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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) * <yayagu@NospAm.gmail.com> on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:03PM (#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.

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

      by mapkinase (958129) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:25PM (#22223378) Homepage Journal
      "I'm not sure I can even think of a single example"

      1. Ph.D. in science. Check.
      2. Islamic fundamentalist (is it a movement?). Check.

      Half of my mosque is of that type.

      Supporting Shari'a, strict dressing, beards and stuff.

      BOO!
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Bombula (670389)
        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,

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mapkinase (958129)
          "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."

          I am quite entertained as well. I think the ability to make far-fetching logical conclusions using wrong implicit assumptions is also indicative of this disease.

          Let's see.

          "The ability to compartmentalize one's mind into two entirely separate and contradictory sides is an astonishing testament to th
          • Re:is it April 1? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Bombula (670389) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @04:23PM (#22226080)
            This pretty much ends the false dichotomy between Science and Faith.

            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.

            If you've actually read anything in the Quran, you'll know that eveyrthing I said about it earlier was true: it promotes a barbaric value system that any 21st Century child can see is hopelessly flawed. It is useless as a guide to creating a civil, open and free society, and it is useless as a guide to understanding the universe. That makes it pretty darn useless. The only thing it is really good at is perpetuating delusional wish-thinking about a nonexistant afterlife, and making otherwise normal people do diabolical and insane things in order to obtain an imaginary reward after death.

            Science is by definition is the domain of Seen by experiment or experimentally verifiable logical conclusions of experiments.

            All religions, including Islam, make explicit claims about reality. Reality is "the Seen." That's all reality is, and all it could possibly be. That's all human beings are - by definition - capable of knowing. There is no domain outside of reality. And this is the problem: religion doesn't just make senseless claims about imaginary things; it makes pernicious claims about reality that are patently false.

            • by Valdrax (32670) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @06:00PM (#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.
              • by Bombula (670389) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @07:17PM (#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.

    • by Joe_in_63640 (1228646) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:26PM (#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,
      etc.

          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
      • by orclevegam (940336) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:38PM (#22223590) Journal
        Slight clarification about that last point. We do in fact seem to hear a lot about "Inept Terrorists" in the news, although the news never reports them as inept, rather they spin it as the brave efforts of the police narrowly avoiding massive catastrophe. Never mind the fact that the plan the morons had concocted was so bad they would at most hurt (or kill) themselves, and if they got really lucky a few bystanders. 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). Anyone who knows about these types of things knows all you're going to get is a big hot fireball as the car burns down, and that's about it (might work if you had a proper fuel air mixture, but just dumping containers of gas in a car isn't going to cut it). So yeah, plenty of inept to go around.
        • by Wanderer2 (690578) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @02:16PM (#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 [bbc.co.uk]. 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.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Zeinfeld (263942)
          Slight clarification about that last point. We do in fact seem to hear a lot about "Inept Terrorists" in the news, although the news never reports them as inept, rather they spin it as the brave efforts of the police narrowly avoiding massive catastrophe.

          All the terrorists are inept, that does not stop them from being dangerous. The second generation of the Baader-Meinhof gang was litteraly recruited from a lunatic asylum. Catching inept criminals is still very difficult.

          The problem with the recent scar

      • by mr_mischief (456295) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @02:38PM (#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
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Naughty Bob (1004174)
      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, watertig
    • Re:is it April 1? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by alcmaeon (684971) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:49PM (#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 Crazy Taco (1083423) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:59PM (#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

    • MOD PARENT DOWN. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Socguy (933973) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @02:32PM (#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.

      masquerading(?)
      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.)

      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.

      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.
  • Engineer's Syndrome (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Goaway (82658) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:05PM (#22223070) Homepage
    You could probably draw parallels to Engineer's Syndrome [google.com] here.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @02:07PM (#22223982)
      Take a frog, and yell JUMP!
      The frog jumps.

      Now, cut off one of its legs and yell JUMP!
      The frog jumps, but not as far.

      Now, cut off the other leg and yell JUMP!
      The frog does not jump.

