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Why Are Terrorists Often Engineers?

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the break-out-the-asbestos dept.

News 769

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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769 comments

Aptitude (5, Insightful)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600250)

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 (5, Funny)

Lurker2288 (995635) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600272)

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

Re:Aptitude (4, Insightful)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 3 years ago | (#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:Aptitude (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33600372)

Madoff didn't kill anyone or attempt to kill anyone.

Re:Aptitude (2)

TheUnFounded (731123) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600476)

Incorrect, Madoff absolutely killed people. [google.com] .

Re:Aptitude (1)

brainboyz (114458) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600598)

Madoff didn't kill the man. Madoff tanked the man's life savings and caused the man's depression, but the man killed himself. He gave up.

Re:Aptitude (2, Funny)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600376)

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 (5, Insightful)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Aptitude (2, Informative)

jockeys (753885) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600490)

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 (1)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600520)

It was a Half-Life/Gordon Freeman joke...notice the crowbar -_-;;

Re:Aptitude (4, Funny)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600530)

I bet MacGyver could do it with only a crowbar.

Re:Aptitude (1, Funny)

msauve (701917) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600582)

Chuck Norris wouldn't need a crowbar.

Re:Aptitude (3, Funny)

HeckRuler (1369601) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600690)

Chuck Norris wouldn't need to build anything to drop on Japan. He'd just jump out a plane.

Re:Aptitude (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600534)

I bet if you add everything up (including government responses and wars and such), 9/11 has done far more damage than the $50 billion Madoff racked up.

Re:Aptitude (1)

thej1nx (763573) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600420)

Why bother? He could just join the RIAA instead!

Re:Aptitude (5, Funny)

Darth_brooks (180756) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600424)

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 (5, Insightful)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600316)

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 (5, Funny)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | more than 3 years ago | (#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 (3, Insightful)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600496)

>>>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 (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600734)

So, accountants are terrorists? Perhaps we should be taking a closer look at colleges that have accounting programs.

Re:Aptitude (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33600468)

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

At least on purpose.....

Re:Aptitude (1)

JamesP (688957) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600696)

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

but.. but.. but... that's the fun part!!!

Re:Aptitude (-1, Troll)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600706)

There is only one cure for the global malady known as Islam:

Have all of our bombers and cargo planes drop pig shit over Mecca.

Re:Aptitude (1)

Drakkenmensch (1255800) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600320)

Someone with computer savvy will also have more aptitude to look up the internet and find a terrorist cookbook for making bombs as opposed to someone who thinks the entire internet is broken because their internet explorer shortcut got swept up by windows into the unused desktop icons folder.

Re:Aptitude (5, Insightful)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 3 years ago | (#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 (4, Insightful)

ageoffri (723674) | more than 3 years ago | (#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 (5, Funny)

barzok (26681) | more than 3 years ago | (#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 (1, Interesting)

radtea (464814) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600674)

This is not some coincidence of psychology, it is a fact of necessity.

And in other news, most of the people working on the Manhatten Project were nuclear physicsts, chemists, and engineers.

What is it about these people that makes them want to blow up the world?

That said, looking back now it is clear to anyone with an ounce of empiricism that political violence is such an inefficient and ineffective means of achieving political aims that no one who actually cares about achieving political aims will ever use violence as their primary weapon.

In Sri Lanka, in Spain, in Ireland, in Darfur, in Palestine, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and on and on and on morons have decided that political violence is the best way to do... well, something. It's not clear, at least to me, what the "something" is: people who choose violence generally have vague and abstract goals, because any more specific and concrete goal would make it obvious even to the average person how stupid it is to use violence to pretend to achieve it.

In fact, one might even suspect that people who choose violence do so because they like violence, not because they honestly believe it makes realizing their purported goals any more likely.

Re:Aptitude (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600380)

Yep. Good luck getting a liberal arts major to build a working bomb...

"Mystery" solved, methinks.

Re:Aptitude (4, Interesting)

MachDelta (704883) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600522)

Reminds me of a joke a friend told me.

