Engineers of Jihad

by Henry on November 10, 2007

While looking for something entirely different (research on the Italian mafia), I just came across this absolutely fascinating new paper (pdf) by Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog on engineers and Islamic terrorism. There’s been a lot of speculation about the visible elective affinity between education in certain technical disciplines and propensity to join Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, none of which has stopped some loons from claiming that the jihadists were led astray by trendy leftist post-modernist academics in the humanities and social sciences. Gambetta and Hertog use a combination of illustrative statistics, qualitative data and logistic regression to show not only that there is a strong relationship between an engineering background and involvement in a variety of Islamic terrorist groups, but to arrive at a plausible hypothesis as to why this relationship pertains.

Their preferred explanation lies in the combination of a particular mindset given to simplification, monistic understandings of the world and desire that existing social arrangements be preserved, with key environmental factors (most importantly, frustrated professional aspirations due to a lack of opportunities). Interestingly, Gambetta and Hertog suggest that the same mindset which drives engineers in the Islamic world to become terrorists, may lead to the marked tendency of US engineers to adhere to strongly conservative political views. This is the kind of topic that lends itself to the worst kind of uninformed pop-journalism academics, but as best as I can tell (I’m a consumer rather than a producer of the statistical literature) Gambetta and Hertog are extremely careful about their analysis, and up front about the limitations of their data. I’ve copied the piece’s abstract beneath the fold.


Abstract: We find that graduates from subjects such as science, engineering, and medicine are strongly overrepresented among Islamist movements in the Muslim world, though not among the extremist Islamic groups which have emerged in Western countries more recently. We also find that engineers alone are strongly over-represented among graduates in violent groups in both realms. This is all the more puzzling for engineers are virtually absent from left-wing violent extremists and only present rather than over-represented among right-wing extremists. We consider four hypotheses that could explain this pattern. Is the engineers’ prominence among violent Islamists an accident of history amplified through network links, or do their technical skills make them attractive recruits? Do engineers have a ‘mindset’ that makes them a particularly good match for Islamism, or is their vigorous radicalization explained by the social conditions they endured in Islamic countries? We argue that the interaction between the last two causes is the most plausible explanation of our findings, casting a new light on the sources of Islamic extremism and grounding macro theories of radicalization in a micro-level perspective.

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{ 134 comments }

1

dsquared 11.10.07 at 11:18 pm

It’s the f-type personality. I really think that progress in a lot of social sciences fields is basically stalled until we start taking the existence of this complex seriously (there is even neurological evidence of its existence).

2

derek 11.10.07 at 11:28 pm

It isn’t just Islamic fundamentalism. There is a strong link between having engineering qualifications and being either a Christian fundamentalist, or just a plain crank.

Okay, that’s anecdotal on the part of myself and my friends, but if this paper represents something more rigorous, then I would certainly welcome an investigation of equal rigour into engineering and religious/pseudoscientific crankery in the Western world.

N.B. I myself have an engineering degree… but I’m sane, honest!

3

Bob B 11.10.07 at 11:45 pm

I hesitate to mention this but the observation about the proclivities of engineers has been anticipated:

“A Rothshild was fonding of saying, ‘there are three ways to financial ruin: women, gambling and engineers; the first two are the most pleasant ones, the latter the most certain.'”
Quoted from: Health Care and Reform in Industrialized Countries, edited by Marshall W Raffel.

4

Henry (not the famous one) 11.11.07 at 12:08 am

Charging ahead with the pop psychology/breezy generalization that you didn’t want to encourage, two recent examples of white supremacists coming out of the engineering field come to mind: William Shockley, the Nobel laureate with the fixation on proving the inferiority of people of African descent and others on the basis of IQ tests, and Richard Butler, the founder of Aryan Nation, who gets mentioned in the paper.

I don’t know whether Butler suffered from frustrated ambitions working for Lockheed, but I wouldn’t be surprised that he found the bureaucratic limitations of a departmental approach to engineering to be insulting. Combine that with a grandiose self-image–which must be part of the makeup of any white supremacist–and I think you’ve got a start on imagining yourself to be the next Fuehrer.

Shockley certainly had the grandiosity–and even though he got a Nobel and credit for launching Silicon Valley, he apparently faced severe professional disappointments after the prize when it came to appear that he just wasn’t as good as his colleagues or his (soon to be former) employees.

But one irony comes to mind: once upon a time, before the personal became political, leftists of a certain deterministic streak used to appropriate the images of hydraulic engineering or physics to explain how society functioned. But they were dabblers, not real engineers, which may have made a difference.

5

kid bitzer 11.11.07 at 12:11 am

my problem with this is that we are all assuming that majors reflect personality types, because we’re assuming systems in which you get to choose your major.

so arty people go into arty majors, and quant people go into quant majors, and jerks go into engineering.

but in large parts of the world, esp. those where education is more limited and run by a state ministry, you do not choose what you major in. in soviet union, government chooses for you.

so who knows? if these wackos had been able to make a choice, maybe they would have chosen something entirely different. maybe their personalities are completely different from those of your us/uk classmates who self-selected for the engineering major?

does the study address this?

6

John Emerson 11.11.07 at 12:27 am

William Luther Pierce of the “Turner Diaries” went to Caltech and taught college physics for a few years. On the other hand, he came from an old Confederate family.

….frustrated professional aspirations due to a lack of opportunities….

I’ve wondered whether a lot of them weren’t disappointments to families which had spent a lot of money on their educations in the expectation that they would make the family rich. On the one hand, they might be embittered, and on the other, by becoming heroes and martyrs they might at least give the family some fame.

I tutored a Saudi techie once who was tremendously discouraged about his prospects in Saudi Arabia, because he knew that his boss would be an incompetent crony from the lesser nobility. (He knew that formally, not because he had any idea who he’d be working for). He was more a liberal than a fundamentalist, but his education didn’t make him optimistic about his future at all.

7

eulogist 11.11.07 at 12:35 am

There is a strong link between having engineering qualifications and being either a Christian fundamentalist, or just a plain crank.

Perhaps in the US, but in Europe I (personally) never noticed much of a difference between science and non-science backgrounds when it comes to religious fundamentalism or more general crankiness.

I have an engineering degree myself but have been working in a humanities/law environment for almost ten years now, so I think I can say I know both worlds well.

However, non-science backgrounds do seem to show less numeracy and greater susceptibility to pseudo-science…

8

Aulus Gellius 11.11.07 at 12:47 am

Some more ignorant speculation:
Couldn’t part of this effect be more or less a response to demand? I mean, I would imagine that terrorist groups would be looking for people with engineering knowledge, as being better qualified for blowing up buildings. So are they offering special incentives, seeking out and recruiting engineers more than humanities types, encouraging those who already have jihadist leanings to study engineering, etc.?

9

christian h. 11.11.07 at 12:48 am

Or, we could consider that Islamist movements like the Muslim brotherhood, Hezbollah and Hamas are actually the progressive movements in many Middle Eastern countries, especially since secular left-wing nationalism has been discredited in the Arab world due to its collusion with various imperialisms.

Meaning, the overrepresentation of engineers among radical Islamist groups is surprising only if we try to apply the Western scheme of “secular equals progressive, religious equals reactionary.” (Of course, this scheme is highly questionable in the West, too, but that’s a different issue.)

10

nu 11.11.07 at 1:01 am

but in large parts of the world, esp. those where education is more limited and run by a state ministry, you do not choose what you major in. in soviet union, government chooses for you.

errr.. even in the USSR, personnal choices existed within the limits of allocation.
Actually in those countries, just like in the USSR, engineering was prestigious and therefore had to select its candidates. And that’s even with the large number of engineers trained.

11

Seth Finkelstein 11.11.07 at 1:02 am

I skimmed through the paper, and I wasn’t impressed (though I will confess to being amused at times).

It struck me as an evolutionary-psychology style just-so story.

The problem is that “terrorist” covers a lot of ground, for a lot of reasons. It’s not that the authors don’t know this – they’re aware of it. But it seemed to be patterns-in-the-clouds.

I’d speculate it’s better to consider “high numbers of engineers” as a marker for a certain sociological type of insurgency (home-grown with support from elites), rather than make up appealing stories about why the engineer mindset is attracted to whatever ideology is driving the insurgency.

12

nu 11.11.07 at 1:11 am

Or, we could consider that Islamist movements like the Muslim brotherhood, Hezbollah and Hamas are actually the progressive movements in many Middle Eastern countries, especially since secular left-wing nationalism has been discredited in the Arab world due to its collusion with various imperialisms.

Collusion ?
Where ? Who ? How ?

I mean had you made a case for egalitarianism, integrity or efficiency in the case of Hezbollah or Hamas, may be but collusion with various imperialisms ?

13

Christopher M 11.11.07 at 1:14 am

Anecdote: Den Beste.

14

Badger 11.11.07 at 1:26 am

I’m not sure what the Hamas people are doing in the survey (81 out of a little over 400), whether these particular people did something the authors considered qualified them as “extremist” of merely that they belong to a social organization in the black book of the US State Dept. But if you segregate the Palestinians from the rest you get, for the Palestinians, a percent of engineers in those of known academic speciality 34.5% (20 out of 58), compared to a percent for the rest of 48.3% (58 out of 120). Hamas are not crazies of the ilk of the bombers they seem to be talking about, in fact they are arch-enemies of Zawahiri and his ilk. So why are they being mixed into the sample, particularly given the significantly different ratio of engineers? Doesn’t this suggest a different approach to the analysis. Is this just sloppy? Ideology? Something to do with the authoritarian mindset of western social scientists?

