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Why Do So Many Terrorists Have Engineering Degrees

CmdrTaco posted more than 4 years ago | from the holy-crap-you-gotta-be-kidding-me dept.

News 736

Socguy noted that Slate is apparently a little desperate for some traffic as they are writing about"Why so many of the terrorists have engineering degrees, and they come to the conclusion that engineers and engineering students are much more likely to hold strong conservative and religious views than a general cross section of the public. Further, engineers tend to hold a particular mind-set that disdains ambiguity and compromise. Terrorist organizations have long recognized that engineering departments are fertile ground for recruitment and have concentrated their efforts there. A 2005 report from British intelligence noted that Islamic extremists were frequenting college campuses, looking for 'inquisitive' students who might be susceptible to their message. In particular, the report noted, they targeted engineers."

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736 comments

Obvious answer? (4, Insightful)

gehrehmee (16338) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592800)

Could it be that engineering degrees are a dime-a-dozen in oil-rich countries where middle-eastern terrorists usually originate? How many people in these countries don't have engineering degrees?

Re:Obvious answer? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30592984)

Nah. It's just that those terrorists without engineering degrees won't even make the news due to ineptitude. See this [wikipedia.org] for further studies on the topic.

Re:Obvious answer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30592994)

I think Murphy's Law has something to do with it. Engineers know that Nature doesn't care one whit what humans do or think. That is, to Nature, humans are nothing special, and are casually swatted by earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, landslides, etc. So, engineers can obtain a viewpoint that humans are bugs to squash when they get in the way of Progress. Now, as to the definition of Progress, and who defines it, those are other matters altogether (religion certainly has its views on that subject!).

Re:Obvious answer? (3, Interesting)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593198)

Another issue is that engineering students are more likely to have enough skills to really pull off a terrorist act.

Many terrorist acts today involves a certain level of technology - everything from flying an aircraft to connecting two wires.

So there is no wonder that the terrorist organizations are targeting engineering students as a first choice. Just imagine how well another type of student would be able to rig an explosive or cause problems.

And there is also something behind the idea that many other societies are pushing hard in the engineering sector. It's only in the western world today that engineers are seen as some kind of low level creep that creates atomic bombs, weapons and biohazards - and that the best and highest rated people are instead working as actors, participate in reality shows like "Big Brother" or focus on essentially non-productive stuff like sociology.

Re:Obvious answer? (5, Informative)

rve (4436) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593254)

Could it be that engineering degrees are a dime-a-dozen in oil-rich countries where middle-eastern terrorists usually originate? How many people in these countries don't have engineering degrees?

Hmm... some googling:

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed got his engineering degree in North Carolina.
Mohammed Atta got an engineering degree in Cairo (and studied English and German there), but his PhD in Hamburg, Germany.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab studied mechanical engineering in London, UK. It's unclear whether he graduated.

Speaking of degrees being a dime a dozen: In the United States, almost 30% of the population has at a Bachelors degree or higher, and again that many have attended university but only have an associates degree or nothing. In other words, unless wikipedia [wikipedia.org] is wrong, two thirds of the population has attended college. According to the Unesco website [unesco.org] , the situation is similar in Western Europe. According to that same website, "23% attended college in the Arab States, 11% in South and West Asia and, despite rapid growth, only 6% in Africa"

Google is refusing to specify these statistics to engineering degrees, but the numbers above suggest that degrees are actually a dime a dozen in "the west", and not in the oil rich countries where middle eastern terrorists usually originate.

Over the years it has gotten more and more clear to me that (counter-intuitively perhaps) it is entirelty possible for very intelligent, learned and hard working men to be religious fanatics, homicidal maniacs, perverts, terrorists, psychopaths, all-round assholes or all of the above. Moral outlook and intelligence don't seem to be very strongly related at all.

Newbie (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30592804)

Hi im new!

EE times came to a similar conclusion (5, Informative)

ProfBooty (172603) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592816)

Didn't the EEtimes come to a similar conclusion last year?

http://it.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/04/03/1943247 [slashdot.org]

http://www.eetimes.com/news/latest/showArticle.jhtml;?articleID=207001533 [eetimes.com]

I recall it had more to do with planning skills than anything else.

Re:EE times came to a similar conclusion (5, Funny)

CraftyJack (1031736) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592900)

My question: Why do so many people with liberal arts degrees write articles about this?