      Conclusion: The amputee frog is deaf.
      Abstract: For centuries, science has been mystified by how frogs hear without ears. Our recent work has at last resolved this long standing mystery by showing that in frogs, the ability to hear is closely correlated to the number of legs present on the frog. The hearing organ's location in the frog's legs explains the absence of any ears at their expected location. In future studies, we will determine if the frog's hearing apparatus is in fact located on the frog's feet, as is suspected from their ear-like morphology.
  • Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shadow Wrought (586631) * <shadow.wroughtNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:05PM (#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 @01:10PM (#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.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        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: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by KublaiKhan (522918)
      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...
      • Engineers? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by SerpentMage (13390) <ChristianHGross.yahoo@ca> on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:35PM (#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:Why not? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gnick (1211984) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:19PM (#22223302) Homepage

      Many of the engineers I've known in college were absolutely convinced of tehir [sic] superiority and absolute rightness in all things.
      I suspect that's part of the issue. I'm an EE with a long-standing history of blowing stuff up. That said, I now work primarily trying to keep stuff from blowing up (or at least blowing up in some controlled environment.) Engineers make good terrorist candidates. They tend to:
      * Be intelligent and educated (Or if not intelligent, obsessive enough to make it through a tough school-path)
      * Have superiority complexes ("I know what's right and all differing opinions are wrong and should be corrected")
      * Be good problem solvers ("If I wanted to get around this security system, here's what I'd do...")
      * Know everything necessary to make good bombs
      • by raygundan (16760) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:57PM (#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.)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      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 h
  • by binaryspiral (784263) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:07PM (#22223100)
    Engineer's mindset: "What makes this thing tick"

    Terrorist's mindset: "I know why this thing is ticking"

  • by trolltalk.com (1108067) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:07PM (#22223106) Homepage Journal

    the 'engineering mindset,' which they define as 'a mindset that inclines them to take more extreme conservative and religious positions.'

    All I can say is, thank god I'm an atheist!

  • by Dr. Eggman (932300) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:08PM (#22223110)
    We engineers aren't the most proactive types, we tend to sit next to the flag, banging away on our defenses and designing new weapons in our heads. Oh, and watching out for those dog-gone spies.
  • by danbert8 (1024253) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:09PM (#22223128)
    It's all becoming clear now. A lot of Islamic terrorists are engineers. That explains why they have no infrastructure over there... The engineers are too busy killing themselves to build a society. Boy I'm glad my engineering degree will be put to better use than suicide.
  • Useful degrees (Score:3, Insightful)

    by aproposofwhat (1019098) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:10PM (#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 @01:10PM (#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.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Otter (3800)
      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

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by pinkocommie (696223)
        Sorry, shouldn't have included that on there, was somewhat off topic. But in any case my point wasn't just education but social justice. The issue is when things go off-balance beyond a certain degree where one can quite plainly see the injustices around them (even if they themselves aren't a target) people begin to rise up and say enough. Different people react differently and try to bring about change differently. But as other people said intelligent people have a higher probability of moving forward with
  • The real cause (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:10PM (#22223158)
    Is that these groups often have R&D schedules adjusted by marketing majors. Hell, going through that a few times would radicalize my pet hamster.
  • The Engineer (Score:4, Informative)

    by Raul654 (453029) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:11PM (#22223162) Homepage
    One of the foremost terrorists in the history of the middle east was Yahaya Ayyash [wikipedia.org], an electrical engineer (educated at Beir Ziet University) who built bombs for Hamas's Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. His bombs ended up killing over 100 civilians (mostly Israeli, but also Americans and other Westerners in Israel) and dozens of soldiers, ambulance workers, and other first responders.

    • Re:The Engineer (Score:4, Informative)

      by aproposofwhat (1019098) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:22PM (#22223330)
      Another leading terrorist was Menachim Begin, who was a lawyer. His Irgun group were responsible for the bombing of the King David Hotel [wikipedia.org], and for several massacres of Arab villages after the establishment of the Zionist state.

      Your point was what, exactly?

      • Re:The Engineer (Score:5, Informative)

        by Raul654 (453029) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:31PM (#22223494) Homepage
        Ayyash's bombs were quite intentionally designed to kill as many people as possible (they were packed with nails and other shrapnel - and laced with rat poison - to ensure maximum lethality). The Irgun made it a point to minimize the casualties from their bombings - they called the King David hotel ahead and time and warned people to get out.
  • Obligatory (Score:4, Funny)

    by Pojut (1027544) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:11PM (#22223168) Homepage
    http://xkcd.com/319/ [xkcd.com]
    http://xkcd.com/253/ [xkcd.com]

    Anyone have a link to the one that is done in a "vertical" layout?
  • Yes, it's absolutely a bunch of pop-psy junk.