15

Seth Finkelstein 11.11.07 at 1:36 am

Also, I suggest the authors went astray in their section on selection bias:

“That engineers are mainly sought for their ability to fill technical roles is also refuted by the case of Hamas where many engineers are prominent in senior management positions with no technical function”

That is, the authors say that because engineers are prominent in senior management, they can’t be sought for their skills. But they’re neglecting that the engineer’s skills give them a “career path” in the organization.

It’s like bureaucracies everywhere – if you’re good at technical tasks, and survive for a while, they often want to promote you into management.

16

christian h. 11.11.07 at 1:36 am

nu, what’s the question? You don’t think Egypt is colluding with the US, Saddam Hussein was colluding with the US, Syria was colluding with the Soviet Union, Algeria has been colluding with France, M. Abbas and the ruling elites in Fatah are colluding with Israel? You don’t agree that left-wing nationalism has been completely discredited in the Arab world? I’m not saying I’m happy about it, but it’s just a fact.

17

Morat 11.11.07 at 1:42 am

Someone noted above the anecdotal US link between engineers and fundamentalist Christians, and I thought I’d embellish.

It’s been an anecdotal belief that creationists, at least the publishing type, number a disproprotionate number of engineers.

Speculation ranged from self-selection (Creationists with degrees were more likely to mention those degrees in Usenet arguing, or those with degrees were more likely to get published than those without), to the notion that engineers training and education would predispose them to seeing engineering in nature, etc.

It’d be an interesting US study, at least. Hard to do properly.

18

John Landon 11.11.07 at 1:46 am

Maybe it is the other way around. Look at the ‘seeding’ of proto-postmodernism in the various anti-modern spiritual/New Age movements going all the way back to the nineteenth century.
Meanwhile, the term ‘postmodern’ appears in Toynbee quite before the movement of the ‘postmodern’

19

nu 11.11.07 at 1:48 am

Christian H.,

I’m not saying left-wing nationalism hasn’t been discredited. I believe it has, but not because it colluded but rather because it wasn’t efficient enough.
Fatah and PLO are viewed as weak, not as pro-israeli. The lesson learned in Egypt was that Nasser had been weak. Saddam’s collusion with the US didn’t hurt his reputation as much as his failure to fight the US once he started to do so. In Algeria, FLN’s collusion with France only started after they decided to view islamists as a common enemy. And who is colliding with anyone in Lebannon ?
Efficiency, Integry are better explainations, not relationship with imperialisms.

20

christian h. 11.11.07 at 2:15 am

nu, yes, you are right about the origin of the discreditation of Arab nationalism. I should have said that this weakened it so much as a political force it started to collude with various outside imperial powers for the purposes of self-preservation, so it can’t be viewed as a progressive force anymore. The vacuum has, for a large part, been filled by Islamist groups, who are now (in some countries at least) the organized progressive forces in their societies. I’d certainly take Hamas and Hezbollah as examples; in Egypt, there has lately been increased cooperation between radical parts of the labor movement and the Muslim Brotherhood.

I stand by my main point, that the interpretation of the (alleged) overrepresentation of engineers in Islamist groups as “surprising”, as showing an affinity of engineers for reactionary religion, exhibits a very eurocentric point of view that doesn’t take into account the objectively progressive role Islamist movements play in many Mddle Eastern societies.

21

Jon H 11.11.07 at 2:16 am

22

bad Jim 11.11.07 at 2:24 am

Engineering students in the U.S. tend to be exposed to a more limited selection of courses than science majors, so those who arrive in college as creationists might be less likely to encounter courses which would challenge their beliefs.

23

seth edenbaum 11.11.07 at 3:02 am

Bitter geeks and angry nerds. Idealists opposed to democracy.

“How do I love it?”

24

nu 11.11.07 at 3:05 am

I stand by my main point, that the interpretation of the (alleged) overrepresentation of engineers in Islamist groups as “surprising”, as showing an affinity of engineers for reactionary religion, exhibits a very eurocentric point of view that doesn’t take into account the objectively progressive role Islamist movements play in many Middle Eastern societies.

Objectively progressive ?
Now that’s weird.. What makes the algerian FIS more progressive than the FFS ?
In places like Egypt or Iraq or Syria, the Islamist have an infrastructure advantage that makes them more efficient in excaping repression BUT that explains their popularity in the electorate, not among better informed, more easy to reach graduates.

25

seth edenbaum 11.11.07 at 3:29 am

Reading over the comments on religion I find that I need to remind you that the reformers in Turkey are Islamists. The conservatves are secularist.

This is People power in Gaza against a nominally secular state.
Read The Evangelical Surprise by Francis Fitzgerald in the NYR.
Given a choice in an election between an imaginative priest and an unimaginative technocrat, I’d pick the priest. Do we worry about Born Again Christians or Richard Posner? Who’s more open to change? If you say posner you’re a fool.

The name of the book is Jihad vs McWorld. But the obvious response is that Jihad is McWorld.
And technocracy is McThought.

26

Bruce Baugh 11.11.07 at 3:40 am

I don’t interact enough with enough engineers now to have a good sense of their sundry cultures, but I grew up around JPL and Caltech, and then (through the mid-1980s or so) it was very common for engineers and engineering students to think of themselves as liberal but to hold a very technocratic approach to the world and to carry a lot of unexamined racism and other bigotry. Toward the tail end of my years of regular contact with that scene, libertarianism was catching on in a big way; I suspect that a lot of the vocal advocates of that day are part of the war party now. A lot of them were also so profoundly ignorant about religion in general that they were easy pickings for cults and fads. (There seemed to be a recurring effort to recover pre-Scientology Dianetics as an alternative to other psychotherapies, I recall.)

27

Bruce Baugh 11.11.07 at 3:48 am

Dammit, Seth, how dare you post the same idea, before me, with links? “Me, too”, then, you meanie.

28

John Emerson 11.11.07 at 4:02 am

American liberalism can be extremely anti-technocratic and virulently anti-populist. So can Marxism, actually.

29

Bruce Baugh 11.11.07 at 4:09 am

Quite true, John. I was thinking more of “illusions that work well on engineers not prepared to resist them”, that’s all.

30

Alan 11.11.07 at 4:13 am

The worst engineers are those who designed your computer and ensure the electricity supply to run it.

31

notsneaky 11.11.07 at 4:15 am

I think Seth F is correct here. Additionally, how many students from non-rich countries do you know who are studying in the humanities? Being “an educated person from a non-rich country” is to a large degree synonymous with “a person from a non-rich country with a science, economics or business degree”. So if there’s a positive correlation between higher levels of education and belonging to a terrorist organization (which could at least partly be an artifact of selection bias as alluded to in some of the comments above) it shouldn’t be a surprise that engineering backgrounds appear to be correlated with belonging to a terrorist organization. But this doesn’t mean there’s ANYTHING about the “engineering mindset” (whatever the hell that is) that makes one more likely to join one.

The relevant comparison group for the purposes of a “test” of the hypothesis, is not whether engineers (or whatever) are over-represented relative to the whole population that they are drawn from, but whether they’re over-represented relative to the population of educated people within the whole population (in other words, what you want is the conditional probability, not the absolute one). Given that the set of people studying humanities in the whole population is practically nil, even under the best of circumstances this would be a very hard statistical test to carry out. Even if it was carried out correctly. Which I don’t believe it is here.

This does seem like the evo-psych approach to making stuff up out of sketchy correlations.

32

christian h. 11.11.07 at 4:23 am

nu, you may have noticed that FIS was not among the examples I gave. I don’t know enough about the situation in Algeria after years of brutal civil war and violent suppression of FIS to judge. But as Seth mentioned, in addition to Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Mulsim Brotherhood in Egypt, I should have mentioned Turkey.

I also didn’t claim I have any explanation for the prevalence of engineers in Islamist movements, if there is any. I merely pointed out that I think it’s highly questionable to employ that prevalence to draw any conclusions about ideological predispositions of engineers that is based on a conflation of the roles organized religion plays in Western societies and the role political Islam plays in Middle Eastern societies.

For example, I simply don’t see any connection at all with the question whether engineers are overrepresented among creationists.

To put it somewhat differently, the authors of those studies also seem to mix very different political situations when they say that engineers have not been overrepresented in left-wing terror groups (within highly developed countries). So? A more salient comparison would be third world liberation movements.

33

nu 11.11.07 at 4:25 am

notsneaky,

Didnt they just do conditional probability by comparing the proportion of male engineers in total male student body to the proportion of engineer in their samples of islamic radicals (table 4, page 16) ?

34

christian h. 11.11.07 at 4:28 am

Should have been “this study”, of course. Not “those studies”.

35

seth edenbaum 11.11.07 at 4:33 am

“But this doesn’t mean there’s ANYTHING about the “engineering mindset” (whatever the hell that is) that makes one more likely to join one.”

It says as I said before that anri-modernists are modernists. It’s the contradiction at the heart of fascism and reaction

36

notsneaky 11.11.07 at 4:34 am

Hmm, ok, looked at it more carefully. So there’s not a single humanities person in the sample and they do compare it to estimates of engineers and others in the whole population. So I guess you could (tentatively) conclude that having an “engineering mindset” is more conducive to joining a terrorist organization than having a “economics mindset” or a “medicine mindset”. But given that higher education as a whole is skewed towards engineering (now) relative to business, economics and medicine in non-rich countries I think the above criticism still applies. An “engineer from a non-rich country” is still roughly equivalent to “educated person from non-rich country”

And of course if engineers (and possibly natural science folks – the sample there is too small) have a better chance of rising in the ranks of the organization than economists, medics and business people, and hence have a higher chance of being “observed” then the problem is compounded.