"Playing Nice" is Not Considered a Virtue (3, Interesting)

RobotRunAmok (595286) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593032)

So many of the Engineers I have known view "seeing both sides of the story" as some kind of weakness or soft-spined compromise. "Right is Right, Wrong is Wrong, I'm Right, and that's all there is to it. Period. Full Stop. Now If You'll Excuse Me, I've got to get back to My Important Thing."

Of course, more times than not, they ARE right. Just pains in the ass, and living in their Own Private Idaho.

It's not every engineer, of course, but a much larger percentage than, say, the writers or entertainers or sales-and-marketing suits whose company I have frequented over the past few decades. I've never made the connection before, but yes, most of the socially-dysfunctional engineers I know would make really good religious extremists.

Re:"Playing Nice" is Not Considered a Virtue (1)

neurovish (315867) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593188)

So many of the Engineers I have known view "seeing both sides of the story" as some kind of weakness or soft-spined compromise. "Right is Right, Wrong is Wrong, I'm Right, and that's all there is to it. Period. Full Stop. Now If You'll Excuse Me, I've got to get back to My Important Thing."

Of course, more times than not, they ARE right. Just pains in the ass, and living in their Own Private Idaho.

It's not every engineer, of course, but a much larger percentage than, say, the writers or entertainers or sales-and-marketing suits whose company I have frequented over the past few decades. I've never made the connection before, but yes, most of the socially-dysfunctional engineers I know would make really good religious extremists.

That's probably because deep down in their tiny hearts sales-and-marketing suits know that they're wrong.
As for the writers and entertainers, they're just flaky artists who only have convictions about popular or well known causes that have an easily digested platform and talking points of course.

Engineers, however, are correct and they have the data to back it up. You don't want to tangle with the data.

Re:"Playing Nice" is Not Considered a Virtue (1)

JamesP (688957) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593194)

It's probably to do with the following:

In math, 2+2 = 4 and that's it. There's no compromise to be done, no flexibility, etc

Now: how do you paint a picture?! How to make a DVD player menu look nice?! And, curiously enough: how to stop global terrorism?!

Also, lots of people in math/engineering etc do have some kind of mental disease. I know asperger's the 'fashionale' one but even in the past: think about Goedel, Cantor, etc, etc, etc...

Thomas Jefferson (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30592830)

Inventor and engineer, also a revolutionary. Lucky for him (and us), a successful one.

Wonder what names the British called him and his compatriots? Blow the dust off your history book and find out.

Boy did I ever post this anonymously.

Re:Thomas Jefferson (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30592980)

Finally a signal of intelligent life on /.

Re:Thomas Jefferson (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30593182)

Don't worry. It'll be downmodded into oblivion and no one will be the wiser.

Dupe? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30592832)

I could've sworn I read nearly the same article over a year or more ago.. which was posted on /. as well.

Lets see (4, Insightful)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592846)

From my engineering degree

Chemical explosives - check
Electronic devices - check
Radio communications - check
Problem solving techniques - check
Analyzing systems for failure modes/exploitation - check

Nah .. can't see why an engineering degree would be useful to a terrorist at all

What was really fun was that the US Green card application specifically asks you if have had training in a lot of the above techniques. and I had no idea what sort of red flags sent up by me truthfully answering the questions

Re:Lets see (5, Funny)

lxs (131946) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592880)

You forgot:

Awkward around girls - check

Re:Lets see (5, Funny)

A. B3ttik (1344591) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592956)

This is a good point. The promise of 72 Virgins is probably much more enticing to geek engineers.

Re:Lets see (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30593212)

That proves how geeky they are. We all know that if you want to have a good time, you'd want the 72 sluts.

The virgins just look at you stupidly.

Re:Lets see (0)

JamesP (688957) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593220)

I'm probably the only one that would think that the terrorism problem would be solving by taking them to a TGIF to have a Guinness and a huge burguer...

Re:Lets see (2, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592886)

Not only that, but if you're looking for someone who's also frustrated and ready to blow up the world, you could do a lot worse than to find an engineer.

Re:Lets see (5, Insightful)

FlyByPC (841016) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593020)

Chemical explosives - check

Electronic devices - check

Radio communications - check

Problem solving techniques - check

Analyzing systems for failure modes/exploitation - check

Same here, but:

...Ability to blindly swallow what religious authorities tell me? Uh oh. We're a "no-go" on that one, Houston.

It's amazing to me that anyone with an engineering background could have blind (I.E. without tangible proof) faith in any religion. Agnosticism seems to me to be the viewpoint most consistent with an Engineering outlook (until a religion provides some kind of tangible proof, which goes against what most of them say about faith.)

