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Why Are Terrorists Often Engineers? 769

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the break-out-the-asbestos dept.
An anonymous reader writes "As a follow up to their September 2008 article, IEEE Spectrum revisits the question of why a disproportionate number of terrorists have engineering degrees. According to their own summary of the interview with political scientist Steffen Hertog, 'nearly half of [individuals involved in political violence] with degrees have been engineers,' a rather ambiguous statement especially for a publication targeted at engineers. The interview makes some interesting points (lack of job opportunities for engineers despite a relatively high social status) and some suspect ones (e.g. framing Islamic culture into the western left vs. right politics). Above all, IEEE Spectrum tries really hard to associate engineers with terrorism for some reason."
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Why Are Terrorists Often Engineers?

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  • Aptitude (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sonny Yatsen (603655) * on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:41AM (#33600250) Journal

    Maybe a little mechanical or chemical aptitude is the reason. A bomber with an engineering degree might have the skills necessary to build a bomb and not blow themselves up in the process, whereas a non-engineer bomber might either fail to build a bomb or wind up blowing themselves to kingdom come.

    Just look at Faisal Shazad, the guy from Connecticut who tried to blow up Times Square. He tried to build his bomb with a toy clock and M80 firecrackers. He had a business degree.

    • Re:Aptitude (Score:5, Funny)

      by Lurker2288 (995635) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:43AM (#33600272)
      But I bet he could write a really scary business plan! OOOH!
      • Re:Aptitude (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Thanshin (1188877) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:48AM (#33600338)

        But I bet he could write a really scary business plan! OOOH!

        You think Madoff was an engineer?

        You think an engineer would be able to do such damage?

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Pojut (1027544)

          The bombs dropped on Japan in WWII weren't just the products of scientists, you know...it's hard to build a bomb with a crowbar.

          • Re:Aptitude (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Thanshin (1188877) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:56AM (#33600486)

            The bombs dropped on Japan in WWII weren't just the products of scientists, you know...it's hard to build a bomb with a crowbar.

            The bombs dropped on Japan were the end result of a country wide effort that implicated people from every (useful) discipline.

            I agree that a matematician or a physicist can have a deeper impact than almost any other professional. But right after them come the rulers, high level politicians, economists, etc.

            • by Anonymous Coward

              ...the REAL reason terrorists tend to be engineers is because we get so damn frustrated with the way people outright REFUSE to give us the level of respect (and wealth) that our superior intelligence warrants.

              You small-minded bastards deserve what you get!

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by rubycodez (864176)

              False, only politicians could amass the immense resources and authorize the drop.

              "Guns over swords.
              Nuclear bombs over guns.
              If we had one of those, it'd be great.
              But it's set so only politicians get 'em." -- Revy, Black Lagoon

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by jockeys (753885)
            No, but they were designed by engineers. Not built.

            Engineers design the product, then they design the process (by which the product is mass produced.) Then laborers build it.
          • Re:Aptitude (Score:5, Funny)

            by Yvan256 (722131) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:58AM (#33600530) Homepage Journal

            I bet MacGyver could do it with only a crowbar.

      • Re:Aptitude (Score:5, Funny)

        by Darth_brooks (180756) * <clipper377@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:53AM (#33600424) Homepage

        The difference between engineering majors and business majors:

        The part of the flowchart that says "then a miracle occurs" is a joke to engineering majors. For business majors, it's a required step that makes perfect sense.

        • Re:Aptitude (Score:4, Funny)

          by DeadCatX2 (950953) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:32PM (#33601030) Journal

          The limit of an engineering major as GPA approaches 0 is a business major.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          One year at my university, the students in the engineering college had a "I Wish I Was a Business Major" week. They had organized trips to bars, a golf outing, and other related activities. They were replications of events business students had actually done that semester.

          The organizers had to issue a mea culpa.

        • Re:Aptitude (Score:4, Funny)

          by Facegarden (967477) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @03:22PM (#33603192)

          The difference between engineering majors and business majors:

          The part of the flowchart that says "then a miracle occurs" is a joke to engineering majors. For business majors, it's a required step that makes perfect sense.