37

Henry 11.11.07 at 4:41 am

notsneaky – whether you agree or disagree with their methodology, the authors _have_ actually spoken to this issue extensively in the paper, comparing the % of engineers among jihadists to both the % of engineers among the overall population _and_ the % of engineers among those in higher education, and they find that the differences are both substantial and highly significant – see pp.14-17.

38

nu 11.11.07 at 4:43 am

Christian,

I actually mention Algeria because i can remember the name of their democratic left secularist party.
But those do exist in all those places and while their lack of electoral importance is perfectly accounted for, there is no reason why “progressive” engineers wouldn’t join those instead of radical islamist movements.

Would third world liberation movements be a better comparision ? No. Because those movements were often large all-encompasing alliances that splitted among ideological lines after (sometimes before) they achieve their liberating mission.

39

notsneaky 11.11.07 at 4:46 am

Or flip this around.
Suppose you’re a person in a non-rich country with access to and talent for higher education. And let’s simplify things.
If you’re interested in studying medicine, it means you want to save lives. Hence you’re not likely to join an organization whose aim or tactic is taking of lives, or at least not achieve a position within such an organization which is likely to make you “observable”.
If you’re interest in economics or business, let’s say that you just care about money, and given that terrorist activity is not the best way to riches, why would you join such an organization (again there might be positions within such organizations where those kind of skills count but they’re probably not very visible)?
You’re not going to study humanities (Islamic law or religion excepted for obvious reasons) because where you’re at that’s basically a waste of time and money.
And lots of folks just don’t have the aptitude for “pure” national sciences and a lot of those who do like to concern themselves with abstractions.

So what you’re left with is basically engineering, but that just makes you a typical person – given that you have access and talent for higher education – in your society.

So it’s more that having a “medicine mindset” (wanting to save lives rather than take them), an “economics or business mindset” (wanting to make money rather than bother with grandiose causes) or a “natural science mindset” (being interested in the abstract ideal rather than the mortal clay) can make you LESS likely to join such an organization rather than that having an “engineering mindset” can make you MORE likely to sign up.

40

Josh G. 11.11.07 at 4:47 am

It seems fairly straightforward. The mindset needed for engineering is similar to the mindset needed for simplistic and reductionist political ideologies. Talking about whether these ideologies are left-wing or right-wing is pointless. The common factor, whether the ideology in question is American libertarianism or Islamic fundamentalism, is that these ideologies gloss over the enormous complexity of human nature and promise simple and clear rules of understanding. I suspect many engineers have autism or Asperger’s syndrome. Many of them never really felt comfortable relating to other human beings and find working with machines to be much easier. It’s not surprising that they would be overrepresented in ideologies that try to treat people like machines.

41

nu 11.11.07 at 4:50 am

But given that higher education as a whole is skewed towards engineering (now) relative to business, economics and medicine in non-rich countries

Is this a fact ?

42

Henry 11.11.07 at 4:52 am

OK – I see that you’ve independently spotted the relevant section and revised your critique accordingly. The ‘more likely to rise through the ranks b/c of relevant skills and thus come to notice’ factor is a plausible confounding factor – but so too, as the authors mention in passing, is the ‘less likely because of relevant skills to screw up and get caught’ factor, which would work in the opposite direction.

43

Henry 11.11.07 at 5:03 am

notsneaky – wouldn’t the logic of your argument suggest that there should be no measurable difference between the likelihood of engineers from Muslim countries to join Islamic militant groups in particular, and the likelihood of engineers from non-Muslim LDCs to join non-Islamic terrorist groups (in particular, extreme left wing groups)??? What you are suggesting, if I understand you correctly, is that the causal action lies in the fact that among the practical degrees that people in LDCs are likely to want to study, all other degrees are unlikely for different reasons to push you towards violent terrorism. If so, the authors’ evidence on the pronounced absence of engineers in left-wing terrorist groups from non-Muslim countries seems to refute this hypothesis, or at the very least should push you to qualify it/revise it substantially.

44

seth edenbaum 11.11.07 at 5:14 am

“If so, the authors’ evidence on the pronounced absence of engineers in left-wing groups from non-Muslim countries seems to refute this hypothesis,”

Any information of engineering and the left, say, at the beginning of the 20h century?

45

John Emerson 11.11.07 at 5:20 am

There are a lot of humanities-type scholars in third world countries, in literature and religious studies. These results are interesting if only in the limited sense that we find that in the Islamic world the jihadists are not the ones who started studying the Koran full time at an early age, but an entirely different group.

46

Henry 11.11.07 at 5:20 am

That is, unless there is evidence that people from non-Muslim LDCs are much less likely than people from Muslim countries to study engineering (which is possible, but seems pretty unlikely to me).

47

John Emerson 11.11.07 at 5:22 am

Contemporary left-wing groups are marked by cultural involvements and futility. Past leftist movements had more engineers. Not that engineers put an end to futility, they just don’t gravitate to it the way we culturalists do.

48

Henry 11.11.07 at 5:25 am

I should also add for the record that Gambetta is an extremely highly regarded sociologist, precisely because of his work on disentangling messy causal relationships. His “Were They Pushed or Did They Jump” book is a classic, as his work on trust. My impression is that if he isn’t the best regarded rational choice sociologist out there, he is at least in the top two or three. None of which is to say that he and his co-author are necessarily right, of course, but if they’re wrong, they’re highly unlikely to be wrong because of stupid and obvious methodological errors.

49

christian h. 11.11.07 at 5:38 am

I note that the authors also suggest that engineers are overrepresented in violent radical groups in Islamic countries in general, not only in Islamist ones (they give Turkish and Iranian left-wing groups as examples.)

50

Alan 11.11.07 at 6:03 am

Engineers are over-represented in many groups of people who achieve tangible results. If you want books about politics and economics, go to those faculties. If you want electric light, sewers, drinking water, cheap travel or X-rays, ask an engineer. If you want something knocked down or blown up, ask an engineer.

Away from the world of glowing pixels and dissertations on Proust there’s another world of people who know how to do stuff. Those people will always be over-represented if you look at results and under-represented if you are interested in talk.

51

notsneaky 11.11.07 at 6:13 am

After reading it more carefully I’m more inclined to think that there’s something to it though I would hesitate to attribute the differences to “engineering mindset”.

On the other hand I think the Logit regression in table 18 doesn’t make sense. The description of it is sparse but as I understand it the dependent variable is 1 if someone is religious AND conservative and 0 if they’re one of the three other possible combinations. At the very least this calls for a multinomial logit or a nested logit. More generally it’s going to violate IIA assumption that underpins these estimates.

52

Jake 11.11.07 at 6:59 am

48 and 51 get to the crux of the matter. Engineers live in a world where talking about problems is just a means to an end of solving them, and the ultimate correctness of a solution is independent of its popularity or political ramifications. Great if you want to get anything done that cannot solely be accomplished by changing the way people think about things, bad if you want to sit around and collectively ponder navels.

Not at all surprising that they are over-represented among “direct action” types – they come from a world where direct action is useful.

53

gr 11.11.07 at 7:44 am

Someone may have made this point before. Part of the reason may be that there aren’t that many humanities students in universities in the middle east. Universities in the middle east tend to be heavily oriented towards science and its applications. So engineers may simply be over-represented among educated and politically mobilized people in general (in comparison to western standards) in the relevant societies. Another possibility that comes to mind is that fields like engineering are not openly ‘political’. Perhaps that attracts people whose views would cause them trouble with the authorities if they took up more political subjects.

54

nu 11.11.07 at 7:53 am

according to this unesco report http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001407/140701e.pdf

There are more arts and humanities students than science and technology (medecine+basic science+agriculture science+engineering) students in the middle east.
What’s interesting is that the further you go into studies, the ratio of science and technology increases.
And also, private universities have more Humanity and Arts and Administration and Economics departments and students while public ones tend to be more science oriented.

55

bad Jim 11.11.07 at 7:58 am

Engineers tend to be male to about the extent nurses tend to be female; it’s an extremely gendered occupation. The curriculum is famously competetive, and its survivors consequently arrogrant: “We can do this.”

(I’m inclined to think this is a lousy way to educate people, and while I made my living as an engineer, with my name on 10 patents and my fingers on a few million coins of the realm, I got my degree in the College of Letters and Sciences, where girls were considerably more easily found.)

56

seth edenbaum 11.11.07 at 8:00 am

Does the name ‘Tatlin” ring a bell?

57

seth edenbaum 11.11.07 at 8:06 am

How about Social Engineering?
I’ve heard that phrase here, used by people who proclaim a programmatic opposition to it. Oxymoronic, yes?

58

brooksfoe 11.11.07 at 8:08 am

55 posts and no Unabomber mention yet?

Also kind of interesting on an anecdotal level that pilots universally have high engineering skills and training, and that former Vietnam War pilots seem to have a much more hawkish orientation than former Vietnam War grunts. Compare John McCain and Duke Cunningham to John Kerry, Max Cleland, Chuck Hagel, Jim Webb, etc. Though obviously this probably has a lot to do with comparative experiences of the war; there were non-hawkish ex-pilots, e.g. Pete Petersen; and Oliver North was a Marine.

59

robd 11.11.07 at 10:18 am

I think the point is Islam conflicts with an education in science but not one in engineering.
You cannot be a good biologist, physicist etc. and still believe “Allah did it” so fundamental science education is often frowned upon in the Islamic world (as in fundamentalist Christian circles) but engineering is well-respected.