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. If I were to claim to have a device that could solve any problem in linear time, or that produced more energy than it consumed, or that nullified gravity, any engineer worth the title would be highly skeptical and would demand to see hard data before believing such a claim.

It doesn't make sense to me that most people with this sort of engineering mindset could blindly accept extraordinary claims (made by whichever religion.) I'm not saying they're necessarily wrong -- just that they are very difficult to believe without strong evidence.

Re:Lets see (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30593106)

It doesn't make sense to me that most people with this sort of engineering mindset could blindly accept extraordinary claims (made by whichever religion.) I'm not saying they're necessarily wrong -- just that they are very difficult to believe without strong evidence.

Yeah, I don't understand why OS X is so popular amongst engineers either.

Re:Lets see (1)

Dr. Zim (21278) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593158)

Because we like well designed things that function as they should?

Re:Lets see (2, Insightful)

NotSoHeavyD2 (1382727) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593136)

...Ability to blindly swallow what religious authorities tell me? Uh oh. We're a "no-go" on that one, Houston

Err, well if you were already religious you might be more willing to put up with all the crap required to get an engineering degree. (Since you know, you're really doing it for god.)

Re:Lets see (3, Insightful)

Razalhague (1497249) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593206)

Not all terrorists are religious.

Re:Lets see (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30593236)

I suspect religion is not as important to these people as you may think.

I think there is another typical engineer trait that is more important.

Doing it because you can. To pull it off. Being absorbed in a project and seeing through.

I mean, ask someone who has just built a perfect scale replica of a trebuchet why he did it. He'll feed you some bullshit about history and what not, but I think ultimately he doesn't really know why he did it.

Re:Lets see (2, Insightful)

bwalling (195998) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593294)

Maybe they're looking at it in the wrong direction. Religious zealot who wants to carry out an elaborate attack gets an engineering degree to pull it off.

Re:Lets see (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30593196)

Problem solving, sure. Yet they fail to notice that terrorism as a strategy strengthens the status quo more than the ideals terrorists declare to follow. Uh and that when you have recruitment problems suicide missions are not the best thing. Uh and that when the other side waterboards thousands of potentially innocent people for years and then release em, it means they are perfectly comfortable with these guys around: either stupidity or the joke's on the terrorists, you decide.

Not so fast ... (5, Insightful)

LaughingCoder (914424) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592854)

Further, engineers tend to hold a particular mind-set that disdains ambiguity and compromise.

While I might somewhat agree with the notion that engineers disdain ambiguity, I completely disagree with the statement that engineers hate compromise. Im my mind, engineering is the art of compromise, and that is what separates us from "scientists". We crave efficiency, which in turn *requires* compromises. We constantly make tradeoffs between costs, quality and schedule, with the goal of meeting requirements most optimally. Ask any engineer who has designed a product and they will tell you that they could have made it (choose 1): better, sooner, cheaper. Instead, compromises were made along the way to meet some criteria in all 3 of those measures.

Re:Not so fast ... (0)

matt_king (19018) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592898)

I think it's "choose 2"?

Re:Not so fast ... (1)

FlyingBishop (1293238) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593018)

He was inverting it, saying that engineers can always tell you what they had to sacrifice.

Re:Not so fast ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30593112)

If you are to design something, choose 2 (of 3), and in the wrap-up phase, you will state you could have improved on the third. His statement holds true.

If you chose to make it sooner and cheaper, you'd lament about being able to make it better, etc.

Re:Not so fast ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30593056)

Exactly.

I mean if engineers hated compromise then I wouldn't have to remove the engine in my car just to change a spark plug.

Re:Not so fast ... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30593108)

We constantly make tradeoffs between costs, quality and schedule, with the goal of meeting requirements most optimally. Ask any engineer who has designed a product and they will tell you that they could have made it (choose 1): better, sooner, cheaper. Instead, compromises were made along the way to meet some criteria in all 3 of those measures.

I think that what you're describing is a good engineer. The not quite so good ones tend to be rigidly opposed to compromise. I think it's those that are the likely targets of these recruiters.

Corporations actively recruit engineers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30593126)

Corporations actively recruit engineers and they are more likely to have experience living in a western society.

Re:Not so fast ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30593134)

That would be compromise with people and not with materials/construction. "My way is the right way," in essence. Engineering and technical people tend to avoid confronting the human factor since those are things that are not predictable and accountable.This is the eternal struggle between IT and business people.