A professor brings a new and amazing device to school to show to his students:
The Science students ask: How does it work?
The Engineering students ask: How is it made?
The Business students ask: How can we market it?
And the Arts students ask: Do you want fries with that?

The best part is, it's usually the Arts students who laugh the hardest at it. Some of them laugh so hard they start crying. I think.

Re:Aptitude (1)

grub (11606) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600710)


Good luck getting a liberal arts major to build a working bomb...

and give up their day-jobs waiting tables?

Re:Aptitude (3, Insightful)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600400)

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 (1)

blindbat (189141) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600586)

I VEHEMENTLY DISAGREE!!!!

Re:Aptitude (1, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600698)

I agree. Engineering in particular seems to draw some of those who are a little too wacky to pursue real science. In a field where you apply the ideas of others, you can get away with being crazier than in a field where your own ideas are subjected to peer-review. It's a lot more common to find a fundamentalist engineer than it is to find a fundamentalist research scientist.

Re:Aptitude (5, Funny)

east coast (590680) | more than 3 years ago | (#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:Aptitude (5, Insightful)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600410)

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 (1)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600612)

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?"

There is also the Darwin effect going on here. There are lots of kinds of terrorists, but the engineers are the ones who are successful without getting themselves killed, either intentionally or not, and thus rise to the top of the heap in experience, power, and media coverage.

Re:Aptitude (3, Insightful)

Mongoose Disciple (722373) | more than 3 years ago | (#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:Aptitude (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600432)

That makes sense for the homegrown terrorist working alone, but doesn't do much to explain the abnormally high percentage of engineers in the ranks of organized terrorism. I suspect that the real cause is a combination of factors but basically comes down to money. Engineers that are unable to find work will be jaded to the whole system, they haven't achieved the success that they were promised and worked hard to get. Engineers that do have work are much more likely to be online where the recruiters hang out, more likely to be able to travel without arousing suspicion, and more likely to gather materials and designs without getting caught. It's also probable that recruiters actively search out those with useful skills, that alone might account for a lot of the difference.

Re:Aptitude (1)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600498)

or, maybe it's just that a hyped and debunked article is reposted yet again?

Re:Aptitude (1)

guyminuslife (1349809) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600554)

Precisely. A goatherder who tried to make an IED is most likely going to end up with a smelly, burning mess.

Not to mention that your average goatherder doesn't really have a disposable income to spend on terrorist stuff. He's out herding goats. When he's done, he's tired, and the last thing on his mind is bringing down whatever government. Even if he decides to go off to Waziristan and trains on Bin Laden's dime, he's got family obligations: his uncle really needs him to herd those damn goats, what do you think you're doing running off to fight America, now drink your blue milk.* Sure, "the terrorists" don't have a Western standard of living, but if you're going to be successful at it, you really need some free time and money. So the people who would be likely candidates for successful terrorism would be professionals---businessmen, engineers, doctors, lawyers---who are comfortable enough not to have to worry about these things.

* Anybody else wonder what the hell they harvest on Tatooine? Like anything grows there.

Re:Aptitude (1)

memojuez (910304) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600566)

So, if you have "The Knack" you are destined to be a terrorist? That explains why Dilbert is on the FBI Watch List.

Re:Aptitude (2, Interesting)

happy_place (632005) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600600)

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 should be immediately punished. in a way his sense of justice is really overinflated. i sometimes wonder if there isn't something about engineers having to always be right, that when their worldview is challenged by reality, they can't help but suggest improvements that are less than human. The solution trumps the consequences. sure the solution may kill half the human population, but that's nothing to obtaining a solution to whatever problem is presented to them. also i've met a lot of engineers that think they can solve all problems, no matter how unrelated the topic is to engineering. in general, engineers see their level of education as superior to other sciences, especially social sciences and don't even get them started on religion. now the engineers in the cube next to me are solving the problems with cops and public intoxication. it has nothing to do with the systems engineering job they were hired to do, but they go on and on and on... thank goodness I have earplugs. :)

Re:Aptitude (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600702)

An engineer can do stuff by himself. That's all.