60

SG 11.11.07 at 11:16 am

48 and 51, how come there are no engineers in Western radical animal rights groups? They get results more than most left wing groups, aren’t into futility, yet engineers are very rare in that movement, and where they do exist they tend to be in the non-direct-actin part. The same would go for direct action environmentalism. Don’t you think it’s interesting that EarthFirst! had no engineers, but the anti-global warming movement is stacked to the rafters with them?

61

SG 11.11.07 at 11:18 am

also 60, I don’t know much about the Koran but I think that is not true. I think you can be a good physicist and believe “Allah did it”, because you cannot find anything on earth or in the heavens that is not Allah’s will.

62

novakant 11.11.07 at 11:24 am

So what exactly is the fundamental difference between an engineer and an architect, a programmer, a technical VFX person or an industrial designer and how does it pertain to political orientation?

I don’t know any engineers, but I do know quite a few people from the other professions I mentioned and they’re centrists, libertarians and lefties – not one of them has an authoritarian mindset. Yet their actual work has a lot in common with the work engineers do.

Away from the world of glowing pixels and dissertations on Proust there’s another world of people who know how to do stuff. Those people will always be over-represented if you look at results and under-represented if you are interested in talk.

The RAF was comprised mainly of woolly headed humanities, social science and law students with a few genuine proletarians thrown in. They loved to talk endlessly about everything and anything, yet, there’s no denying that they were rather “successful” in getting things done, i.e. challenging the authority of the West-German state and creating widespread panic among its citizens for a prolonged period of time.

Speaking of the RAF, it serves as a good counterexample to the claim that the humanities are less likely to create an authoritarian mindset . While its members certainly had an anti-authoritarian self-image and they obviously did challenge authority in a big way, the whole enterprise quickly showed its authoritarian, militaristic and downright fascist streak both in its internal structure and its propaganda and deeds.

63

eulogist 11.11.07 at 11:34 am

Wow…

I am an engineer (well, was educated as one). Thanks to this thread I now know what it must feel like to be a muslim these days.

The amount of prejudice here is appalling.

64

dave heasman 11.11.07 at 2:29 pm

“Suppose you’re a person in a non-rich country with access to and talent for higher education. And let’s simplify things.
If you’re interested in studying medicine, it means you want to save lives. Hence you’re not likely to join an organization whose aim or tactic is taking of lives, or at least not achieve a position within such an organization which is likely to make you “observable”.”

The terrorist doctors in Scotland were inept. Making one point, at least.
Oh and the Yorkshire bombers weren’t really educated at all, were they? Having been through English schools in the 90s.

65

Brett Bellmore 11.11.07 at 3:15 pm

“The terrorist doctors in Scotland were inept. Making one point, at least.”

You know, as an engineer myself, my first reaction to all these ‘engineers’ being members of terrorist organizations is that they obviously aren’t doing a lot of engineering. Any at all imaginative engineer can cook up ways to cause mass destruction on shoestring budget; Knowing how to destroy IS an aspect of knowing how to create, after all, and destruction has always been easier than creation.

Maybe there’s something about incompetent engineers that causes them to be attracted to terrorism?

66

James Wimberley 11.11.07 at 3:35 pm

Higher education, especially abroad, requires a lot of funding. My impression is that the Saudi government for one is terrified of its young people being seduced by Western social sciences and philosophy, and probably natural science as robd says in 60; so they fund only intellectually unthreatening courses.
Any linkage between engineering and terrorism is therefore the result of push as well as pull factors. Adam Smith, Nils Bohr and Charles Darwin are just too dangerous, not to mention Biblical textual criticism. Some of the 9/11 bombers were training as pilots, a vocational course even more blinkered than engineering.

It may be true that there are lots of humanities students in the Middle East, but what’s the level? A sensible antiterrorism strategy would include scholarships and academic exchanges in the natural and social sciences and the humanities.

Another policy, which is needed regardless of the terrorism hypothesis, is to beef up the liberal broadly education aspect – Bildung – of technological education at all levels. Chernobyl was the result of the Soviet technical education system: everybody a specialist, nobody a critic. Perhaps its American counterpart was to blame for Enron.

67

seth edenbaum 11.11.07 at 3:39 pm

On the similarly devolving torture thread Bob Mcmanus links to this screed by DeLong. A good example of Engineer’s Disease and its deleterious effects on the imagination.

68

robd 11.11.07 at 3:42 pm

SG,
What the Koran says doesn’t matter, it matters what they make of it; just like US christian fundies and the Bible.
Iran or Pakistan are not stimulating education in evolutionary biology and philosophy of sciense as much as nuclear engineering and theology.
I know the Islamic world was once a leading light in science, but al least in the middle-east not much is left.

69

seth edenbaum 11.11.07 at 4:07 pm

“Iran or Pakistan are not stimulating education in evolutionary biology and philosophy of sciense as much as nuclear engineering and theology.”

References please

70

Henry 11.11.07 at 4:41 pm

notsneaky – fair enough. The argument of the piece isn’t of the kind that I usually find intellectually appealing – but what impresses me is that the authors clearly _have_ taken quite considerable care to think through alternative hypotheses and to show why they don’t seem to explain the patterns cropping up in the data. I don’t think that they have a proven case (nor do they say they have – as they note, you would need much finer grained data over time to really establish the causal relations) – but they have at least shown that (a) the hypothesis is plausible, given what we know, and (b) that other on-the-face-of-it plausible hypotheses don’t seem to work. I’ve been trying to think of a likely counter-hypothesis that explains what they show, and I can’t think of one (which of course doesn’t mean that there isn’t one).

71

Hermenauta 11.11.07 at 4:58 pm

Here in Brazil, we had a fantastic poet called João Cabral de Mello Neto. He wrote a poem called “The Engineer”:

“A luz, o sol, o ar livre
envolvem o sonho do engenheiro.
O engenheiro sonha coisas claras:
superfícies, tênis, um copo de água.

O lápis, o esquadro, o papel;
o desenho, o projeto, o número:
o engenheiro pensa o mundo justo,
mundo que nenhum véu encobre.”

Translation:

“The light, the sun, outdoor air
Surrounds the engineer dreams.
The engineer dreams of clear things:
surfaces, shoes, a glass of water.

The pen, the set square, the paper;
the drawing, the project, the number:
the engineer thinks of the just world,
World that no veil conceals.”

Sorry for the bad quality of the translation. I’m an engineer. :)

72

seth edenbaum 11.11.07 at 5:09 pm

“The pen, the set square, the paper;
the drawing, the project, the number:
the engineer thinks of the just world,
World that no veil conceals.”

Lovely. So I take it you live in Brasilia?

73

Badger 11.11.07 at 5:27 pm

Henry, you’re just going to ignore the arbitrary lumping together of Hamas with their arch-enemies in the jihadi movement, even though the data is noticeably different? I have some other comments on the tendentious nature of this at my blog

74

Seth Finkelstein 11.11.07 at 5:49 pm

Henry, while it is absolutely true that they did consider alternative hypotheses, I find them far too dismissive on those points. Calling it “stupid and obvious methodological errors” would be harsh – but again, like evolutionary psychology tales, they seem in love in with their story. For example, as I noted in #16, “That engineers are mainly sought for their ability to fill technical roles is also refuted by the case of Hamas where many engineers are prominent in senior management positions with no technical function”, that stood out to me as someone who likely just missed the issue of being good at technical tasks leads to being promoted into management. I believe understand what logical chain they were drawing – idea: engineers requires for skill, observation: lots of engineers in management conclusion: not recruited for skill. But that’s like saying “Why are there so many programmers as managers in California companies? It must be because the programming mindset is particularly amenable to the corporate middle-management ideology. Programmers deal with absolutes and commands, which maps well to the imperative of a middle-manager who deals with corporate balance-sheet absolutes, as well as “commands” from upper-management” (a little statistics, and this could be a real paper!).

“Next, the technology involved in most violent attacks has been relatively simple and did not require great expertise. It is much harder to obtain good quality explosives than put them to use.”

Right, but this discounts that it helps to be COMFORTABLE doing physical things. Consider the old cliche about setting the clock on a VCR adapted to setting the timer of a bomb – it’s not that it’s high technology, but that there’s an issue in practice (i.e. bad joke: “Why do terrorist cells need engineers? Because humanities majors can’t figure out how to set the clock on the ticking time-bomb”).

“Lastly, it is doubtful that violent movements with a larger share of engineers have mustered a greater destructive power than groups without.”

I think they’re overstating the expected effect, and then refuting the overstatement.

75

seth edenbaum 11.11.07 at 5:52 pm

I tried to steer this gently towards a discussion of the historical relation of engineering and utopia. It’s a long history and a well studied one. Instead what we’ve ended up with is a discussion of the technics of graphing,with an engineering problem! Spacial but not temporal, without using any data that can’t be gotten through a snapshot of the present.

Engineering in two dimensions is implicitly utopian.
Engineering in three dimensions is implicitly utopian.
What’s engineering in four dimensions, engineering in time? That’s the important question and it’s the question you refuse to face. It’s Modernist logic, pure and smple.

“the engineer thinks of the just world,
World that no veil conceals”
A world witout history.

76

Henry 11.11.07 at 6:13 pm

Seth (F.) – but if your hypothesis is true, it fails to explain why there seems to be so much variation between Islamist and extreme left wing terrorist groups – _ceteris paribus_ one would expect the engineer effect to be roughly constant across them, nicht wahr?? Or am I missing a plausible _ceteris_ here?? And when/if evo-psych people come up with arguments where they think through the empirics properly and _really test_ alternative hypotheses (something I disagree with you on – I think that they have done a pretty good job), I’m inclined to think they’re making a real contribution to knowledge. What I find annoying are the arguments which seem aimed at Sunday colour supplements rather than contributions to scientific knowledge (the dude at LSE a couple of weeks ago who claimed we were going to degenerate into Morlocks and Eloi a couple of weeks ago, in research commissioned by a lad-mag is an excellent example) – and I don’t think that this is at all what is happening with this particular paper.