Re:Not so fast ... (2, Insightful)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593146)

I always heard "You can have it fast, good, or cheap, pick two"

Also there is compromise "Yes we can use X material instead of Y, its not as good, but, its within tolerances" and "The project is to build a bridge, the drawing you gave me is for a boat ramp, this isn't going to meet our requirments"

-Steve

Re:Not so fast ... (1)

LaughingCoder (914424) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593202)

Actually, the way we ran our projects in a previous company, we put together a matrix. The 3 columns were Optimize, Constrain, Accept. The 3 rows were Product Quality (encompassing features, product performance, product robustness), Schedule and Cost. We put an 'X' in each column and row. For example, if we wanted the best possible product quality (ie, do not give in on any requirements), and we wanted to do it as soon as possible at whatever the cost, the matrix would have been: Constrain Product Quality, Optimize Schedule, Accept Costs. Discussing this matrix early in the project led to some spirited meetings. Once we had agreed on this matrix it was used to drive decisions throughout the project. Naturally there was a tendency to change the matrix as the project progresses, and the schedule slips or costs spiraled out of control. But at least we did it consciously and then altered our decision-making moving forward.

What this matrix says is you can only *optimize* one thing. Note that optimization is distinctly different from constraining. Usually our projects tended to optimize product quality, we were constrained by cost (team size) and we accepted schedule. Then, when the schedule got out of control we optimized schedule and accepted product quality (dropping features usually, or shipping bugs ;-) ). Sometimes we would add people to the project (accepting cost) in an attempt to optimize the schedule, while holding the line (constaining) on product quality.

Well, that... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30592862)

...and the fact that engineering students can plan for something more complicated than a keg party.

Necessary skills (5, Insightful)

antura (1381003) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592866)

I'd guess art students aren't as good at making bombs.

Re:Necessary skills (5, Funny)

A. B3ttik (1344591) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592998)

^This^

What the hell kind of skills is a Liberal Arts student going to provide them with? But I'm not surprised that the ignorant Liberal Arts majors who wrote this article didn't realize that they're useless to the rest of society. Even the terrorists don't want them.

Re:Necessary skills (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593268)

Well, it doesn't take an engineer to strap on a bomb and push the button, so the liberal arts majors make good fodder. The fact is, of course, that the reason there are more engineers is that they more actively seek out engineers for their skills. For the same reason, there are more engineers in the military than would join by self selection. Seems pretty obvious to me and it has nothing to do withengineers having more conservative religious views (they are actually much less likely to hold any religious views at all) nor with views on compromising, etc.

Re:Necessary skills (5, Funny)

jank1887 (815982) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593006)

but man, they look really nice when they don't work. I mean, could an engineer really make the colors go together like that? And seriously, who uses red and green wires? Is it Christmas? A nice set of matching mauve is sooo much better at offsetting the grey c4.

Or (3, Insightful)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592870)

Or engineers are good at planning, organizing, and building stuff. While in college they're probably most impressionable to joining causes. Every organization on the planet wants eager, smart people working for them.

Because (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30592874)

They think the WTC architecture is ugly.

Stop blaming englineers! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30592876)

Did those so called researchers see the obvious? The engineering students/terrorists are all Muslim!

Re:Stop blaming englineers! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30593218)

I guess you are kidding, aren't you?
Matter of fact millions of muslims are not terrorists, so the fact that they are engineers is just as relevant as the fact that they are muslims.

Why are so many terrorists literate? (2, Informative)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592878)

Does literacy cause terrorism? If so, the solution is simple.

Also, this was discussed here on Slashdot twice last year:

Engineers Have a Terrorist Mindset? [slashdot.org] (Jan 2008)

Engineers Make Good Terrorists? [slashdot.org] (Apr 2008)

Re:Why are so many terrorists literate? (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593048)

Literacy is more of a solution to terrorism then the cause. The problem is is they basing their belief structure on one book. If they were truly literate they would be reading all sorts of books and have a more world view and sympathy to other cultures and religions. Engineers are not necessarily into Literacy (sure they can read, but they are not interested in reading a bunch of books on different topics) which makes it easy. Having them more literate will probably reduce the problem.

Re:Why are so many terrorists literate? (1)

Thing 1 (178996) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593180)

Literacy is more of a solution to terrorism then the cause.

(Emphasis added.)

Re:Why are so many terrorists literate? (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593242)

Maybe that was intentional: literacy is the solution, THEN it is the cause. Kinda like beer for Homer Simpson.

