One curious detail about Iran’s Ahmadinejad is that his degree was in transportation engineering — as far as I know, this makes him the only head of state with such a background (whether this makes the trains run on time in Tehran is another question).
I was thinking of this while reading an interesting piece in the New Scientist, which notes the following curious statistic:
Our finding holds up quite well in another sample of 259 Islamic extremists who are citizens or residents of 14 western, mostly European, countries, and who have recently come to the attention of the authorities for carrying out or plotting a terrorist attack in the west. Although this sample contains far fewer people with higher education than the older members of the first group, nearly 6 out of 10 of those with higher education are engineers.
The authors sort through a number of competing explanations and confounding factors and conclude that, no matter what the actual reason may be, the fact remains that:
So the bottom line is that while the probability of a Muslim engineer becoming a violent Islamist is minuscule, it is still be between three and four times that for other graduates.
Another piece of information from the article is noteworthy in terms of the U.S.:
According to polling data, engineering professors in the US are seven times as likely to be right-wing and religious as other academics, and similar biases apply to students.
Does this apply to traffic engineers as well? One often thinks as engineers as being essentially apolitical (which itself may be political), but if true I wonder where this right-wing bias might come from. Is it a John Galt/Fountainhead sort of thing? (perhaps because her ideas are more memorable or appealing — to some — than her prose, the fans of Ayn Rand rarely tend to be writers, and instead economists and their ilk)
The speculation of the article’s authors, Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog, is:
A lot of piecemeal evidence suggests that characteristics such as greater intolerance of ambiguity, a belief that society can be made to work like clockwork, and dislike of democratic politics which involves compromise, are more common among engineers.
Any left-wing engineers care to weigh in? How do you reconcile these various strands? Do you welcome ambiguity?
An irony about the political strand of engineers to my mind is the proliferation of engineers one finds (or found) in the centrally planned communist countries; in Cuba, for example, you can hardly catch a taxi or order a meal in a restaurant without meeting a former engineer. Per capita the Soviet Union must have dwarfed the U.S. in numbers of engineers.
This entry was posted on Sunday, June 14th, 2009 at 10:47 am and is filed under Etc.. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.