Seth (E.) – What you describe as “steering gently,” some might call “insistent hectoring that we change the topic of discussion to one I can bloviate on more comfortably.” It’s getting to be a considerable nuisance. Take this as a warning.

77

seth edenbaum 11.11.07 at 6:33 pm

Henry, read Badger’s comment and his post.
I wanted to think that this was a discussion of the relation of engineering to radical Islam, and I asked that we consider the history of the relation of engineering to modern ideas of utopia. If you find that annoying perhaps it’s because you’re less interested in the subject than in the means used by authors of the paper, that is the technics of statistical graphing.
That you keep pretending othrwise is getting to be a considrable nuisance.

I know it’s your page. It’s your call.

78

Seth Finkelstein 11.11.07 at 6:44 pm

Henry, regarding “it fails to explain why there seems to be so much variation between Islamist and extreme left wing terrorist groups” – not at all, just the opposite. Look what I said in #12:

“The problem is that “terrorist” covers a lot of ground, for a lot of reasons. It’s not that the authors don’t know this – they’re aware of it. But it seemed to be patterns-in-the-clouds.

I’d speculate it’s better to consider “high numbers of engineers” as a marker for a certain sociological type of insurgency (home-grown with support from elites), rather than make up appealing stories about why the engineer mindset is attracted to whatever ideology is driving the insurgency.”

That is, consider there are certain types of terrorist groups where engineers and other similar types have a favorable “career path” – and other where they don’t. These factors strike me as influences to look at first, before something so nebulous as “mindset”. And my point then is while yes, yes, yes, they did consider this, on examining in detail what they said, I found their discussion extremely dubious and unconvincing, as I outlined.

Heck [putting tongue a little in cheek], some (not all) of it could be as a simple as the fact that Osama Bin Laden was an engineer, so he’s a kind of role-model for aspiring terrorists, while from another direction, given the money he distributes, he makes engineering “cool” among the people who recruit for him.

79

Badger 11.11.07 at 7:08 pm

Suppose this was not Arab-Muslims but some other religious-ethnic group, and you had a study that lumped together those charged with an offence, say fraud, and others that lived somewhere in Brooklyn, say. The study shows a common characteristic, and it interprets this common characteristic in a negative sense, something to do with greed, say. Someone comments on the obviously invidious nature of the argument, and you are the one to reply in terms of the “advancement of scientific knowledge” and accuse others of aiming for the Sunday color supplements?

80

Badger 11.11.07 at 7:09 pm

the above is addressed to Henry

81

John Emerson 11.11.07 at 7:09 pm

64: And now Eulogist is going to go blow something up — because of our prejudice! We will have the blood of innocents on our heads.

82

Henry 11.11.07 at 7:42 pm

badger – please don’t be any more stupid than you have to be. This isn’t about whether Muslims have some innate tendency to be terrorists – this is about whether there are differences between the composition of Islamic terrorist groups and non-Islamic terrorist groups, which is a perfectly legitimate matter of social scientific inquiry. As for your claim that Hamas aren’t “violent extremists” – if you want to get into a back and forth on the pros and cons of Hamas and Israel, you are perfectly welcome to do so – on your own blog. Any attempts to get a debate started here on this topic will be summarily deleted (this is a matter of general policy, following past unfortunate blow-ups). Equally, if you want to jump up and down in condemnation of this arrant and vile act of censorship, please feel at liberty to denounce me _all you want_ back on your home turf.

Seth – I had forgotten about your earlier comment, but I am still not getting the causal logic in your alternative explanation – why should engineers in particular feature prominently in a particular kind of insurgency??? Your counter claims seem only very weakly specified. Again, this isn’t to say that they might not be right – but at the least I would like to see a plausible counter logic laid out. There may certainly be very important differences between terrorist groups – but there does seem to be something systematic here that isn’t just noise, so I think that a properly developed counter-explanation compatible with the results is what you need to show that this piece is as badly wrong as you say it is. So far I’m not seeing that in your argument – could you develop it further???

83

eulogist 11.11.07 at 8:18 pm

#83: Don’t worry, John. These days I am more in the business of concocting disastrous ideas and getting them implemented as state policy. I find it more satisfying then building bombs – and it is legal on top of that.

84

blog 11.11.07 at 8:25 pm

Maybe it’s natural slection. The leaders screen out the non-educated and the humanities people and select the technical people. Which inspires a joke:

Why are there so many engineers in terrorist organizations? Because the CIA, ISI and Saudi intelligence prefer the smart, technical people.

BTW, in order for the statistical analysis to be viable, the authors must have knowledge of practically all members of terrorist organizations. Yet nothing is being done about it. We seeem to have knowledge of every aspect of these organizations and no moves are being made against them. On the other hand, if the analysis is being made on the basis of only captured terrorists, then extrapolation is notoriously unreliable.

85

Barbar 11.11.07 at 8:32 pm

Henry — The paper talks about the “engineering mindset.” The primary evidence for such a mindset comes from a survey indicating that engineers are more conservative than economists, doctors, and social scientists. There is also an argument that right-wing extremism maps to Islamic extremism. From this the authors conclude:

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’.

Furthermore it turns out that engineers are more religious than other academics.

My only comment is that if Islamic violent extremists tended to be left-wing radicals who studied sociology in college, I very strongly doubt that sociologists would be so casual in talking about the “sociological mindset” and its connections to terrorism. Some economist at Chicago would write a paper on it though (look — sociologists are ridiculously far left compared to normal Americans — plus they blow up stuff — QED — what do Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds have to say about this) and I’m pretty sure sociologists would be calling for a nuanced view.

If only there were an academic discipline that specialized in making these sorts of observations.

86

Badger 11.11.07 at 8:50 pm

Henry, your exaggerated insulting manner ill becomes you, but I understand your point. You will accept the prevailing designations of terrorist groups and any challenges to the “science” based on that will be deleted.

87

blog 11.11.07 at 8:57 pm

If we know so much about these organizations, then why isn’t Guantanamo Bay filled with all these engineers instead of all those patsies turned in for bounties?

88

Badger 11.11.07 at 9:11 pm

good points, blog and barbar

89

Jon H 11.11.07 at 9:18 pm

seth edenbaum wrote: “Reading over the comments on religion I find that I need to remind you that the reformers in Turkey are Islamists.”

That doesn’t mean they’re liberal. They might just be differently conservative. They may seek to expand some freedoms they care about, while removing many freedoms that currently exist.

(This probably isn’t the case with the mainstream of the Islamic party in Turkey, but there are probably fringe elements who are more like the authoritarian Islamists.)

90

seth e 11.11.07 at 9:23 pm

Henry
Al qaeda is utopian/nihilist. Hamas is not. Is there a history of utopian/nihilist organizations and ideologies in the west? Both left and right? Yes. The Nazi ideology fits that description. Various European terrorists have fit that description. The unibomber an anti-engineer with all tha contradictions that implies fits that description to a t. Violent anticolonial movements by and large have not. Hamas is an anti colonial movement.

My counterclaims as you call them come from the available record and basic historical knowledge.ill send the links when I’m not on my blackberry. Unfortunately however badger is right.the requirements of observation are trumped by politics.

91

Jon H 11.11.07 at 9:23 pm

I think the idea here is that some engineers are attracted to belief systems that are highly deterministic and rules-based. Where if you have a question you can look in a book and find out what to do.

They may seek a set of beliefs for their own life which makes it as clear-cut as building a bridge or designing a circuit.

Fields which entail more uncertainty would not be as attractive to people like this.

92

Henry 11.11.07 at 9:30 pm

barbar – for what it’s worth, I did think through what I would say if someone wrote a piece on the ‘social scientific mindset’ with similar evidence, and came to the conclusion (as best as I can in the abstract), that I would conclude that there was likely something to it, even if it didn’t reflect my priorities, or the priorities of other social scientists who I know. Nor do I think that the claim that there are some similarities of worldview between US religious conservatives and Islamic religious conservatives to be _ex ante_ implausible.

You will accept the prevailing designations of terrorist groups and any challenges to the “science” based on that will be deleted.

If that’s how you choose to interpret it, badger, I can’t be arsed to correct you. Not that, given your track record of quasi-paranoid inaccuracies that I believe you’d take me seriously if I did make the effort.

93

Seth Finkelstein 11.11.07 at 9:30 pm

Henry, again, the argument is that insurgencies drawing from certain social strata (well-educated), and relying on certain tactics (bombings?) could provide a “career path” of success in the organization favorable to engineering types, which is not present in other insurgencies which don’t draw from that strata, or emphasis those tactics.

The authors discuss this, but I found their dismissal lacking. That is, the point in dispute isn’t whether or not there is counter-logic – the authors realize it. Rather, it’s whether they ruled it out effectively. I don’t think they did, per above. They spend one page on their reasoning, page 41, in contrast to a huge amount on “traits” and “mindset”.

What I mean by “patterns in the clouds” is that this is two very vague variables, from “computer sciences and architecture”, to “terrorist”, that comes out to a neat conclusion – which makes me very suspicious of it as a just-so story.

94

Jon H 11.11.07 at 9:38 pm

“which makes me very suspicious of it as a just-so story.”