They wouldn't be targeting engineers because... (2, Informative)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592888)

They wouldn't be targeting engineers because they have skills of getting things done and paying attention to details.

Engineering isn't science. Engineering is using what is known of science to create results. It is one of the few degrees that have that focus. Most of the other disciplines if recruited will spend their time researching and analyzing the problems and probably coming up with the idea it is a bad idea. But an engineer will just go ahead and make it go.

Re:They wouldn't be targeting engineers because... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30593298)

?syntax error in 'sig'

The 72 virgin angle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30592896)

Let's face it, engineers are not known for being sucessful with the ladies. I guess the 72 virgin thing works better.

Maybe the ones with drama degrees not so good? (2, Insightful)

fantomas (94850) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592904)

Could be just the engineering degree ones that are successful in blowing things up. Perhaps the ones who took degrees in fine art are busy in mountain retreats sculpting models of the end of world in matchsticks and bat guano, the ones who took degrees in drama are creating avant-garde absurdist plays and presenting these to goats in small rural farming communities, and the ones who took degrees in philosophy are arguing whether their enemies actually exist in complex latin tracts that nobody understands and the local printers won't publish for them because radishes are a poor currency.

The Real Reason (1)

BodhiCat (925309) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592908)

Engineering students get dates and have nothing else do, so they might as well get on a plane and blow up their underwear.

Correction (1)

BodhiCat (925309) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592932)

Engineering students can't get dates and have nothing else do, so they might as well get on a plane and blow up their underwear.

Re:Correction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30593038)

Either comment post can be taken as a poor attempt a humor. Nice try though. Not! [crickets chirping/]

Re:Correction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30593222)

I don't get your Not! joke (?) either. Can someone explain?

Why is nobody investigating the real problem (1)

For a Free Internet (1594621) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592916)

The insidious Italian conspiracy that controls all global terrorism. Obama is their puppet. And they are the financial underwiters of "slash-dot" so watch what you say!!!!!

Maybe it's the other way around? (2, Interesting)

east coast (590680) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592934)

Maybe these old clerics are putting high recruiting resources into enginering schools because those are the resources that they really need. Poor farm boys used to carry bombs into marketplaces are a dime a dozen. They need people who can make the bombs that actually do the dirty work.

And there doesn't seem to be a lack of fundamentalism in certain areas so finding them in wide and well adopted fields such as enginering shouldn't be an issue in and of itself.

Re:Maybe it's the other way around? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30593088)

And there doesn't seem to be a lack of fundamentalism in certain areas

Right, and brothers, it's high time we get serious about whether Linux tops Mac and Windows!!

Wait (1)

DustyShadow (691635) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592938)

They target engineers more than other disciplines . . . and more engineers become terrorists.

I think you answered your own question.

Most engineers don't know how to talk to girls (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30592948)

Most male engineers don't have fantastic communiation skills, and are thus less likely to be occupied with fun things like chatting up girls etc. Thus, when they get tired of studies it is easier to make they stray. Pretty obvious really. A marketing student will be busy going to parties etc. all year rather than studying so is a) less likely to get bored with hard work and difficult studies and b) have something fun to do when not studying.

It follows that it is much harder to recruit a marketing person.

Re:Most engineers don't know how to talk to girls (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30593090)

In addition, engineers are somewhat exploited in todays society. They usually have a lower pay than others even though they are much more educated.

In conclusion, they are just not as happy as the others and think more critical about human society and political issues.

Parent is right, it's actually pretty obvious.

Engineers are more effective at destroying things (1)

twisting_department (1329331) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592950)

"engineers and engineering students are much more likely to hold strong conservative and religious views than a general cross section of the public" Nonsense, I've been hanging around with scientists and engineers most of my life. My observation is that few of them hold hard and fast convictions about anything they cannot measure or mathematically derive. Except possibly when it comes to debates about beer of the best editor to use. I think the reason to try and recruit terrorists from the engineering population is because they are far more likely to know how to destroy things effectively. Much like the way we build our military industry in the west.

Yes, there's correlation ... (1)

oneiros27 (46144) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592972)

Okay, there's an issue of being more conservative to a certain degree, but I can come up with lots more reasons that might give a bias to engineering:

  • When I was an undergrad (~12 years ago), the school with the highest percentage of middle-eastern students in it was ... the engineering department. If this is still true, then you'd be more likely to find a engineering student who had first-hand experiences in western society.
  • Engineers tend to think about problems differently than most other people. In the case of civil engineering, it tends to be big-picture issues, with people just a bunch of numbers (eg, amount of live load) Could you end up with people with Aspergers or otherwise less empathetic as engineers?
  • Many engineering students have high hopes and want to change the world ... then you get stuck in school and realize you're just another cog. Could the handling of student's expectations be partially to blame?