          You mean they actually *teach* ????->PROFIT?

    • Re:Aptitude (Score:5, Insightful)

      by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:46AM (#33600316) Homepage Journal

      And, more to the point, it's more likely that those terrorists got their engineering degrees as a result of their choice to be a terrorist, rather than the other way around. There are millions of engineers in this country that aren't going around blowing stuff up and killing people.

      • Re:Aptitude (Score:5, Funny)

        by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:52AM (#33600402)

        There are millions of engineers in this country that aren't going around blowing stuff up and killing people.

        right. that's management's job.

        • Re:Aptitude (Score:4, Insightful)

          by commodore64_love (1445365) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:57AM (#33600496) Journal

          >>>that's management's job.

          Or the accountants: "Yes we knew that Ford Pintos were blowing-up, but we determined it was cheaper to pay-off the victims' vamilis rather than fix the fuel tank's flawed design."

    • Re:Aptitude (Score:5, Insightful)

      by robot256 (1635039) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:50AM (#33600362)

      THIS!!

      There have been news articles about terrorist organizations specifically recruiting engineers for their skills so they can build weapons. This is not some coincidence of psychology, it is a fact of necessity. If terrorists were selected randomly, or were a naturally occurring phenomenon, then yes, we would have lots of non-engineers trying to make bombs and messing up. But terrorists are made, not born, and they intentionally proselytize engineers because they don't want to waste time cleaning up after idiots.

      • Re:Aptitude (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ageoffri (723674) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:57AM (#33600508)
        Exactly! Also another thing to consider is that while "The war on terror" is relatively new to the US. Around the world it has been going on for decades. So another thing that I don't have proof but I'd be willing to bet on is that at Madarasaa's kids are groomed to get engineering degrees while at the same time being indoctrinated about the evils of Western society and how Islam must rule the world. Literally generations of kids are being raised, most as cannon fodder, some for technical skills, and a small group as leaders.
      • Re:Aptitude (Score:5, Funny)

        by barzok (26681) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:05PM (#33600654)

        There have been news articles about terrorist organizations specifically recruiting engineers for their skills so they can build weapons. This is not some coincidence of psychology, it is a fact of necessity.

        I had a bunch of Iranians ask me to build them a nuclear bomb. I gave them a box full of pinball machine parts & kept the Plutonium to use as fuel for my time machine.

      • Re:Aptitude (Score:5, Insightful)

        by johnny cashed (590023) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:53PM (#33601320) Homepage
        Not to mention that Defense Contractors working for the United States Government are also specifically recruiting engineers who have the skills needed to build weapons which are designed to kill people.

        Imagine that. Engineers building bombs and weapons. Sometimes a noble profession, sometimes just another job.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rolfwind (528248)

      Maybe because they can be the geekier type that have less social lives, maybe feel alienated from those around them, and thus easier to isolate and brainwash. The fiercest arguments I see online are among geeks/nerds as well, many think they are absolutely correct in any area they have studied...

      I'm not saying this is a norm for geeks, but I could definitely see a subset vulnerable to fanatical groups and at the same time, valued because of their skills.

      • Re:Aptitude (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Shadow Wrought (586631) * <shadow@wrought.gmail@com> on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:36PM (#33601090) Homepage Journal
        Engineering is also a very exact science. The component will either bear the load or it will not. There's not a whole lot of grey area there, so it tends to be a very black and white disciplne. Zealots of any stripe, terrorist or otherwise, view the world in stark terms. My way is right, everyone else's is wrong. So it is not all that surprising that people who see the world in black and white terms get caught up with black and white causes.
        • Re:Aptitude (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Tacvek (948259) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @01:42PM (#33601932) Journal

          Engineering can be an exact science. It can also be an inexact science. for example, you are designing a relatively simple structure, such as a desk. How much load will you design to desk to support? Ideally somebody would tell you that, but there are many cases where that does not happen. You probably have a per item budget, but should you use it all? Possibly not. If you can design a product that comes in under bellow the budgeted cost, but still looks good, and can function in the desired use-cases that is a good thing.