[disclaimer, I'm not an engineer]

Everybody else studies how to do stuff that implicates other people, from the physicist that need an engineer to the politician who can have a much greater impact but needs thousands if not millions of people on his side.

The engineer, almost by definition, is the only one who studies how to actually do the stuff. In the real world. The engineer is the one who transforms the math, the computing, the physics, the chemistry, into material realities. ...

However that's only for those who believed the original news item.

I don't think terrorists are engineers, I think that engineer terrorists are more visible because they use bombs, while political science terrorists convince idiots to immolate themselves, economics terrorists funnel the money to buy the bomb materials, etc.

out side of the usa higher costs way less and more (-1, Offtopic)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600282)

out side of the usa higher costs way less and more people are able to get in.

Also how many of degrees are ones that you have to work for vs just sit in class and pass.

Duh! (1)

filesiteguy (695431) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600300)

You've got an enginerd with a highly complex mind and vast knowledge of the modern world sitting in some group of people who say everything they've learned is evil.

What do you do?

Build a bomb and strap it to your chest, of course!

Re:Duh! (1)

east coast (590680) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600348)

The guys building the bombs aren't the same guys who are doing the bombings.

Re:Duh! (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600512)

"Build a bomb and strap it to your chest, of course!"

You must have gotten your engineering degree from some po-dunk state online program. You should strap THEM with the bombs and press the button from far away.

Just the kind of headlines we need (2, Funny)

saisuman (1041662) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600322)

Excellent. I can already see more guys being apprehended for using "white text on black screens."

Re:Just the kind of headlines we need (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600350)

Excellent. I can already see more guys being apprehended for using "white text on black screens."

I now have a dual reason for using green text.

Re:Just the kind of headlines we need (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600406)

I can already see more guys being apprehended for using "white text on black screens."

A real engineer could switch it to negative mode.
   

Re:Just the kind of headlines we need (5, Funny)

zill (1690130) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600456)

Death to all infidels who do not use green on black displays! Monochrome CRT Akbar!

Engineers vs. Politicians (2, Interesting)

psergiu (67614) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Makes sense... (3, Funny)

Spazntwich (208070) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600370)

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

Re:Makes sense... (4, Funny)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600418)

and the only damage you'll cause with a MBA or Economics degree is... oh wait a minute....

Re:Makes sense... (1)

AnonymousClown (1788472) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600688)

and the only damage you'll cause with a MBA or Economics degree is...

Hemorrhoids from talking out of our ass all the time.

Chicken or the egg? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33600382)

Or to look at it from another point of view, why are engineers often bitter loners who have problems with authority thus refusing to live with society's guidelines and lash out by solving problems their way and only their way, because there is only one to solve a problem and its my way and if you're not with me then you're against me?

Re:Chicken or the egg? (1)

AnonymousClown (1788472) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600532)

Ah, so they're geeks who couldn't get laid and are taking it out on the World using whatever political or religious justification that they have as an excuse.

I buy that.

Actually... (4, Insightful)

TiggertheMad (556308) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600392)

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....

Hey! (1)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600482)

Someone has to create those balaclavas and flags you know - don't dis the knitters!

It's their screwed-up views of God (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33600422)

Everyone knows that most Engineers are either Atheists, Agnostics, or Muslims. In all case, they have a messed-up worldview of God, so of course it makes sense that they would be terrorists. Most Engineers, like most in the scientific community have no rooting in moral absolutes, so in their view, it's perfectly OK to kill others. And because they are technically skilled, they have the means and knowledge to carry it out.

Meaningless (5, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#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?).

Engineers are Smart (2, Insightful)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600442)

and smart people know that politicians are dangerous power-hungry individuals that, from time to time, must be exterminated (the assassination of Nero, Mussolini, Nicolae Ceauescu, etc). "The Tree of Liberty must be watered with the blood of patriots and tyrants - it is its natural fertilizer."