But have you considered the Salem hypothesis angle, where Christian engineers are often seen to be strong adherents to Creationism?

I think you may be focused too much on the terrorism part, when what’s really key is the attraction to a certain style of religious belief. Should such a person be exposed to a violence-preaching authority, the engineer may be a likely recruit for terrorist organizations.

95

blog 11.11.07 at 9:45 pm

What everyone is ignoring is the sample. What sample did the authors use? Is the sample significantly biased? Is the sample the terorist organizations themselves? If so, it raises some very disturbing questions.

96

Badger 11.11.07 at 9:53 pm

Sounds like you’ve been reading my stuff, Henry, which is good. This is the first I’ve heard about inaccuracies. I know this is your your page to do with as you see fit, but certainly don’t be shy about explaining what you mean.

97

Barbar 11.11.07 at 10:02 pm

Henry, of course it’s possible that there is an engineering mindset that inclines engineers to entertain monism and simplism. And of course it’s hardly implausible that Islamic extremism and American right-wing extremism share common elements. I’m not arguing against the plausibility of the ideas advanced in the paper.

My point is that if an economist wrote the equivalent paper about the “social scientist mindset” and terrorism, you’d be going bananas about the broad brush and lazy reliance on prejudice. If the existence of the “social scientist mindset” was supported entirely by a greater tendency for social scientists to have leftist political views, you’d see this as a cheap shot at both leftists and social scientists — and rightfully so.

When Larry Summers made his notorious remarks a few years ago, did you say “Well that sounds plausible there’s probably something to it” or did you get ticked off about the quality of his evidence? When someone talks about how IQ is inheritable, do you acknowledge the plausibility or do you refer to Cosma Shalizi’s posts?

98

blog 11.11.07 at 10:12 pm

This whole thing sounds like a joke. Is there a list of terrorists with their occupations? It isn’t classified top secret? Is there a list of known terrorists? Is this data available to the public? Wouldn’t it introduce a significant bias? Why aren’t they being rounded up?

99

jim 11.11.07 at 10:12 pm

This is an interesting thread. A bit engineering-bashing, but interesting.

Although there were the fundamentalist christian engineers at my school, interestingly, my friends in the humanities were much more superstitious.

Silly superstitions like astrology, organic farming, and chi energy were fairly standard beliefs among the humanities crowd … and all would be laughed at by the engineers as just being nonsense.

At my university most of the top engineers came from more modest backgrounds than the top humanities students. Again, the liberal arts crowd at my school was very anti-traditional religion, but made up for it with a plethora of other magical, superstitious thinking.

100

Badger 11.11.07 at 10:21 pm

careful, blog, or scientist Henry will start going after your semi-paranoid inaccuracies.

101

Barbar 11.11.07 at 10:23 pm

Blog, if you really care so much you could try to look at the paper and see where the data are coming from.

102

Badger 11.11.07 at 10:37 pm

It’s not that enlightening.

The authors say for Hamas they got their data from “Rangwala (2005) Smith et al (2005) and Hamas websites”.

For Islamic Jihad “websites and literature” and

International salafi groups: Sageman (2004) combined with library and internet research.

In other words, much of this comes the internets. Jihadi chatrooms, counterterrorism buffs, who knows?

103

blog 11.11.07 at 10:50 pm

The paper reviews historical cases. It does not purport to show the makeup at present of terrorist organizations. If the paper is examining cases of actual terrorists incidents that require technical expertise then a significant bias is introduced. Nor does the paper examine the percentage of total terrorist incidents that are carried out by engineers. Are the majority of terrorists in Iraq engineers? Were the majority of Mujahaddin engineers? The authors seem to rely on a list of 256 names of “Western terrorists” some of whom have been captured. To extrapolate this to the actual composition of terrorist organizations is foolhardy. This still seems like a sloppy paper.

104

novakant 11.11.07 at 11:45 pm

for what it’s worth, I did think through what I would say if someone wrote a piece on the ‘social scientific mindset’ with similar evidence, and came to the conclusion (as best as I can in the abstract), that I would conclude that there was likely something to it, even if it didn’t reflect my priorities, or the priorities of other social scientists who I know.

Henry, the case you outline is not hypothetical. As I mentioned above, some core members of the RAF turned to terrorism after having come into contact in one way or another with the ‘social scientific mindset’ prevalent at the time and the social sciences have been criticized by some for allegedly facilitating terrorism – unfairly, as even people as far left as Marcuse were quick to renounce the RAF.

That leaves the logic of the paper you mentioned open to criticism, though – the authors argue that there is an equivalence between the allegedly simplistic and orderly mindset of engineers and the simple answers of jihadism. The social scientific mindset of the 60s/70s on the other hand was anything but simplistic and orderly, yet, those in its thrall who turned to terrorism opted for a radically dumbed down version of Marxism/Leninism that is equal in its simplicity and orderliness to the jihadism of today.

I think the answer to this riddle is pretty clear: whatever milieu or mindset terrorists are coming from, be they as disparate as those of the middle eastern engineers and the social sciences students of the 60s/70s, in the end they need a simple and unshakeable set of beliefs in order to be able to take the extreme actions they do to so quickly and ruthlessly.

105

eulogist 11.11.07 at 11:54 pm

Couple of points on the paper:

– If you look at the educational backgrounds of people working in a regular army, you will also find many more have a technical background than one in social sciences. Why? Obviously, because those backgrounds are what the army needs to get the job done. The same is of course true for jihadi “fighters”. An over-representation of engineers among jihadi’s is no proof that they are more likely to have militant *ideas* than those who did not choose to have a career in fighting. The latter is just more likely to get you into trouble, to get registered and to end up in this research paper.

Table 8 on page 22 has mistakes in the two cases I happen to know best, which makes you wonder how well the rest of the data would stand a more thorough examination:

– The murderer of Theo van Gogh (2004) is listed as education unknown, but it is common knowledge that he worked as a social worker before the facts and was also educated as one (but never finished his studies).

– Plot “to attack existing structures and
terrorizing Dutch society” (2004): The suspect is listed as “science background”, but started studying chemistry only *after* the facts (from which he was acquitted for lack of evidence), which involved a clumsy attempt to make a bomb from household chemicals. At that time he only had secondary and (Afghan) religious education.

The course of events here seems to suggest that his sudden interest in chemistry served a very specific purpose, rather than underpinning the idea that both stem from a particular “engineering mindset”.

106

eulogist 11.11.07 at 11:58 pm

#105: The latter is just more likely to get you into trouble, to get registered and to end up in this research paper.

I meant: the *former* is just more likely…

107

loon 11.12.07 at 12:02 am

Surely this “study” was posted solely as a troll to elicit website hits. Its about as “scientific” as one of the proverbial blind men describing an elephant: very snake-like.

108

Laleh 11.12.07 at 12:10 am

“Iran or Pakistan are not stimulating education in evolutionary biology and philosophy of sciense as much as nuclear engineering and theology.
I know the Islamic world was once a leading light in science, but al least in the middle-east not much is left”

Quite interesting how easily people map the politics of the US to the politics of the Muslim/Third World. No, basic science/Islam incompatability (if there is such a thing; which I doubt) doesn’t have anything to do with creationism in Islam. Islam is not creationist. In fact, many of the Iranian leaders believe that evolution was foreshadowed in the Quran.

The reason there are so many technocrats (rather than scientists) is a) because weak and unpredicatble economies cannot guarantee jobs in pure sciences (or social sciences and humanities) and b) a legacy of nationalism, anti-colonialism, and ISI (industrialisation by way of self-sufficiency) which has had a VERY long life in the Muslim/Third World required loads of technocrats and technical professionals, not pure scientists.

That is why so many Third Worlders want their children to become doctors or engineers.

109

seth edenbaum 11.12.07 at 12:20 am

110

John Emerson 11.12.07 at 12:58 am

When I was working at a medical bookstore I was amazed at how many authors had Arabic or Persian names.

111

blog 11.12.07 at 1:02 am

This seems to be the methodology adopted by the authors. The list seems to have been complied over many years. Say in any given year there were 500 terrorist incidents and 10 were carried out by engineers. In that same period 10 were carried out by bakers and another ten were carried out by accountants. Over a period of ten years you get the same amount of terrorist incidents carried out by each group, that make it seem like each are responsible for the preponderance of incidents. Does that mean that there is a baker’s or an accountant’s mindset that predisposes them? It might be that there were a great number of attacks by engineers in that time frame. But over that many years, there were probably other groups that were also significantly represented.

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John Emerson 11.12.07 at 1:16 am

Man, engineers are touchy motherfuckers. We’re not saying you’re all terrorists, just most of you.

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SG 11.12.07 at 3:59 am

My anecdotal experience in Japan backs up laleh and seth edenbaum’s criticism of

“Iran or Pakistan are not stimulating education in evolutionary biology and philosophy of sciense as much as nuclear engineering and theology.
I know the Islamic world was once a leading light in science, but al least in the middle-east not much is left”

At Tottori University I met hordes of Sudanese, Egyptians, Omanis and a Palestinian studying various aspects of genetics (crop, viral, animal). Not all of them Japan Government scholarship recipients either, but all of them “staunch” muslims (in the sense of following the main daily teachings and rules quite strictly as far as I could tell).

I suppose it is easy if you don’t get experience of a particular religion to claim that it follows the rules you are familiar with from your local propagandist, or your experience of your local religion. But it’s hardly helpful, especially when (as Seth observes) some evidence to complicate your worldview is just a google search away.

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Henry 11.12.07 at 4:36 am

Badger:

This is the first I’ve heard about inaccuracies. I know this is your your page to do with as you see fit, but certainly don’t be shy about explaining what you mean.