          What components do you use? The permissible material types are almost always predetermined by the company, but even those have often have a three-way trade-off between looks, strength, and cost. Ideally the engineer should be outlining the basic possibilities, and have the company choose which trade-off to make, but since in complex projects there are hundreds of such decisions, the engineers usually need to make at least some of these calls.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          The component will either bear the load or it will not...

          ...subject to limits on our knowledge of the material's properties, batch-to-batch variations of material composition, manufacturing variations, transport and handling damage, assembly methods, ambient conditions, sensor error, degradation over time, controls failures, operator error, etc. etc.

          Black and white discipline, huh? I bet you write code for a living.
        • Re:Aptitude (Score:5, Insightful)

          by gweihir (88907) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @03:13PM (#33603072)

          Engineering is also a very exact science. The component will either bear the load or it will not. There's not a whole lot of grey area there, so it tends to be a very black and white disciplne. Zealots of any stripe, terrorist or otherwise, view the world in stark terms. My way is right, everyone else's is wrong. So it is not all that surprising that people who see the world in black and white terms get caught up with black and white causes.

          As a PhD level engineer, I can tell you that this is pretty wrong. Engineering has a lot of shades of gray and a lot of places that require judgment calls. What is however true, is that engineering has a universal truth model, namely if it works at the end, then you did it right. For religion, the surface may look the same, but underneath, it is quite different, because there is no observable test whether you were right! For that reason I doubt that the terrorists get any of the good engineers at all. I can very well understand bad engineers going that way, because their constant failure in their chosen discipline will have them looking for something they can do better. Point in case: The underpants-bomber. No good engineer would be caught dead messing a simple practical problem up that badly.

    • Re:Aptitude (Score:5, Funny)

      by east coast (590680) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:52AM (#33600404)
      Just look at Faisal Shazad, the guy from Connecticut who tried to blow up Times Square. He tried to build his bomb with a toy clock and M80 firecrackers. He had a business degree.

      In all fairness, it was a very economical bomb.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hatta (162192)

        He probably would have done more damage if he had used the business degree instead. AIG, CitiGroup, etc have certainly done more damage to the US than any terrorist attack.

    • Re:Aptitude (Score:5, Insightful)

      by somersault (912633) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:52AM (#33600410) Homepage Journal

      Yeah, I expect it depends how you define "terrorist". If it's "someone who causes havoc by blowing stuff up", then it seems rather desirable to have some kind of technical training. If you extend terrorist acts to suicide sprees with a gun for example, does the ratio hold?

      If you restrict "terrorists" to the category of "people who have successfully blown stuff up", then the headline is kind of like saying "why are professional drummers often good at banging things rhythmically together?"

      I tried to RTFA but it's been Slashdotted, so if they do have a really wide definition of terrorism then I agree that it makes for a decent question. The answer is probably something obvious like the fact that engineers are generally relatively clever and technically capable, but not great at socialising.

    • Re:Aptitude (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Mongoose Disciple (722373) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:52AM (#33600416)

      Maybe a little mechanical or chemical aptitude is the reason. A bomber with an engineering degree might have the skills necessary to build a bomb and not blow themselves up in the process, whereas a non-engineer bomber might either fail to build a bomb or wind up blowing themselves to kingdom come.

      That's exactly what I was thinking -- our statistics mostly count the successes, not the attempts. Engineers are the guys with the skills to do it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by happy_place (632005)
      certainly a certain amount of technical ability is required not to blow yourself up. However, I'm sitting here in my cube listening to two engineers (who won't shut up) go on about how to solve the world's problems. this one guy is going on about how corrupt the court system is, and how he has some sister-in-law that speeds and gets off by manipulating the system. in his opinion (though he never presents it as his opinion, instead it's factual, according to him) he believes every time someone speeds people
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tixxit (1107127)
      Also, in a lot of other countries arts degrees really aren't an option. If you are going to university, you are likely going to be an engineer or a doctor.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Phoobarnvaz (1030274)

      Just look at Faisal Shazad, the guy from Connecticut who tried to blow up Times Square. He tried to build his bomb with a toy clock and M80 firecrackers. He had a business degree.