- Thomas Jefferson (an inventor/engineer but also a terrorist according to the 1700s British Parliament)

Why? (4, Funny)

MarkGriz (520778) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600450)

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

because garbagemen don't have an aptitude for... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33600460)

let'sface it. Just because someone's an engineer does not make them a terrorist. But to make things go boom you need to have basic electrical skills.
And.. if you are a more advanced asshole you will need to know chemistry too.

Engineers (4, Insightful)

Elektroschock (659467) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

It's simple, really (5, Funny)

Bill Dimm (463823) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600472)

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.

Sex, or lack thereof. (1)

SpudB0y (617458) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600478)

Everybody knows engineers have a tough time getting laid.

Maybe because terrorism is mostly engineering? (5, Insightful)

mrogers (85392) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Engineering site sloshdotted? (2, Funny)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600492)

Surprised IEEE site is not able to handle the load.

We should blow up that magazine (3, Insightful)

mikeabbott420 (744514) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600504)

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

More about economics than engineering. (4, Interesting)

Steauengeglase (512315) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Because they know how to build bombs (1)

Punto (100573) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600514)

is it really that hard to understand? on the other side of the war, the "proper military" that fights against terrorists is also full of engineers. In fact, they invented engineering.

Si vis pacem, para bellum (3, Funny)

zill (1690130) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Summary (1)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600538)

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)

Who wrote this summary? I would say lack of job opportunities is the highly suspect reason to say the least here when it comes to people blowing themselves up. Bombers tend to have more education and more opportunities than most people. The server is dead so I have no idea what he meant by the second half of that statement but I would think part of the problem is the inability of people brought up in highly anti-science, anti-Western Islamic ideology (which is what it is, as well as religion) to fit into the world of engineering, which is the world of Western values they've been thought to hate.

Rigid thinking (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33600550)

I've noticed with many engineers I've known that they fall into the trap of black-and-white thinking. They want answers to be solid and 100% certain, so they have little tolerance for flexible or relativistic points of view.

Lack of women... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33600556)

Seriously. What to do in these parts of the world when you're geeky enough that the remaining gal rather shares a cooler guy...

A lot are introverts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33600560)

A lot of engineers are introverts.

Being treated as an outcast, even in ME countries, they tend to have an anger management problem. This is what terrorist organizations look for because they get the best of both worlds, one with brain and the thinking process to justify violent actions.

It's not just in Middle Eastern countries, but you have this in every continent, where someone without the right anger management skills can easily succumb to violent actions. Someone with an engineering degree can go crazy and do violent things. For example, this guy that was laid off at RS&H: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125753215232934273.html

I'm a fellow student and I've seen over-reactive behavior from some other students when they can't solve a problem or get a bad grade.

Engineers vs Liberal Arts (2, Insightful)

Skjellifetti (561341) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600564)

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.

Lemme get back to you... (1)

sirrunsalot (1575073) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600580)

Why does it turn out that so many people who go all crazy and fanatical have an engineering degree? I'll get back to you on that as soon as I get back from TA'ing a lab, finish grading papers, finish up a couple homework assignments, write this journal paper, do a little volunteer work on the side, relax a little for on my birthday, and get started sifting through the literature before I actually get to the part of my schooling that matters. At a glance though, I can't imagine why.

Re:Lemme get back to you... (0, Flamebait)

sirrunsalot (1575073) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600620)

Boo hoo. Cry me a river.

Re:Lemme get back to you... (1)

sirrunsalot (1575073) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600648)

Ass clown.

And Creationists (5, Interesting)

Epeeist (2682) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600584)

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

Well if I were going to guess (5, Interesting)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

The obvious reason (1)

RevWaldo (1186281) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600594)

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

Well, of course they would. Everyone knows chicks dig bad boys. And there's no more Apollo program or nuclear testing or other "big science" stuff to boast about. Gotta protect the rep, knawmean?

.

idealism? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33600596)

I wonder how much of the engineer's idealistic mindset comes into play. Many engineers know how things should be and often get frustrated with the world around them when it doesn't conform to those ideals.

Religious contradictions? (2, Interesting)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600604)

Perhaps engineers, trained to think logically, are less able to ignore the more violent verses of their chosen religious texts, or more prone to come to logical but extreme conclusions.