Now, luckily, in my case, I'm now an elected official, so have other ways to channel my energies to better the world ... but I think many of us have had the discussion of what could be done if we nuked the planet from orbit and started all over again. Or even a tornado ... I'm sure we could fix up our downtown if we could get rid of a few of the eyesore buildings that the county built.

Engineers are better at dodging bullets (1)

Banekartr (1058752) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592976)

Do a search for "Taliban terrorists killed" and you will find hundreds of results of our boys doing a great job. I'm willing to bet 99% of these idiots who were killed had no degrees at all. It seams the real observation here is that there are more engineering terrorists who figure out a way to avoid being killed. So, the real title of this should be: How do so many terrorists with engineering degrees avoid our bullets?

Engineering vs science? (4, Insightful)

Timothy Brownawell (627747) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592982)

Engineering is about carefully following an existing set of rules, like building codes and the laws of physics. It can require cleverness, but only in how to best achieve your goals while staying within the rules ("solve this problem, within these constraints"). Maybe there's a mindset where it just doesn't really matter where the rules come from, and religious rules are just as good as physical or legal rules? This would be in contrast to science, where the goal is to find the rules and poke at them until you understand them ("find out what the constraints are, and why").

Re:Engineering vs science? (2, Insightful)

kai_hiwatari (1642285) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593250)

Maybe there's a mindset where it just doesn't really matter where the rules come from, and religious rules are just as good as physical or legal rules?

As an engineer, I can certainly say it does matter to us where the rules come from. To effectively tackle a problem it is necessary that we know where the constrains comes from.

Better question (1)

onyxruby (118189) | more than 4 years ago | (#30592996)

Why do so many terrorists have a complete failure to use their training or logic? There are so many logical holes in the theater we call security, an engineer should be able to exploit them like there's no tomorrow. Yet they continue to do show incompetence on large scale attacks due to logical flaws in their planning. Meanwhile countless exploitable targets go unchallenged on a routine basis. Perhaps it is failed engineers that become terrorists?

Ease of travel? (3, Insightful)

wcrowe (94389) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593002)

Perhaps another reason engineers predominate is because it is easier to get a visa, or otherwise travel, to Western countries if one is an engineer.

Eh (5, Insightful)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593010)

Must have been bottom of the class engineers who barely passed at all. All of the terrorist attacks carried out (all 5-10 of them over two decades) against the U.S. were poorly planned and poorly executed. Even the September 11 attacks could have been 10 fold more deadly had they been timed and executed better.

And don't get me started on the shoe and underwear bombers. Evidently, the "engineers" who plotted those attacks didn't think that maybe they should build a foolproof electronic detonator for their bomb rather than rely on the skillz of someone who is willing to blow himself up.

Why am I harping on this? It pisses me off that as a result of the actions of a few idiots, a TRILLION FUCKING DOLLARS (that is, the life's work of at least a million people) has been blown reacting to these idiots. The terrorists have WON. They've caused grievous damaged to the United States thanks to the response of the U.S. government and it's sheeple.

Had we done NOTHING at all in response to the attacks (except for maybe giving the FBI a billion dollar budget increase or something cheap like that) it would have cost us far less treasure and lifetimes of labor. Those freaking towers were only insured for a couple of billion, tops.

If we're going to spend a trillion dollars fighting a few evil individuals, they better be a Lex Luther...not Cletus.

Re:Eh (2, Insightful)

GreenTom (1352587) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593282)

If I had points, I'd mod that insightful. Our reaction to terrorisim is so much more damaging than the actual attack. I'm reminded of people who are allergic to bee stings: sure, the sting hurts, but it's your own immune system overreacting that kills you.

Engineers are usefull (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30593022)

Maybe its because engineers are usefull.
Why would a terrorist group want an accountant, or a journalist?
Engineers can build bombs . A lawyer is just an annoying parasite .

From engineers to leaders ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30593030)

They can do. They can think for themselves. They don't need you. Thus they are dangerous. In the 50s they would be called communists, now terrorist would be more fashionable.

