer (Score:2, Insightful)

    by grrrgrrr (945173) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @02:13PM (#22225024)
    This kind of propagandist stories are so tiresome. Just look objectively at the number victims and numbers of refugees the economic situation the military power and there can be no doubt at who are the victims (the Palestinians) and who perpetrators (the Israeli). The mindset of one crazy terrorist does not impress me . That explains also the engineers mindset they are not easily manipulated!
  • Re:is it April 1? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bombula (670389) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @02:17PM (#22225098)
    1. Ph.D. in science. Check. 2. Islamic fundamentalist (is it a movement?). Check.

    The ability to compartmentalize one's mind into two entirely separate and contradictory sides is an astonishing testament to the brain's plasticity. It basically makes a person schizophrenic - they operate as if they exist in two different and incompatible realities - and of course that is a very frightening thing when you're dealing with people whose value system dictates that violence, racism, sexism, misogeny, homophobia, murder, rape and plunder are all viable methods for both conflict resolution and conquest.

    If nothing else, the fact that a person can possess rational faculties sufficient to obtain a PhD while simultaneously adhering to the totally irrational and delusional tenets of religion is highly entertaining.

  • by raygundan (16760) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @02:17PM (#22225102) Homepage
    I agree with you completely. The "problem-solver" mindset has two serious real-world limitations: nobody is an expert on everything (even after careful thought), and not every problem is within your capability to solve no matter how much effort you put into it.

    Clearly any rational person would see that annoying everyone is not the way to convince anything or anybody.

    Yes and no. They address "normal" people just like they would other engineers. "Here's my idea, here's my reasoning, here's my conclusion." They expect that everyone else will realize that this is intended as a prompt for you to present your ideas. Also especially annoying is the "Here's my (devil's advocate) idea, here's my (hypothetical) reasoning, here's my conclusion (that i WANT you to disprove)." Most people look at you like you have three heads when you start a discussion like that.

    But it works with other engineers, who are used to pushing through ideas like this. Still, this may make up the majority of their daily interactions. Is it irrational for them to attempt to use what works for them most often? A bit, if it always fails in the same places.

    Just remember-- we're not TRYING to be dicks, most of the time. Nobody's good at everything, and we might even be trying to help, awkwardly. When non-engineers realize this, it often is more help than the engineer realizing it. They may know what they're doing isn't working, but that doesn't mean they'll ever develop the knack for not being so absolutely blunt. But a more socially adept person may be able to just factor this in to how they deal with the engineer.

    I think that's good advice for everybody, though. Remember that most people aren't trying to be dicks even when they seem like it, and react accordingly rather than exploding back at them. Save the explosion for after you've confirmed they meant to be a shithead. There are many more types of people than just the engineer and the non-engineer, and everybody communicates differently.

  • Re:is it April 1? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by siufish (814496) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @02:27PM (#22225248)
    Your description about Chinese would be right if it's still 30-40 years ago. Now no one still believes the propaganda. In fact, the reason so many Chinese want to go to college in the US is because they think they can get a better education here. The way you put it sounds like they're sent here on a mission, like the terrorists; they're not.

    China doesn't have a monopoly on propaganda.
  • Re:is it April 1? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by utopianfiat (774016) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @02:38PM (#22225414) Journal
    Islam is a young, viral religion. There was another young, viral religion which not but a millenia ago murdered people for centuries.
    I'm just sad that people don't realize this idiotic religious tribalism brings us all to hell.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @02:49PM (#22225540)
    Absolutely. Just like I support holding citizens at gunpoint to keep them from killing me.

    (Actually, I don't support any of that, but you have to realize that the "holding at gunpoint" holds for absolutely everything you do with laws. Slashdot Libertarianism is mostly hypocritical anarchism)
  • Re:is it April 1? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @03:17PM (#22225980)

    Do you honestly think that if you were studying in a foreign country with a different language and culture, and there were other Americans there as well, that you would not hang out primarily with the other Americans?

  • by FredFnord (635797) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @03:32PM (#22226212)
    > Slashdot Libertarianism is mostly hypocritical anarchism

    Naw. It's mostly totally unselfconscious, unexamined selfishness combined with a sort of odd belief in 'freedom' that is so strong that it basically amounts to belief in predestination. ("Everyone has absolute choice in everything that happens to them, so therefore it's obvious that everyone deserves exactly what they are getting. Except me, because I deserve more.")

  • Re:is it April 1? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lost Engineer (459920) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @03:35PM (#22226258)

    Don't get me wrong, please. I love America and the idea of America, I simply have a problem with most of the people occupying the land itself.
    Sounds more like misanthropy to me. I can't say I like most Americans either, but I'm not convinced I'd magically like my neighbors if I moved somewhere else.
  • by Stoutlimb (143245) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @03:36PM (#22226272)
    What happened to outright expulsion after the first instance of cheating? Isn't that what's normally done?
  • Re:is it April 1? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DragonWriter (970822) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @04:22PM (#22226882)

    Islam is a young, viral religion. There was another young, viral religion which not but a millenia ago murdered people for centuries.

