Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Engineering Jihad

Tyler Cowen points to a great paper which connects terrorism to my former profession:

We can thus conclude that among violent Islamic radicals engineers are two to four times more likely to be found than the null hypothesis would predict.

Whether American, Canadian or Islamic, and whether due to selection or field socialisation, a disproportionate share of engineers seems to have a mindset that inclines them to entertain the quintessential right-wing features of “monism” – ‘why argue when there is one best solution’ – and of “simplism” – ‘if only people were rational, remedies would be simple’.

... Engineers turn out to be by far the most religious group of all academics – 66.5 per cent, followed again by 61.7 in economics, 49.9 in sciences, 48.8 per cent of social scientists, 46.3 of doctors and 44.1 per cent of lawyers, the most sceptical of the lot.

Further, the paper goes on to argue that engineers get dangerous when there is a lack of engineering opportunities, as is the case in most Muslim countries. Saudi Arabia is supposedly the main exception, i.e. there are plenty of opportunities there for engineers and so Saudi Arabian terrorists are not disproportionately drawn from engineers. But doesn't Saudi Arabia produce as many terrorists per capita as just about any other country? How do we explain that?


gerhardj said...

There are more terrorists per capita from Saudi Arabia than other countries. It seems that becoming a terrorist correlates well with being well-educated but lacking civil liberties. http://www.american.com/archive/2007/november-december-magazine-contents/what-makes-a-terrorist

Will McBride said...

I agree, and the authors of "Engineering Jihad" acknowledge these factors as near necessary conditions for terrorism. But I think they overstate their case in arguing that the engineering mindset is also nearly a necessary condition. But I can tell you from my experience in engineering school, they are onto something.