By all means! On your blog

Nor was there any acknowledgment of the fact that Islamist groups in Palestine and elsewhere are to some degree at least the inheritors of the progressive instincts of the earlier secular-left movements.

In the paper:

There is anecdotal evidence pointing to some degree of ‘continuity of style’ between Marxist groups and Islamists. In the episode we mentioned at the beginning, when Zawahiri boasted to Schleifer about the medical and engineering students in his group Schleifer replied that in the sixties those same faculties had been strongholds of the Marxist youth. The Islamist movement, he observed, was merely the latest trend in student rebellions.

and:

While not disproportionately radical everywhere and all of the time in the Islamic world, radical engineers have not been prominent only in Islamist extremist activities, but also in left-wing groups at a time when these were considered, by revolutionarily inclined youth worldwide, as the best means to change the world.

On your blog

In reply, he says the author of the study is “in the top two or three” world-wide, among “rational choice sociologists”, suggesting his readers would be impressed by the structure of the academic hierarchy, if not the argument itself, and he added if there are mistakes in the study, “they’re unlikely to be wrong because of stupid or obvious methodological errors.” He didn’t mention ideology.

This rather notably misrepresents my comment, which was a quite narrow response to notsneaky who had claimed incorrectly (as he later was happy to acknowledge) that the piece’s findings had a basic methodological error. The comment made it clear that Gambetta’s previous record didn’t mean that he was right, rather that he was unlikely to make basic methodological howlers. You curiously neglected to note that qualification in your post, instead making it appear like a general appeal to academic authority.

I said in comments above:

if you want to get into a back and forth on the pros and cons of Hamas and Israel, you are perfectly welcome to do so – on your own blog. Any attempts to get a debate started here on this topic will be summarily deleted (this is a matter of general policy, following past unfortunate blow-ups).

You chose to represent this as

I understand your point. You will accept the prevailing designations of terrorist groups and any challenges to the “science” based on that will be deleted.

which is stuff and nonsense. If you care to go back and investigate, you will find that I have a general policy of not allowing debates on Palestine v. Israel on my posts, because they invariably turn into dogfights, and I don’t have the time nor the inclination to police them. Nothing to do with challenges to science I’m afraid to say.

And this isn’t even getting into your insinuations that the piece and this post are motivated by the equivalent of anti-Semitism, but it’ll at least do for starters …

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Henry 11.12.07 at 5:09 am

barbar – I _hope_ that if I was presented with sufficient evidence that something which I found personally disagreeable was plausible, that I would accept it as same. I can say that wrt one major issue of my research that I had very strong normative and intellectual priors on (the threats of data mining and surveillance), my position has shifted very substantially as I have looked into it more. I’ll also note that I have, I think, been up front about some things that are ideologically inconvenient in previous posts (e.g. the historical and possible future linkages between the social democratic politics that I like and various forms of 1930s fascism). And my position on heritability is close to Cosma’s as I understand it – that it is pretty likely that various kinds/specific_mechanisms of intelligence are heritable, but that the claim that we can attribute all forms of intelligence to some underlying common factor is very likely untrue. Again – if there were some strong scientific evidence suggesting that _g_ did indeed exist, I would hope that I’d shift my beliefs accordingly. I can’t say for sure (who can? – it is easier to be intellectually brave in the abstract than in the particular), but at least I can say that I would try to deal honestly with inconvenient evidence. Perhaps, I should also note again that this paper doesn’t seek to _prove_ that this mindset had the relevant effects in conjunction with environmental factors – it doesn’t have the necessary data to do this, as the authors acknowledge up front. Instead, it seeks to show that it is a plausible argument, and that other, apparently equally plausible arguments, don’t hold up under further investigation. This is an appropriately modest stance.

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Tom Lynch 11.12.07 at 5:18 am

It’s bizarre to read all the daft generalisations directed at engineers in this thread. Wish I could say engineers weren’t equally prone to making equally daft generalisations about the chattering classes …

It’s a stretch to turn an argument about a specific contribution of a few identified socioeconomic and psychological factors (and many that presumably have gone unidentified) to hardline Islamism in a few select examples to a general argument about the “tendencies of engineers”. Everything beyond the sample space is wild extrapolation … for instance, if the data on “home-grown” terrorism in the West hadn’t been examined and shown to reject the thesis, everyone reading this thread would now be incorrectly guessing that it would support it.

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Badger 11.12.07 at 5:30 am

The study lumped together those involved in violence and those whose only sin was to belong to Hamas, it being conventional under the American regime to call this a terrorist organization. So you have criminals and non-criminals. You find a common denominator which you then interpret in an invidious sense, and you purport to have a “scientific” explanation of something. What I said is that if you did that with any other ethnic or religious group, linking a group of criminals with a group of non-criminals via a common denominator, and then interpreted it in that kind of an invidious sense, you would be laughed down.

And I think the commenters have quite well pointed up the arbitrariness and cultural narrowness of this whole thing where your “mindset” argument comes in.

I was not suggesting that the motive for this was the equivalent of anti-semitism, but rather that your inability to consider these matters any more deeply that what you can put numbers to, along with your compliance with the conventional anti-Islamism, means that the result is to support something like anti-semitism with respect to Arabs and Muslims.

You could have recognized that including Hamas-members (with about one-third engineers to other known specialties) with the rest of this vague mixture of ne’er-do-wells (with about one-half engineers to other known specialists excluding Palestinians) was at least problematic as to the coherence of the argument, and the methodology. Pointing that out is not the same as triggering a dogfight respecting Israel. Your “policy” is merely a cloak. But I guess it is your insults that really tell the story.

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Jon Kay 11.12.07 at 5:38 am

EXCEPT, there’s a better case that the bigger overrepresentation is of those wussy sciences and education types, like the sociologist of the survey.

After all, arts, sciences, theology, and education summed in their sample come to –>>79

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Jon Kay 11.12.07 at 5:48 am

(whoopsie, this blog needs a preview feature)

EXCEPT, there’s a better case that the bigger overrepresentation is of those wussy sciences and education types, like the sociologist of the survey.

After all, arts, sciences, theology, and education summed in their sample come to –>>79

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seth edenbaum 11.12.07 at 6:21 am

HF at the beginning- “Gambetta and Hertog use a combination of illustrative statistics, qualitative data and logistic regression to show not only that there is a strong relationship between an engineering background and involvement in a variety of Islamic terrorist groups, but to arrive at a plausible hypothesis as to why this relationship pertains.”

From the paper quoted just now by HF:
“While not disproportionately radical everywhere and all of the time in the Islamic world, radical engineers have not been prominent only in Islamist extremist activities, but also in left-wing groups at a time when these were considered, by revolutionarily inclined youth worldwide, as the best means to change the world.”

Two different claims, and the second one though vague bothers me less than the first. (and now I’m actually reading the paper) But reading it, it’s pretty vulgar. Atta in fact sounds like Ted Kaczynski while Hezbollah has no relation to Aum Shinrikyo. The same is not true however for Al Qaeda. And the level of technical expertise in Aum was widely noted at the time. So far I see none of this in the paper. As I said in #26, about Hamas, talk to Helena Cobban, who is after all, a Quaker.

I have no problem with generalizations about engineers and engineering as an intellectual model. I spend too much of my time complaining about the ubiquity of both. Utopianism annoys me, and engineered utopia is the paradigmatic modern romance. But there is a long history of reactionary modernism, though the phrase I guess is pretty recent. What else do you call Marinetti and the Futurists? Hell, what do you call T.S Eliot?
The authors refer to the engineer’s “mindset” and to “simplism.” Unlike many here I have no problem with either term. But I think they’ve given us an perfect examples of both.

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GreatZamfir 11.12.07 at 8:51 am

What puzzles me in the ‘mindset’ argument is that while apparently a large fraction of islamic terrorists are engineers, the opposite is of course not true, i.e. only a vanishingly small fraction of islamic engineers ( or every other profession) is a terrorist.

So there could be some truth in the idea that a ‘radical islamic terrorist’ mindset makes people inclined to be an engineer, but given that almost every engineer in the islamic world is not a terrorist, I see little argument that an engineering mindset in general inclines measurably to being a terrorist.

The main difference between these viewpoints is in what they suggest about people who are not both terrorists and engineers.

The ‘terrorist mindset inclines to being an engineer’ viewpoint suggest something about other terrorists, namely that they might also be relatively engineer-like. If 4% of terrorists is an engineer (I think that was the number in the study), then for example another 4% might have considered becoming an engineer, and another 4% might have become one if they could have afforded higher education. So, this is a substantial portion of all terrorists, and useful information about islamic terrorists in general.

On the other hand, if 0.01% of islamic engineers is a terrorist ( that’s one in ten thousand), and for every terrorist there are ten people who are susceptible to becoming one but never got the opportunity, that still leaves us with 99.9% of islamic engineers who would never become a terrorist. Even if that number is lower than for other professions, it is still hardly useful information about engineers in general.

In this light, it is a bit frightening to see so many commenters make ‘I am not surprised’ comments, based on the engineers they personally know. Those engineers are probably not even muslims, and if they were would fall, with very, very high probability, in the never-ever-thought-about-becoming-a-terrorist group. There might (or might not) be things wrong with engineers in general, but being radical terrorists is not one of them.

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Barbar 11.12.07 at 10:32 am

Henry — I wasn’t accusing you of being reluctant to update your beliefs in the face of evidence, but rather pointing out that you would be more demanding of the evidence if you were an engineer and/or a conservative.