      As long as he talked to both Bob's and had his TPS reports in order...nothing would have happened to him. On the other hand...if they took his red Swingline stapler...I can understand why he did what he did.

  • by psergiu (67614) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:50AM (#33600360)

    Maybe is because Engineers have a more technical & logical mind and once they set their sights on a goal are more likely to finish it ?

    I don't think any Politicians/Lawyers would be able to do the same. They will just stage a theatrical act out of which they can escape untouched or just switch sides.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by slick7 (1703596)

      Maybe is because Engineers have a more technical & logical mind and once they set their sights on a goal are more likely to finish it ?

      I don't think any Politicians/Lawyers would be able to do the same. They will just stage a theatrical act out of which they can escape untouched or just switch sides.

      It's getting deep around here. The reason "terrorists" are engineers stems from the fact that they are educated. The requirements of advanced education is the ability to perform critical thinking, understand integrated mechanisms (whether physical or psychological), be able to move through iterations in a logical manner.
      Even though these "terrorists" may plan attacks, so do educated governments. The true terrorist will manipulate the un-educated masses to advance their causes while "they", the educated, rem

  • by Spazntwich (208070) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:51AM (#33600370)

    The only thing a humanities degree will teach you to blow up is your future.

  • Actually... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TiggertheMad (556308) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:51AM (#33600392) Homepage Journal
    There is a disconnect here. The engineers only appear to be the dominant profession of choice because they are the only ones who can actually build bombs. Actually, vast numbers of knitting enthusiasts are aspiring terrorists. Unfortunately, their background and skill set only allows them to create scratchy scarves and mittens.

    Also, I have a theory that terrorists/bakers are responsible for all the Christmas fruitcakes....
  • Meaningless (Score:5, Insightful)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:54AM (#33600438)
    I am sure you would find that an unusually high number of non-Terrorist Asians and Middle-easterners are engineers too (compared to the west). These people are often from wealthy families in Saudi Arabia and Yemen (and a few other parts of Asia and the Middle east)--and university students in those areas are known mostly for their interests in hard science, business, and engineering. You don't see a lot of history or literature majors in those areas (when's the last time you saw a Saudi come to the U.S. to study journalism or art?).
  • Why? (Score:5, Funny)

    by MarkGriz (520778) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:55AM (#33600450)

    We could tell you, but then we'd have to kill you.

  • Engineers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Elektroschock (659467) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:55AM (#33600470)

    Engineers are the people who get it done and understand that technology matters. I mean, you don't win a war by bravery or the capabilities of your leaders but because the rifles load faster. Engineers also believe in objective and observable truth. And honestly, politicians are an offense.

    And the WTC attack master mind Muhammed Atta was a city planner, maybe impressed by what Operation Gomorrah contributed to the city he resided in.

  • by Bill Dimm (463823) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:55AM (#33600472) Homepage

    I remember reading once that men were much less likely to engage in terrorism if they had a wife (or was it a girlfriend -- I'm too lazy to hunt down the reference). The real problem is that engineers can't get laid, so they become terrorists. So, ladies, for the sake of world peace, sleep with an engineer.

    • by maillemaker (924053) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:56PM (#33601370)

      >I remember reading once that men were much less likely to engage in terrorism if they had a wife (or was it a girlfriend -- I'm too lazy to hunt down the reference).

      You've been modded as "funny", but I think you should have been modded as "insightful".

      Engineers are still, by and large, the nerds. There is probably more than a grain of truth to the observation that people who don't fit in very well socially find comfort in academic endeavors, as opposed to social or athletic endeavors.