    Religions don't kill people, people kill people. Sometimes religious (or anti-religious, as in the sense of Leninism and its descendants) ideology is part of the excuse. "Young" doesn't seem to have much to do with it; people have been killed with Christianity and Judaism (or specific subsets of them) as part of the excuse a lot more recently than "a millenia ago" (and probably more recently than "a day ago".)
  • by Valdrax (32670) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @05:00PM (#22227488)
    Anyone who honestly believes there is no contradiction between science (the application of critical thinking, the challenging of assumptions, and the use of an ever-expanding body of evidence to understand the universe) and religion (the demonization of critical thinking, the elevation of dogma and preservation of ignorance, and the use of iron-age superstition and irrationality to 'understand' the universe) is either ignorant, stupid, fucntionally schizophrenic (as I said in my first post) or all of the above.

    Anyone who thinks that critical thinking happens in the absence of unprovable postulates has never done any critical thinking. Everything from "I exist" to "Time flows" to "Cause and effect exists" to "The information my senses provide me is accurate and true" is just as much an unprovable (and impossible to disprove) assumption as "The universe has a first cause" or "We persist after death" or "All of this has meaning."

    Furthermore, you have an extremely one-sided view of the history of religion. A dogmatically one-sided view. You ignore the influence of religion on Renaissance to Industrial Age science -- how it led people to ask, "How did God wrought the universe." You ignore the influence of even Islam on preserving the maths and sciences of the ancient Greeks after the fall of Rome. Instead, religion is nothing more than superstition, irrationality, and the elevation of positions born from ignorance in your eyes. Ignore Newton. Ignore Mendel. Ignore Ibn al-Haytham. It's all just suicide bombers and Inquisitions, isn't it?

    But that's okay. You're a "critical thinker." You're wisdom is inherently superior to the ignorant skeptics of your positions. Why, you're so righteous and wise in your beliefs that you presume to lecture a Muslim on the Qu'ran, a book with which is almost certainly more familiar than you. But don't let logic get in the way of the bitter, bile-filed diatribe that is born from your enlightened "critical thinking." After all, the guy who studies the book every week at his mosque is obviously the one arguing from a position of dogmatic ignorance here.
  • Re:Why not? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jimicus (737525) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @05:28PM (#22227858)

    You could also say: "Men without girlfriends are over represented in terrorist groups."

    This is actually one of the ideas about terrorism's root causes.

    Broadly speaking, the theory states that the culture in some Middle Eastern countries doesn't like baby girls (for whatever reason - perhaps women get married and look after the husband and his family, so parents with a lot of girls may not have anyone to look after them in their dotage, perhaps the bride's family is expected to pay a hefty dowry), and abortions and infanticide of girls is relatively common.

    The net result being there are fewer women to go around, and a significant percentage of men will probably never find a mate. In essence, sexual frustration causes terrorism.
  • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @06:16PM (#22228524)
    How does the FBI "censor" a blog posting? I'm calling BS on this story, at least until that detail is cleared up.
  • by Bombula (670389) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @06:17PM (#22228544)
    Anyone who thinks that critical thinking happens in the absence of unprovable postulates has never done any critical thinking. Everything from "I exist" to "Time flows" to "Cause and effect exists" to "The information my senses provide me is accurate and true" is just as much an unprovable (and impossible to disprove) assumption as "The universe has a first cause" or "We persist after death" or "All of this has meaning."

    Nonsense. By your lights, critical thinking is in principle impossible given the existence of 'unprovable postulates'. "I exist" and "Time flows" and "Cause and effect exists" and "The information my senses provide me is accurate and true" are all testable and can all be corroborated with evidence. To the extent that they cannot 'really' be proven or known, which is to say the extent to which reality itself may be an illusion - a Matrix-style simulation, a dream, etc - is irrelevant because reality itself is the only context within which anything is meaningful. Within the context of what is real, the logic and consistency of evidence do matter insofar as they enable an understanding of how reality works. And by corollary, there is simply no such thing as 'outside the context of what is real'. If you disagree, I suggest you contemplate the fact that you are using a computer - a fantastically sophisticated testament to our ability to 'actually' understand reality - to write your comments. Your frittering crap about unprovable first principles is of no relevance.