    And I will summon Allah's hand to strike down any infidels that disagree!

    Now back to coding ...
    • by rubycodez (864176)
      engineers are allowed to get laid and view porn, but muslim extremists aren't. and therein lies the difference
  • This is what another authority on scientific minds thinks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WynH9nJuSuk [youtube.com] (Pat Robertson)
  • Ahh yes, they must be alumni of Transylvania Polytechnic University (or Trans Poly U). Everyone wants to rule the world. So... Scroll down to pick up an MP3 of their fight song curdosy of Tom Smith [tomsmithonline.com] and sing along! (lyrics [tomsmithonline.com]) Cheer cheer for Trans Poly U...
  • by zmooc (33175) <`ten.coomz' `ta' `coomz'> on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:12PM (#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;-)
  • ...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).
    Duh!! There's only one Right Thing®
  • ESR (Score:3, Insightful)

    by emj (15659) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:14PM (#22223222) Homepage Journal
    http://catb.org/~esr/guns/ [catb.org]

    I guess I'm an idiot for this
  • So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gnuman99 (746007) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:15PM (#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)
    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.
  • Or maybe... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by susano_otter (123650) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:20PM (#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 @01:21PM (#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].
  • by fstolze (1229222) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:28PM (#22223446)
    This clearly underlines why math, science and engineering must be eradicated from the US educational system.
  • by ianchaos (160825) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:39PM (#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 @01:40PM (#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."
  • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:42PM (#22223656) Journal
    I am speaking as an engineer and Englishman here:

    The recent failed bomb attempts in London apparently had some engineers on the design team. People with a PhD in engineering as it happens.

    The fact that they failed to make a bunch of petrol and compressed propane cylinders explode, or even catch fire, is frankly quite pathetic. I think any self respecting engineer souldn't fail that badly (though I'm very glad they did fail). This certainly raises questions about the quality of the engineering department from which they got their PhDs. I have trouble believing that such incompetent engineers could really have performed any worthwhile, independent research.

    If the recruits only come from third rate institutions who don't have the candidates or the ability to churn out even half-way decent engineers, then we're no worse off having engineer-terrorists than normal terrorists.

    If you want an idea how bad if life would be if terrorists could get good engineers, then consider what would happen if this guy [interestingprojects.com] was recruited to the other side. Fortunatley the best engineers out there are far more interested in engineering stuff than they are in people. Since terrorism is about people, this does not incline them towards terrorism.

  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @01:52PM (#22223806) Journal
    A previous poster pointed at Engineer's Syndrome [google.com], and I see some similar tendencies.

    Engineers -- and I'm speaking as someone who is doing an engineering job, surrounded by engineers, and from a family of engineers -- tend to favor experience more than empathy. They tend to think that if they're convinced something is right, it's for good reason, and once they're convinced, it takes some work to change their minds. More particularly, if they're convinced, they're unlikely to use someone else's experience as a guideline: they're less likely to put themselves in someone else's shoes to regard a problem from that standpoint.

    My own definition of Engineer Syndrome is encapsulated in the phrase, that I actually heard from one of my dad's coworkers once, "If you would've thought about this problem as much as I have, you'd agree with me." The level of premise and and patronization enclosed in that one sentence is staggering, but when it comes right down to it, I think many people drawn to engineering feel that way at some point or another. The consequence of this is that if someone else *doesn't* agree, the person suffering from ES thinks the other person is either stupid or stubbornly wrong, and either way, is a fool whose opinion is not to be regarded.

    Likewise, engineers come from a background where things are provably correct (mathematics) or experimentally verifiable (most of the rest of science and engineering) and take that sense of certainty and apply it in areas where it isn't applicable -- sociology, politics, art, places where it really does come down to opinion, where there isn't actually a right and wrong, just preference.

    The fundamental difference is that engineers do tend to rely on things that are provably correct or experimentally verifiable, whereas religious extremists are predicating invisible omnipotent entities. But the point is: if you have people who have this engineering set of mechanisms and filters for dealing with the world, and who believe in invisible omnipotent entities, they're going to have similar behavior to people who are drawn to engineering.

Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.

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