      If I was going to go find people to blow stuff up for me, social misfits would be a nice place to start. The fact that they are smart enough to design bombs is a bonus.

  • by mrogers (85392) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:56AM (#33600480)
    I think this can be answered by looking at how the question is framed. The question doesn't ask why politically radical people are likely to be engineers. It asks why that subset of politically radical people who decide that the best solution to political problems is through the direct application of technology are likely to be engineers. Well guess what? That subset of any group that tries to solve every problem by applying technology probably contains a lot of engineers.

    It's unfortunate for the world that most problems can't be solved that way. But that doesn't stop a lot of technically adept people from trying.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:56AM (#33600492) Journal
    Surprised IEEE site is not able to handle the load.
  • by mikeabbott420 (744514) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:57AM (#33600504) Journal

    They started this anti-engineer jihad but we will finish it.

  • by Steauengeglase (512315) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:58AM (#33600510)

    The revolutionary mindset has something to do with it. Your average goat herder or basket weaver isn't all that interested in toppling whatever ideology he resents. That kind of stuff is generally a product of an angry, middle class; those who aren't as concerned with where their next meal comes from. Those coming from an emergent middle-class often follow fields that are more necessary. You need doctors and engineers before you need psychologists and art majors.

  • by zill (1690130) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:59AM (#33600536)
    OS wars,
    Distribution wars,
    Browser wars,
    Editor wars.
    Let's face it, regardless whether you choose to engage in radical Islamism, engineering is a violent and dangerous discipline.
  • by Skjellifetti (561341) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:00PM (#33600564) Journal
    It would be interesting to compare engineers with liberal arts grads on the terrorist spectrum. Engineers are not usually required to take the wide variety of non-technical courses that are supposed to give lib arts majors a grounding in history, art, social sciences, languages, etc. My hypothesis is that this might make engineers a little more rigid in their critical thinking skills and less comprehension of just how complex the world really is. If you have a better understanding of where you and your culture fit into the larger sweep of human history, are you more or less likely to engage in throwing bombs? I don't know the answer to that, but would like to see some stats or papers if anyone else does.
  • And Creationists (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Epeeist (2682) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:02PM (#33600584) Homepage

    As Bruce Salem notes those who support creationism and claim scientific credentials tend to be engineers - http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Salem_hypothesis

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jpapon (1877296)
      The Salem hypothesis is just ridiculous. Of course someone with a B.S. degree who also believes in creationism is more likely to be an engineer than a physicist or biologist.

      That's like saying someone who claims to have medical training but doesn't know how to properly set a fractured bone is more likely to be a dentist then a doctor.

      Or that someone with a B.S. degree who believes electrons move at the speed of light through wires is more likely to be a biology major than an EE or physicist.

      There's bo

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:02PM (#33600592)

    It would be that Middle Eastern culture seems to value engineering as a "real" degree and many others as not. So the bight students are forced in to engineering degrees, like it or not. My freshmen year I met a guy like that. Hated engineering but his government was sponsoring him to come to the US and learn it so he had no choice. In China you actually see this go further in that more or less everyone in the government is an "engineer" now I put that in quotes because they have lots of degrees that we wouldn't call engineering that they do. Basically the word is what matters. If you are an "engineer" you are good to go. However if you get the same kind of degree but are not an engineer, well then too bad for you.

    Our engineering college sees more foreign grad students from a few places than any other place. It isn't like it is the only "hard science" college. Computer science, chemistry, optics, pharmacy, then are in different colleges. However only we award "engineering" degrees. Get a masters in Chemistry and it is just that, it is not Chemical Engineering. That title of "engineer" seems to be the only thing acceptable to many.

  • Doing Things (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cajun Hell (725246) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:05PM (#33600652) Homepage Journal

    Engineering is about creating and realizing plans for getting things done, rather than just sitting there thinking, "What a shame that the world isn't the way I want it to be. If only there were a bridge over that river and a piece of software that does what I want with my spam. But there isnt. *sigh* Oh well, I'll just accept the world as it is."

