Sunday, November 11, 2007

Terrorists are engineers   posted by Razib @ 11/11/2007 12:54:00 PM

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

My own working model is that engineers (and quantitative scientists) tend to go crazy because their mental outlook is relatively rigid. You don't want to be that creative if you're an applied scientist, you need to take the truths of science as givens and derive practical results. The same tendency can result in a naive fundamentalist outlook when the truths of religion are taken as givens. Additionally, it seems to me a sociological reality that aspirant sub-elites are also the best recruits due to their resentments against an "unjust" order (their talent running up against the fact that they lack culture in the snobby sense as well as connections to leverage their professional competence maximally). The interesting point is that Islamic radicals in Western countries don't fit this profile. I suspect that they can be best modeled as a more conventional class/ethnic nationalism dynamic.

Related: Nerds are Nuts.