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Why Do So Many Terrorists Have Engineering Degrees 736

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the holy-crap-you-gotta-be-kidding-me dept.
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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Why Do So Many Terrorists Have Engineering Degrees

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  • Obvious answer? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gehrehmee (16338) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:09AM (#30592800) Homepage

    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: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Roger W Moore (538166)

        It's just that those terrorists without engineering degrees won't even make the news due to ineptitude.

        Given the (thankful) ineptitude of some of those who do make the news I wonder if they would not have been more effective as terrorists if they had stuck to being engineers and built a few bridges or buildings.

    • Re:Obvious answer? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Z00L00K (682162) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:42AM (#30593198) Homepage

      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? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by FatAlb3rt (533682) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @12:14PM (#30594826) Homepage
        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

        Huh, news to me.

        Signed,
        FatAlb3rt - BSME, MSCompE
    • Re:Obvious answer? (Score:5, Informative)

      by rve (4436) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:45AM (#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.

      • Re:Obvious answer? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by lawpoop (604919) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @12:08PM (#30594696) Homepage Journal

        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.

        That's true, but I also think that

        If you're poor, your overriding goal in life is to survive. You don't have a very "empowered" mindset. Other articles have noted that the terrorists are all from middle class backgrounds. If you're middle-class, you have enough mental breathing room to ask "What do I want to be when I grow up?" and "How can I make the world a better place?" You feel that you have some power or leverage in life and society. You can make choices that can have real impact. In other words, you feel "empowered".

        So why do terrorists have engineering degrees? Probably because they are middle-class.

      • by dcw3 (649211) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @01:17PM (#30596070) Journal

        The "Insightful" parent's stats are not reflected in the link that he provided. Here's quoting directly from Wiki:

        "The 2006 American Community Survey conducted by the United States Census Bureau found that 19.5 percent of the population had attended college but had no degree, 7.4 percent held an associate's degree, 17.1 percent held a bachelor's degree, and 9.9 percent held a graduate or professional degree."

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Kjella (173770)

        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.

        I think it's more that being very intelligent, you are far more likely to believe in your own understanding of reality and moral system regardless of everyone else. These people probably believed they could see a great conspiracy against Islam, which only they saw exactly because they were intelligent and educated. They could see through the deceptions and coverups and link events together to reveal the master plan while the rest of the world was blind. Everything that speaks in favor of your world view is

    • Re:Obvious answer? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hazem (472289) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:57AM (#30593408) Journal

      I don't think the terrorist recruiters are specifically seeking out Engineering students.

      Based on my experience working in a University (and attending a couple) it seems to me that students who get sent abroad from Islamic countries study Engineering because it's a particularly useful degree back home. Many of these countries are underdeveloped and bringing back good engineering skills is a way to work towards correcting that. You just don't see as many students from the developing world here in the US getting degrees in art, English, or the social sciences.

      Now, I if I were an Islamic terrorist recruiter, I'd most interested in finding people who had lived in the target country and could move around comfortably there. But they'd also need to be people who were grounded in Islam and hopefully susceptible to a more fundamentalist point of view. Young people tend to be more "flexible" in their theology than older people. So, who do I look for? Students from my own country who have been or are currently studying abroad and most of them are going to be Engineers. Plus these students have the added benefit of having already gone through the visa process and will probably much easier to get back into the target country.

      I really don't think the recruiters and leaders are looking specifically for highly trained engineers so they can be expended on the front-line. If Engineers are actually valued for their technical skills, planning capability, etc, I'd use them for designing IEDs and planning operations. Considering the failures and apparent incompetence so far, maybe they are using the "bottom of the barrel" for the actual operations, since they have the qualifications to reach the target country but are not so capable in an Engineering capacity.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by radtea (464814)

        I don't think the terrorist recruiters are specifically seeking out Engineering students.

        No, they are specifically seeking out Muslims. Or in the case of Northern Ireland, Catholics or Protestants (depending on which side of the divide they are on) and in India, Hindus or Sikhs.

        Oddly enough, everyone is recruiting based on religion, almost as if strongly held beliefs for which you have no evidence is a prerequisite for killing lots of people in the name of them.

        Which, given what an abysmal record political

    • by RingDev (879105) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @11:20AM (#30593810) Homepage Journal

      The article even hits on it.

      Who is more likely to commit an act of terrorism:
      1) A doctor who works 60 hours a week and golfs with his buddies
      2) An unemployed engineer who is socially inept and having difficulties earning a living wage

      The article points out that in Saudi Arabia, where the rapidly growing economy has resulted in very low unemployment for engineers, there is no over abundance of engineering degrees in terrorist organizations. But in other countries where grow has been slow or stymied and engineering education has been heavily promoted, unemployment, specifically in the engineering sectors, has been especially high.