Engineers are conservative? (1)

johnnysaucepn (1263108) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593050)

Maybe... http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2009/climate-change-a-consensus-among-scientists/ [informatio...utiful.net] "In fact, when you adjust the PetitionProject’s odd categorisation – they filed ‘chemical engineers’ as chemists and physical engineers as ‘physicists’ – the total number of engineers who signed the petition, by our reckoning, jumps to 49%"

and how it started.... (1)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593058)

I suppose English/Classics students argue, but they know its all futile in the larger scheme of things, as Cicero said "we're all dead, get over it losers".

Maths students argue, but only over dividing the bill.

Humanities/Politics students argue over everything, but that's all - they have no ability to do anything practical.

Engineering students, they're different. From arguing over Emacs or Vi, its no wonder they're seen as the most promising ones for a career in terrorism.

Hypothesis Validation (1)

LtCol Burrito (1698596) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593060)

It certainly is an interesting hypothesis. However, their sample is now limited to terrorist:engineers. A test of this theory would be to check the engineers of other religious groups for similar traits. It might be the combination of these personality traits coupled with the radical teachings that inspire those individuals to act. However, the tendency might manifest itself in some other way in different religions that don't promote violent martyrdom.

Maybe it's just because... (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593072)

...*successful* terrorists are more likely to have engineering degrees--'cause the ones who don't blow themselves up trying to make the bomb.

Nothing wrong with being resolute... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30593076)

You train them to put things together -they know how to take them apart.

This is the next subtext battle between (marketing/sales) and (engineering/science). When the you are train for engineering, ambiguity and compromise are not core values. It reflects in the way they see the world, so they take world views more seriously as well. Engineers struggle for truth, and stick up for what's true (hopefully - there are exceptions in the east)?

They might even think that a radical reset is a path forward. It might be, but I prefer other ways. How about we lesson the tension and not all take a big swing toward ambiguity.

Another great mystery (1)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593118)

That reminds me of the question I was asking the other day:

Why does American Airlines recruit so many people who know how to fly airplanes?

He that spaketh from on high (1)

digitalsushi (137809) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593124)

Lo, there in the thicket rattled the snake of logic. Said he, slithering sleeky, "Be afraid not of the close-mindedness your engineering degree affords your feeble mind on the journey of truth, for you will find it blindly". And then did the engineering student question the snake, "But I have attained logic! And it was good! I have learned to question and follow not blindly but to persevere and challenge the status quo!" So then did the snake rattleth, for pissed was he for the impudence of the engineer. "Your m-value must be negative, young fool, for surely you are sliding down the slippery slope". He added, "Take care to realize soon your inevitable conversion to irrationality!" The engineer plucked an apple from the tree of un-knowledge and smashed it all over his face and rubbed it into his chest, giggling, "Haarrrr I already have dwweeeee". And thus another engineer was turned away from the cold, uncaring logic that had festered within him.

Unabomber? (1)

snot.dotted (627646) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593138)

Theodore Kaczynski was a mathematician, Western educated, and by all accounts a model student and young academic. Was the CIA involved in turning him into a manic individual ? There is something about the obsessive nature that a person needs to succeed in science, engineering or maths that is part of the terrorist psyche.

We Live in an Illogical World (2, Insightful)

Maltheus (248271) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593140)

Engineers crave logic. Logical people are all driven somewhat crazy by the world we live in. That will manifest itself in all sorts of strange ways. This time, it manifested itself in exploding underwear (not a very smart engineer, judging by the design). As a kind of engineer myself, I look at how limited the damage would have been, if he had blown up the plane, versus the cost of going all ape-shit over it and I naturally come to the conclusion that people need to chill the fuck out. Even if they made airport security perfect, I can think of at least a dozen non-airplane ways to kill just as many people, without the terrorist(s) even having to sacrifice his life. The way to reduce terrorism is to stop creating new ones by stop bombing their families and stop manipulating their governments.

Re:We Live in an Illogical World (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30593248)

The way to reduce terrorism is to stop creating new ones by stop bombing their families and stop manipulating their governments.

Wrong. They'll hate you anyway. Stop bombing them and manipulating their governments and they'll take that as a sign of weakness and step up the attacks.

The real question is ... (1)

jsnipy (913480) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593142)

Would they play engineer in TF2?

It's the idealism strain. (1)

nagarjun (249852) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593184)

I think all engineers/hackers have a certain amount of idealism in them. When they see something that is badly broken they want to fix it, and many are willing to give their time/money/talent generously.

Terrorists, in an admittedly warped sense, are idealists too. I'm an Iraqi, I think the US is a massive "bug", so I'm going to try to fix it at all costs. If I'm convinced the US is a massive bug in the software system that is the world, it makes it possible for me to want to obliterate 3,000 innocent Americans.