    An engineer with a political goal can vote for a representative, but that's more like hiring a political engineer than being one. Directly trying to personally cause a policy change is appealing, but most of the avenues for doing that, have high social barriers. Terrorism actually does too, but a stupid or naive engineer (i.e. a person who thinks terrorism is actually effective at persuading people to see things the terrorist's way) will see it as a way to personally get the job done, without having to rely on other people who will just drop the ball. "While you're all pointlessly talking, I can go shoot someone."

  • by cindik (650476) <solidusfullstop@@@cindik...com> on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:06PM (#33600658) Homepage Journal
    Part of the allure may be that carrying out such an attack is a challenging problem to solve. Engineers are all about solving problems, figuring out puzzles, coming up with elegant solutions.
  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:08PM (#33600686)

    Above all, IEEE Spectrum tries really hard to associate engineers with terrorism for some reason.

    They're trying to show that engineers can get jobs even in this economy!

  • Smart==unhappy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ArhcAngel (247594) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:10PM (#33600724)

    I have noticed a disproportionate number of intellectuals are depressed. Probably because they are smart enough to know no matter what you do you are screwed. This in turn leads to acting out against the dumb/happy people. The dumb/happy people are generally unphased because they didn't even realized you just dissed them making the intellectual even more furious. Which in turn leads them to target the dumbest group of all...that's right...government officials which gets twisted to be a political statement instead of the "kill all dumb people" it was truly intended as.

  • by not5150 (732114) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:11PM (#33600736)
    I always knew Active Directory was part of some global terrorist plot.
  • by nick_davison (217681) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:11PM (#33600742)

    The terrorists have actually recruited exactly the same number of liberal arts students as engineers. But it's only been nine years and the liberal arts students haven't got out of bed yet. They totally intend to attack something and have some really great ideas that'll totally change the neo facist world order but, well, Oprah was on. Plus, do you know how hard it is to hide explosives on your crotch when you're wearing your little sister's skinny jeans!

  • Oh no.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by arielCo (995647) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:12PM (#33600752)
    Not this [slashdot.org] crap [slashdot.org] again [slashdot.org]
  • by Eunuchswear (210685) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:15PM (#33600800) Journal

    According to their own summary of the interview with political scientist Steffen Hertog, 'nearly half of [individuals involved in political violence] with degrees have been engineers,' a rather ambiguous statement

    What's ambiguous about that?

  • by hessian (467078) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:19PM (#33600864) Homepage Journal

    Most people think in terms of emotions, the equality of individuals, rights, etc.

    Engineers think about society as if it were a machine that needs fixing (and given our overpopulation, pollution, ugly modern lifestyles, boring architecture, slavish jobs, etc. they may have a point). They are thinking of the long term consequences of our actions.

    Unfortunately, this kind of thinking terrifies 99% of the population who never want to be told what to do, or that what they're doing (buying SUVs, having 11 illiterate grubby children) is wrong. They want to think about their karmic pleasures, like who they're having sex with, what they're buying, who thinks they are pretty on myspace, etc.

    If your ideas are demonized by 99% of a population, your only recourse is to be a terrorist or extreme ideologue.

    * Ted Kaczynski (advanced mathematics)
    * William Pierce (physics degree from Rice U)
    * David Myatt (IT guru)
    * Joseph Goebbels (PhD in philosophy)

    And doubtless many more.

  • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:22PM (#33600900) Homepage Journal

    The points already made about engineers being specifically recruited for their skills, being the ones most likely to be successful (or nearly so), and engineering being a very dominant field of study among educated middle-easterners are all well-taken, as are the jokes about antisocial engineers who can't get laid, but I wonder if there's not another element.

    Engineers are, by aptitude and by training, problem solvers. We tend to look at the world as a series of problems to be solved, and to be fairly realistic about the materials and capabilities available to us. We also have a tendency to focus on approaches that involved hardware and technology rather than social processes. I think those factors may lead an intelligent young engineer who is extremely unhappy with perceived injustice and sufficiently fanatical about it to be willing to resort to violence to consider terrorism.