      The best way to fight against extremist recruiting is to maintain low unemployment and to keep people socially engaged. So long as people are comfortable with their existence and have hope for the future, any extremist group will have a hard time coming up with fresh recruits.

      That is why, IMO, the most critical aspect of world wide security is not nukes or armies, not even police or surveillance laws. The most important factor to peace, stability, and security is the Middle Class.

      -Rick

  • by ProfBooty (172603) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:10AM (#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.

    • by CraftyJack (1031736) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:18AM (#30592900)
      My question: Why do so many people with liberal arts degrees write articles about this?
    • 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

      • by J_Omega (709711) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @11:29AM (#30593972)
        I hate to say the following for two reasons. 1) it is a stereotype of my own design, and 2) I am an engineer.

        Engineers are ALWAYS right. ALWAYS. Even when (especially when?) something is clearly opinion based.

        Ask a non-eng what their favorite color is, you get a simple answer.
        Ask an eng the same, you get an answer PLUS reasons why it is superior to other colors.


        As I said, I am an engineer. It was only after I noticed behavior like this in other engs that I noticed it in myself as well.
        I don't like having that trait (flaw?) and have had to make a conscious effort to be less judgmental. (Yet remaining critical.)

        So, yeah, as RobotRunAmok pointed out - engs tend to think/say "Right is right - AND I'M RIGHT" even when it isn't a correct/incorrect discussion, sometimes when they are clearly incorrect (they defend what they've said, clearly wrong.)

        Also, and again this is something that I've caught myself doing, is that these personality types can and do play the Devil's Advocate rather well - up to a point. There is a difference between seeing the other side of a discussion and being contrarian for the sake of "being right."

        The above may not be worded all that well, but I need my morning coffee. Besides, it hardly matters if you disagree with me, since I KNOW that I am correct.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Solandri (704621)

          Engineers are ALWAYS right. ALWAYS. Even when (especially when?) something is clearly opinion based.

          Ask a non-eng what their favorite color is, you get a simple answer.
          Ask an eng the same, you get an answer PLUS reasons why it is superior to other colors.

          As I said, I am an engineer. It was only after I noticed behavior like this in other engs that I noticed it in myself as well. I don't like having that trait (flaw?) and have had to make a conscious effort to be less judgmental. (Yet remaining critic

      • by Nitage (1010087) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @11:31AM (#30593992)
        By contrast, Liberal Arts grads. are trained to see both sides of the story and to offer a 'balanced' perspective. But they're unable to cope with issues that aren't a template of 'there are two sides to every story and they're both equally valid' - which is a problem because most situations do not have two valid 'sides' and because the media, and news in paticular, is dominated by Liberal Arts grads.

        Which is why science reporting is so crap - no, saying that the LHC will create a black hole the will destroy the earth is not an 'equally valid viewpoint' that the BBC should report in the interest of balance.
        • by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @12:55PM (#30595656) Homepage

          As a CS grad from a liberal arts school, I got to deal with the liberal arts types that parent is referring to quite a bit.

          There were generally 3 modes of thinking for the less bright liberal arts students:
          1. "I'm right, because I'm morally right, and anyone who disagrees with me is mysogynistic / racist / classist / homophobic." This would be found most commonly in the [insert historically disadvantaged group here] Studies departments. They also tend to join up with identity-based groups on campus.
          2. "On the other hand ..." These folks are easy to find in the English or psychology departments, and by avoiding ever drawing any conclusions avoid having their conclusions being demonstrated incorrect. Often, they were extremely good students in high school, because their high school classes emphasized memorize-regurgitate over critical thinking.
          3. "These 'facts' make me feel like I'm right" This is where truthiness trumps facts. You find these people in the political science and history departments. They also spend a lot of their time in on-campus activism, and are often humorously misinformed.

          All of them have real trouble in fields like math and science because in those fields there are correct and incorrect answers, and incorrect answers cannot be met by "that's just, like, your opinion, man". Of course, xkcd [xkcd.com] shows it far better than I ever could.

          Worth mentioning is that the smarter liberal arts types aren't like this at all. For instance, smart English majors can point out the structures of literature that make it all tick, or exactly how a sentence can be better phrased. Smart history majors can provide all the major sources for a historical event, explain what biases each source had and how that affected their description of the event, piece together what probably actually happened, and are probably some of the best BS detectors out there.

  • Thomas Jefferson (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:11AM (#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.