I'm no shrink and it sounds sacrilegious, but kernel hackers and Mohammad Atta's pals may have a lot in common. Each group is trying to make the world better, at least in their own minds.

I would suspect they get recruited (1)

NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593214)

I mean if you run one of these organizations engineers are way too valuable not to take a shot and recruit.(As others have said aboe.) So I would think they actively recruit them. Plus on top of it one of the stereotypes about engineering students is that alot of them are reclusive and don't engage in society. So basically that means they don't have the societal safety net that would keep them from doing crazy shit. (I mean it always seems like the loner is the guy that ends up going nuts, not the guy with 100 friends and parties every night like the kids at Columbine.)

I've heard... (2, Funny)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593232)

They're all maniacal engineers. [wikipedia.org] *rimshot* [instantrimshot.com]

Fundamentalists of All Stripes - Not Just Islamic (1)

DreDawgie (644282) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593238)

Having spent a bit of my youth as a "Born Again" Christian (I lean towards secular Buddhism now), I noticed that there are quite a few engineers who also see themselves as fundamentalist Christians. I think that it's not so much engineering gives you good "terror skills" (although there's something to be said for that argument), but points more toward the notion of the generally conservative engineer, or at least one that doesn't take too holistic a view of the world, thus making them ripe for all sorts of fundamentalist thought be it Islamic or Christian.


Frankly I think the neo-cons and Jihadists are just "brothers from another mother" to a certain degree. Fundies are fundies no matter what they believe... it's just they think they have an inside-scoop on how things ought to be, everybody else is wrong, and the world needs to be corrected to fit their views.

Engineers Have More Fun (1)

oakwine (1709682) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593246)

I think the unofficial motto of various aerospace corporations used to be, "Everything we make either kills people or gives them cancer!" When you think about it, the military industrial complex is focused on developing destructive devices. You don't see them building farm tractors or a new line of gardening tools. So, if you are an engineer perhaps it is only a matter of choosing an employer. I have never noticed engineers being conservative nor particularly religious neither.

What about rich kids becoming terrorists? (5, Interesting)

assertation (1255714) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593260)

I'm happy that with this Nigerian terrorist that the media is emphasizing his wealthy and privileged background.

I was disappointed that the wealthy, privileged, backgrounds of Osama Bin Laden and almost all of the 19 9/11 hijackers were not emphasized more.

As with Marxism, Islamic terrorism is not about the poor rising up against oppressors.

It is about is about rich people with unresolved issues telling the poor what to think and egging them on to take actions that really don't help the poor...........exactly the complaint that these self appointed "vanguard activists" have.

Overlooking something obvious... (1)

TheGreatOrangePeel (618581) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593272)

Let's pull out Occam's razor and shave a bit...

If you wanted to blow up a bridge, wouldn't it help to know how bridges are built?

Obvious: there is no need to recruit journos (1, Flamebait)

qqi239 (1397769) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593276)

most of the journos already support them

Whole sale Vs Retail terrorism (2, Insightful)

pirhana (577758) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593288)

Were all the biggest terrorists of past century Engineers ? Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Bush.... I dont think so . These were the REAL terrorists who dealt with whole sale terrorism. They have killed more people than any other terrorists anytime in the history. But most of these so called "Engineer terrorists" are involved in retail terrorism and the effect was marginal comparing to the former.

Salem Hypothesis (1)

Epeeist (2682) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593290)

Not quite the same thing, but Bruce Salem spotted this some while back - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salem_hypothesis

What difference does it make? (1)

assertation (1255714) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593296)

I would agree that engineers, as a group, ( networking types too ), tend to have those traits.

So what?

Every profession and grouping of humans has a set of traits that are dominant in that group. All of those traits are dominant in that group for reasons, some good and some not so flattering.

Stop shoe-gazing! (1)

calderra (1034658) | more than 4 years ago | (#30593300)

Hey, everyone, stop staring at your penny-loafers for a minute. Why are engineers really chosen to be terrorists? Because they're socially awkward. It's not because they're so good at blowing stuff up (look at how many attempts fail for technical reasons). It's not because they're religious zealots (college graduates are more likely to be non-religious, or otherwise liberal). It's because a guy comes along and shows this brilliant mind a way to finally "belong" by joining a "family" that will care for him. It's the same reason so many brilliant minds became hackers and phreakers and so forth back in the day.
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