    You ignore the influence of religion on Renaissance to Industrial Age science -- how it led people to ask, "How did God wrought the universe." You ignore the influence of even Islam on preserving the maths and sciences of the ancient Greeks after the fall of Rome. Instead, religion is nothing more than superstition, irrationality, and the elevation of positions born from ignorance in your eyes

    I made no claims about the historical significance of religion, nor of its functional utility. Believing in the toothfairy may have profoundly affected history, and it may be useful and meaningful to millions of people. That doesn't lend the slightest credence to the assertion that it is true. And that's the toothfairy. Last time a checked, no Toothfairyists were blowing up children with carbombs.

    you presume to lecture a Muslim on the Qu'ran

    Yes, I do. The problem with dogma is that it is blinding. The nonsensical rant from the Devout Believer I was responding to was a perfect testament to the power of dogma, and the need to dispel the blindness it causes with clear and critical thinking. And just in case you missed the memo, the "Argument from Authority" carries no weight in rational discourse: the fact that this guy is a Muslim is irrelevant. Or would you just as happily claim that all Christians in the redneck South are expert Biblical scholars simply by virtue of being Christian?

    the guy who studies the book every week at his mosque is obviously the one arguing from a position of dogmatic ignorance here

    If I studied Superman comic books every week, it wouldn't make them one iota more legitimate as a guide to building a civil society or as a guide to understanding reality. All of my criticism of the Quran stands.

  • Re:The Engineer (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Alsee (515537) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @06:17PM (#22228546) Homepage
    (note: the first half of this post is a direct reply to the parent post, but I kind of wandered and vented some annoyance I had at another poster I recently read and at the general mid-east conflict. the last half is not particularly directed at the parent.)

    Perhaps it's a matter of selectively killing. Bombing a hotel would kill a lot of people of various nationalities and relgious affiliations.

    So they kill only arabs, and when it comes to arabs, not selectively either. That speaks to me as no better than random killing. Men are men, women are women, children are children regardless of nationality or religious affiliation.

    You obviously didn't bother looking at the linked info on the event.

    They weren't targeting "a hotel". They were targeting military headquarters, which the British stationed in a hotel.

    They were not trying to "kill only arabs", and they were not engaging in "random killing" either. They were not trying to kill men, women, or children. If fact they had an explicit policy to the contrary, and they took multiple constructive steps in an an explicit effort that no one be killed when they destroyed the military headquarters. Not only did they not intend to kill arabs or random civilians, they didn't even intend to kill any soldiers.

    Maybe they were the good guys battling British colonial rule, maybe they were bad guy rebels against the legitimate government, or more likely both sides in that conflict were more than a little gray. But they had an explicitly desire and intent and made a legitimate effort trying to be the "good guys" not intending to kill civilians and not even intending to kill "legitimate target" soldiers. They were attacking what they saw as a legitimate military target, and and trying to to go above and beyond that by warning the soldiers to evacuate so they wouldn't be killed.

    Maybe they were the good guys, maybe they were gray guys, maybe they were even the bad guys for trying to destroy a British government office. However it is beyond the pale for anyone to even attempt to compare the event to the absolutely indefensible, insane, inhuman, barbaric, pure unadulterated evil, of of the Palestinian attacks deliberately targeting random civilians and women and children in supermarket and sundry other random bombings. The many token best-efforts towards a racial/religious/ethic genocidal desire and intent.

    And it's an over sixty year old event, against the British. And from there we might as well start dragging up sixty century old biblical events justifying the current mid-east bloodshed.

    The Israelis in the current conflict are no saints, not by a long shot, but at least *try* to target legitimate combatants. At least they prosecute and imprison one of their own if someone goes rogue and just wants to slaughter. On the Palestinian side it's indefensible bloodlust attacks against random women and children. And on the Palestinian side, no not all of them support random civilian slaughter, no not all of them are genocidal, but yes the governmental authorities and the general population tolerate and affirmatively protect "rogues" engaging in random genocidal slaughter of random women and children. You don't blame a group for rouge individuals if that group condemns and actively combats such individuals, but when the general policy and actual actions are to tolerate and even protect and support such individuals and such actions, then no they do not get to disclaim them as rouges and yes they take some responsibility for tolerating and aiding such individuals and such actions.

    The Palestinian-Israel conflict is extremely complex, and yes the Palestinians have some legitimate beefs with the Israelis. However engaging in indiscriminate bombings just because you want to kill as many random women and children as possible, having a just plain genocidal intent or tolerating and actively harboring those persuing raw genocide, that's a whole level beyond "bad guy". At that point you
  • by node 3 (115640) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @10:54PM (#22230818)
    While I agree with your general statement about human nature, I think that FSF-style fundamentalism is quite distinct from sports fans or brand loyalists. FSF-style fundamentalism starts from a specific logical premise and seeks to mold the world to match those premises. It pretends to be logical. Sports fans and brand loyalists do not tend to come to their conclusions as the end of a series of logical steps.

    BTW, I don't mean to pick on the FSF specifically (I'm quite sympathetic to their ideals), they are just a great example of the form of fundamentalism I'm referring to.
  • Re:The Engineer (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 30, 2008 @12:05PM (#22235666)
    IANAT, but if you want to get technical. Hamas/Palestine/PLO/Arab Kind In General has told Israel to get out or face the consequences too.

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