For example, if an engineer believes that there is an afterlife, he may see mortal life as of very little value. It's only a temporary waiting place en route to eternity - all that really matters is making sure people are believers in his religion when they make their exit. Thus there is no violence in dieing for the cause - it isn't really dieing. Nor is there a problem with killing the unbelievers: They were going to hell anyway, this just sends them there a little earlier and aids in expanding the True Faith.

A non-engineer, on the other hand, has the ability to believe in an afterlife and yet completly ignore that belief. This is why devout believers will still spend vast amounts of money on medical treatments to stay alive just a little longer - because they may say they believe heaven awaits, but they have compartmentalised their religion away from their everday actions.

Note this works just as well for either Christian or Islamic terrorists. Right now the Islamic types lead in the kill-rate derivitative, but they arn't really so different from medival Christianity - a religion just as willing to have it's members kill and die for the cause, and for the same reasons.

If my guess is right, then engineers will be less able to tolerate the contradictions of moderate religion - and so will either abandon religion entirely and become atheists (or at least agnostics), or will turn to the more self-consistant fundamentalist sects.

Dogmatic thinking is cross disciplinary (2, Insightful)

gothmogged (161673) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600610)

The rigors of engineering training discourage fundamental questions of why and how in favor of rote mastery of rules of thumb which are known to work. To engineers the question of why gravity works is unimportant, their concern is in dealing with the consequences of gravity (and so forth for other physical laws). The analogy to faith based belief systems, wherein you accept rules handed down by authority and are discouraged from questioning that faith. or from seeking justifications for those rules, and are forbidden to consider revisions of those rules, is quite direct.

The kind of person who thrives under one set of these conditions has met many of the criteria to thrive under the other set of conditions.

maybe all academic types tried (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33600618)

and the non-engineers failed miserably?
So in the end (execpt for some lucky shots) you only hear about the somewhat successful ones because they haven't been blown up in the basement and not categorized as terrorism.

numbers don't add up. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33600632)

That's 178 out of 404 which equals 44% of the original data sample. And 44% of that is 19%, so less than a fifth were engineers.

"Diego Gambetta soon found themselves poring through records of 404 people from 30 countries engaged in political violence between 2005 and 2007.Their answer? Engineering. Of the 178 whose academic focus could be ascertained, 44 percent of those were engineers" link [ieee.org]

Doing Things (4, Insightful)

Cajun Hell (725246) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600652)

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."

Recruitment? (2, Insightful)

chemicaldave (1776600) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600656)

Perhaps we shouldn't be asking why engineers become [individuals involved in political violence] on their own accord. Rather, the engineers may be targets of recruitment by [organizations involved in political violence] because they possess desirable skills.

Challenging problem (2, Insightful)

cindik (650476) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600658)

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.

Well, Colorado State University is helping... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33600660)

Well, there is evidence to suggest engineers are terrorists. I mean at my humble university Anwar al-Awlaki received his degree from the civil engineering department. Not sure how many terrorists have come out of the rest of the college of engineering though...

I'm a doctor! Not an engineer! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33600678)

Now, you're an engineer

Maybe they have this backward... (1)

mswhippingboy (754599) | more than 3 years ago | (#33600684)

Could it be that aspiring terrorists decide to get their education in engineering since the skills acquired may be of use in their pursuits? If you wanted to build bombs to blow up people (assuming your school did not offer a degree program in "terrorism"), what other program would come in as handy?

IEEE Spectrum's motivation (3, Funny)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 3 years ago | (#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!

Because terrorists become engineers. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33600708)

I bet a disproportionate number of software developers have Computer Science degrees.
I bet a disproportionate number of CEO's have MBAs.
I bet a disproportionate number of military personnel know how to properly handle an assault rifle.

An organization is composed of the people that it recruits and has the skills that it trains its members with. Terrorist organizations need engineers to build weapons. All the terrorists that majored in History, Art, or Econ are the ones wearing the vest or being sent back to school to learn something "useful".

Smart==unhappy (3, Insightful)

ArhcAngel (247594) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

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