Once again, from the paper:

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’.

This is awfully vivid and makes it seem like we have some evidence linking the personality traits of engineers to those of “radical Islamists.” But in reality we just have the fact that engineers are more conservative than other academics, and that right-wing extremism has significant commonalities with Islamic extremism. Which is good enough for the plausibility of the conclusion of the paper, I agree — but the presentation is still remarkably unnuanced.

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chris y 11.12.07 at 11:16 am

According to the dead tree New Scientist all but one member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party are engineering graduates. Discuss with reference to “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’.”

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seth edenbaum 11.12.07 at 2:27 pm

#126
…and the kicker:
“if only people were rational, remedies would be simple.”

That just about covers every base: communisim to libertarianism. It’s a pocket history of simplism in the modern era.

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GreatZamfir 11.12.07 at 2:34 pm

And of course it shows that the engineering mindset drives people to become members of the CCP politburo. In fact, most engineers I know secretly wish to be Chinese dictators, and if they can’t, they’d like to live in Afghan caves plotting the overthrow of the West. In the mean time, they build bridges.

Seriously though, I took a look at the biographies of the politburo members, and there is very specific pattern when looking at the older members including Hu Jintao, and the generation of Jiang Zemin before them. Almost without exception, they were in charge of a factory or other industrial organization in the late 70’s when Deng Xiaoping came to power, and subsequently were appointed in relatively high government positions overseeing the industrial expansion of the 80s.

The younger members (who are not yet in the standing committee) are a much more mixed group, including many economists. They were usually still studying when the cultural revolution came and started their career afterwards, in the mid 70s. Most of them stated immediatly on some sort of political career.

My impression is that the “all engineer politburo” was a very temporary phenomenon, when the original revolutionaries form the 30’s (like Deng himself) were dying out and were replaced by the technocrats Deng had used in the 80s for his modernization of China.

The coming generation is much younger, 50 to 60, many of them are children from the new elites after the revolution, and many of them started immediatley on a government career. I suppose they are much more like western bureaucrats and politicians then the previous generations ( including the present bosses of China)

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Sock Puppet of the Great Satan 11.12.07 at 4:31 pm

“Gambetta and Hertog … show not only that there is a strong relationship between an engineering background and involvement in a variety of Islamic terrorist groups, but to arrive at a plausible hypothesis as to why this relationship pertains.”

Here I was thinking that the solution to Islamic extremist was to export more pr0n. It looks like instead we need to export more Star Trek remakes.

I think that culture-specific reasons are stronger explanations than those reliant on a specific engineering worldview.

“I would imagine that terrorist groups would be looking for people with engineering knowledge, as being better qualified for blowing up buildings. So are they offering special incentives, seeking out and recruiting engineers more than humanities types, encouraging those who already have jihadist leanings to study engineering, etc.?”

Couple of reasons:

1. Engineering is *way* more prestigious in the Middle East than in the UK, or even in the US: it’s on par with being a doctor.

2. At least one engineering professional society (in Egypt) was taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood.

3. It’s an apolitical degree to take, that enables you to make a living without necessarily having contacts within the government. So, if you are inclined towards radicalism, it’s a safer bet to make.

4. You’re more able to get a work visa in the West or elsewhere with a technical education (moreso even than with a medical education: there’re no guild-type barriers). So from an operational or logistics point of view, engineers are attractive because of their freedom of movement. [Western terrorist groups haven’t faced the same immigration-based constraints on logistics and movement, so that’s why you don’t see engineers overrepresented in the IRA or the Weathermen or the Red Army Faction or ETA.]

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Sock Puppet of the Great Satan 11.12.07 at 4:32 pm

“The mindset needed for engineering is similar to the mindset needed for simplistic and reductionist political ideologies. … I suspect many engineers have autism or Asperger’s syndrome. Many of them never really felt comfortable relating to other human beings and find working with machines to be much easier. It’s not surprising that they would be overrepresented in ideologies that try to treat people like machines.”

Agree with the engineering mindset being hyper-reductionist [albeit powerful], but can’t agree with you that they’re overrepresented in ideologies that treat people like machines. Neither the revolutionary leaders of fascism nor marxism were prone to being engineers, nor were Western engineering schools a fertile ground for left-wing groups. (Engineers did play a role in leaderships of China and the USSR, but that was after the revolution and an emphasis on more technocratic skills.)

Similarly, the Japanese terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo didn’t attract engineers more strongly than pure scientists or other disciplines.

“If you’re interested in studying medicine, it means you want to save lives.”

Rhetorical question: Who’s the Number Two in Al-Qaeda?

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maidhc 11.12.07 at 11:06 pm

93. I think the idea here is that some engineers are attracted to belief systems that are highly deterministic and rules-based. Where if you have a question you can look in a book and find out what to do.

They may seek a set of beliefs for their own life which makes it as clear-cut as building a bridge or designing a circuit.

Building bridges and designing circuits are only clear-cut to people who have not done it themselves. There is no book containing solutions to all engineering problems.

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seth edenbaum 11.13.07 at 4:05 am

“I think the idea here is that some engineers are attracted to belief systems that are highly deterministic and rules-based.”

“There is no book containing solutions to all engineering problems.”

The second isn’t a response to the first.

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soru 11.13.07 at 11:58 am

Is there some possibility that some of this may actually be the ideological influence of american science fiction, specifically Asimov and Heinlein? I trust I don’t need to organise a scientific survey to demonstrate a correlation between being an engineer and liking sf.

Heinlein’s critique of democracy in Starship Troopers doesn’t seem a million miles off the arguments of anti-democratic islamists. In his imagined universe, democracy had been tried and failed. In-story, there was a mathematical explanation for that failure, a moral calculus providing a proof of it’s inadequacy.

Asimov’s Foundation trilogy talks about using mathematical reasoning, psychohistory, to predict that destroying the galactic Empire is, despite the short-term megadeaths, an objectively good thing in the long run. Apparently, that was a key inspiration for Aum, although aparently the post 9-11 rumour that the first book was published in Egypt under the title ‘al qaeda’ is, well, baseless.

The distillation of that kind of thinking is the 1950s short the Cold Equations, where a lot of hoops are jumped through to set up a situation where it can be mathematically proven that killing an innocent teenage girl in cold blood is the morally right thing to do.

I think there may be echoes of those ideas in superhero comics too, though I can’t quote specifics.

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Seth Edenbaum 11.13.07 at 6:09 pm

Let HA=AQ
No, it doesn’t begin with in the 1950’s and it doesn’t begin with Isaac Asimov. It doesn’t begin in the 19th century either but it’s a good place to start: with Symbolism and Saussure, with science, engineering, mechanization, and the decay of narrative forms of representation, and of representation itself if you want to get down to it. You want a reading list? Its a long one. If you want to use science fiction think Jules Verne.

Where it ends is in the pataphysical science of signs and naming. Take a few sense impressions and call each a given. Build a logic upon those assumptions and call it a science. The logic will conform strictly to universals, and it will, I’d never say otherwise. That gives you a sense of security. The question is what is it built on?

You operate not from observation and reassessment but from givens, as if names and labels offered stability to things they’re used to designate. Israel is a name, but it doesn’t mean to others what it means to you. “Israel” has no universal meaning, no more than IRA or RUC. It has a legal definition, but law is a social construction. And here’s some news for you. Experts agree: the Palestinian Gerry Adams will come from Hamas. There will be no Gerry Adams from Al Qaeda, ever. Al Qaeda might as well be led by Ted Kaczynski. Look at the data Henry!

It’s not that liberal intellectuals are the only ones with ideology, everyone has an ideology, but technocrats like you (and this refers to all of you at CT) are the ones who say you don’t. And this discussion is where it takes us, and this one.

You’re all so sure of what you are and what you represent, but all you know is what you want to represent, what you want to see yourselves as representing. It begins and ends with intention. Do you understand the history of intention? You’re situating yourselves in a drifting boat and calling it stability. Why is Posner like Scalia, Henry? Keiran? Harry? How is it that libertarians are both anarchists and control freaks? How is it that Brad DeLong can be so unobservant? DeLong is as subject to social determinism as the rest of us, but he doesn’t fight it. Like you he pretends he’s free. And when it’s shown he isn’t, he lies. He lied yesterday. And Henry, you lied in your response to Badger.
There is no intellectualism without intellectual history. You have none. All of you, have none. You’ve replaced it with fantasies. And to defend those fantasies you lie. Not all intellectual failures are moral failures. But some are.

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the_velociraptor 11.14.07 at 5:03 am

I’ve read they follow Qutbism, a sort of Islamic communism, but I think Osama only supports it.

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oneoffmanmental 11.14.07 at 4:08 pm

The amusing thing is that I too was an Islamic extremist studying physics. Then I read Ulrich Beck and got in a disagreement with the “elders” over Max Weber and left. I got into postmodernity and then I lost all my faith.

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s.e. 11.14.07 at 6:20 pm

Ulrich Beck. Had to look him up
“Second modernity”
Nice phrase. As is “cosmopolitan realpolitik.” But both require an understanding of the notion of “sophistication.” Better, both require sophistication itself.
Ain’t none here.

Sophistication requires not only an understanfing of dual allegiences but an admission that you’re already living them; like a military officer in a democratuc country.
To be a regionalist and an internationalist and to enjoy the conflict it brings out in you. Or a Platonist who’s fully aware that Platonism originates not in the world but in sensibility… and who is nonetheless a Platonist (absurd I know). Like a scientist who’s fully aware that the search for “truth” begins not with truth but with desire. There are no secularists here. “Faith” is the word of the day.

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