    If, for example, you really felt you wanted to get the USA out of the middle east, you would immediately realize that economic forces are working against you. The US really wants middle-eastern oil. That makes political protests unlikely to succeed at anything, particularly protests of the scale and in the places you can manage. Conventional military options are clearly infeasible, even if you could manage to apply the full power of your nation's military, and even fully mobilize your country on a war footing, the US military is just too advanced, too powerful. You have to find something you can do to make the US want to leave. You can't make the oil go away, but maybe you can make it too costly to obtain.

    In that situation, asymmetric warfare, AKA terrorism, is the logical choice. It requires little resources, is made vastly more effective with technical skill and detailed planning, and allows you to strike an actual blow against your perceived "oppressors". Of course, it's only one small blow, and won't by itself accomplish anything. Still, it's all you can do, and it's something substantial.

    I can see that. Lack of actual experience with violence and the messy, complicated ways things go wrong may actually help as well.

  • by dorpus (636554) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:56PM (#33601364)

    Having been in engineering majors before, I can testify that engineers receive little or no training in ethics. Antisocial attitudes are rife; they are trained to look down on other people, and think it's "funny" to install a virus on someone's computer or blow something up with a pipe bomb. I was a software engineer for 10 years, but I got fed up with these attitudes, so I moved into the health professions. I feel much happier here; it's all about caring for other people.

  • by andy1307 (656570) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:57PM (#33601382)
    Isn't it obvious? Engineers can't get laid in this life. They're only chance of getting laid is the 72 virgins.
  • by tyrr (306852) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @01:08PM (#33601502)
    Looking back at the events of 2008, how many financial terrorists who created the situation had business degrees? I bet pretty much all of them.
    The overall damage done to society by terrorist in business suits exceeds any other terror damage by far.
  • Common ground (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Guppy06 (410832) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @01:10PM (#33601530)

    Both have a worldview consisting of strict mathematical certainty, with no room for shades of gray.

    Both place little value in opinions or interests that do not align with theirs.

    Both are more likely to blame their problems on external factors rather than internal flaws.

    Both grossly oversimplify interpersonal relationships.

    Both have an innate sense of superiority.

    Take a look at the way the OP blames the magazine publisher and at some of the highly rated comments here for examples.

  • Bloody mindedness (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ga_101 (755815) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @01:33PM (#33601822)
    There are a few reasons I suspect and not all of them are about how awesome and useful they are as most of the posts above would have you believe. If technical skill was all that was required, why are there not more chemists?

    From personal experiences only, I would say it is the fundamental difference in mindset required to practice a science over engineering. Self doubt and questioning are par for the course in the physical sciences, indeed it would be extremely difficult to do the job without the question "Are you sure?" running through your head every 15 min. Engineers on the other hand tend to deal in absolutes, laws carved in stone, it works or it doesn't, black and white. This does appeal to those with a predisposition to ignore shades of gray and are exactly the same traits as those of a fundamentalist of any persuasion, making them the ideal recruiting target.

    This can be summed up by saying engineers tend to have a "I'm right. I'm right. I'M FUCKING RIGHT!" attitude to their work and life in general and woe betide anybody who tells them otherwise.

    Disclaimer.... I openly accept that there is variability in any population, I made sweeping generalizations etc. This was done to stop the post turning into a monty python sketch listing all the exemptions. But the very fact I'm writing this disclaimer is a dead give-away that I am not an engineer.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @02:34PM (#33602586)
    Its a much broader degree than in the USA, including many business, science, and vocational majors. Parents pretty much expect their sons in college study engineering. Colleges comply by calling more subjects engineering.

    A similar misconception arises when with the saying "China [or India] graduates many more engineers than the USA". When you normalize for the fact that engineering Asia covers things not considered engineering in the USA, then the difference is not that great.

Somebody ought to cross ball point pens with coat hangers so that the pens will multiply instead of disappear.

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