  • Lets see (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OzPeter (195038) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:14AM (#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 (Score:5, Funny)

      by lxs (131946) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:17AM (#30592880)

      You forgot:

      Awkward around girls - check

      • Re:Lets see (Score:5, Funny)

        by A. B3ttik (1344591) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:22AM (#30592956)
        This is a good point. The promise of 72 Virgins is probably much more enticing to geek engineers.
        • Re:Lets see (Score:5, Funny)

          by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:52AM (#30593340)

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

          The problem is that if you had two such engineers, they're compete to see who could get his 72 virgins stacked to make the strongest bridge.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by elrous0 (869638) *
      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 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by FlyByPC (841016) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:27AM (#30593020) Homepage

      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 (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Razalhague (1497249) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:42AM (#30593206) Homepage
        Not all terrorists are religious.
      • Re:Lets see (Score:5, Insightful)

        by LordKazan (558383) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:57AM (#30593410) Homepage Journal

        and yet my experience in university tells me that the religious social conservatives are concentrated in the engineering college...

        why?

        because engineering is a world of black and white thinking, and it doesn't challenge their religious dogma like the other departments with their more rounded gen ed requirements do. Let alone the departments in Arts and Sciences like Geology, Biology, Paleontology, etc that the findings of openly challenge their dogma.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by story645 (1278106)

          because engineering is a world of black and white thinking, and it doesn't challenge their religious dogma

          Knowing a lot of religious social conservatives (being a religious social liberal myself), there's a simpler reason. All the people I know want to get married, have kids, do all the normal socially conservative things, and engineering is the fastest path to all that 'cause it comes with great pay for only 4/5 years of work. The article says as much when it talks about how the countries these people are from were pushing engineering as the stable well paying route to success.

          Most other professional degrees t

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          I actually find, Engineers to be the most "well rounded" of disciplines. WHY? Because they have to incorporate all sorts of other disciplines into whatever they design and build.

          Additionally, they tend to always be learning. And not just about Engineering, but across a very broad scope.

          You can have a conversation with an Engineer about anything from Physics, to Ecology, to religion, to even art and design. And you'll find that most of them are able to have a conversation in many many different fields.

          Libera

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bwcbwc (601780)

        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.)

        And yet there are many (non-biologist) scientists who are also creationists in the fundamentalist Christian sense. All you need is the Islamic equivalent.

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

        Engineers not religious? They are more religious than anyone, it's just that the religion is engineering and they take a ton of convincing that engineers they consider to be "above" them are wrong even when the evidence is clear. Absolute obedience to authority comes naturally to an engineer because they spend so much time early on gathering facts from authority figures that over time they lose th

    • From the Slate article:

      Another possible explanation would be that engineers possess technical skills and architectural know-how that makes them attractive recruits for terrorist organizations. But the recent study found that engineers are just as likely to hold leadership roles within these organizations as they are to be working hands-on with explosives. In any case, their technical expertise may not be that useful, since most of the methods employed in terrorist attacks are rudimentary. It's true that eig

  • Not so fast ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LaughingCoder (914424) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:15AM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TheCarp (96830)

      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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kungfugleek (1314949)
      I think you're right that engineering is the art of compromise, but I still hate it. I would love all the time and resources in the world to make the "perfect" product, but it never happens. I have to compromise, and engineering is all about that, but I still hate it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      While I might somewhat agree with the notion that engineers disdain ambiguity, I completely disagree with the statement that engineers hate compromise

      But does this same hold true when you're idealistic and still in college learning your trade? What I learned in school in no way prepared me for the compromises required by real life... just because you must be able to compromise doesn't mean that you like doing it -- most folks don't (engineers and otherwise).

  • Necessary skills (Score:5, Insightful)

    by antura (1381003) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:16AM (#30592866)
    I'd guess art students aren't as good at making bombs.
  • Or (Score:4, Insightful)

    by truthsearch (249536) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:17AM (#30592870) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • by noidentity (188756) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:17AM (#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)

    • 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.

  • by jellomizer (103300) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:18AM (#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.

  • 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 a

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Minwee (522556)

      Or perhaps the students who put some effort into studying pointless subjects like history, philosophy, politics, sociology, psychology, and whatever other underwater-basket-weaving people who aren't engineers take, might have learned enough to say "Hey, you know what? This has all happened before and it didn't work then. This is the wrong way to do it. Have you considered an alternative to blowing things up?"

      The students who only studied engineering never learned what the right questions were, let alone

  • by east coast (590680) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:20AM (#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.
  • They target engineers more than other disciplines . . . and more engineers become terrorists.

    I think you answered your own question.
  • 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
  • by Timothy Brownawell (627747) <tbrownaw@prjek.net> on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:24AM (#30592982) Homepage Journal
    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").
  • 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? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wcrowe (94389) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:26AM (#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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by value_added (719364)

      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.

      I suspect it's sortakindof like that, but in reverse. Engineering is probably regarded as a respectable profession, so the kids get sent off with a visa to schools abroad.

      Fairly common attitude across Eastern Europe, so I'd expect the Arab world would be little different. What's respectable? Studying to become a doctor, lawyer or businessmen or somebody who b

  • Eh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ShooterNeo (555040) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:26AM (#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.

    • 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

      Goddam bankers, they're almost as bad as terrorists.

    • Re:Eh (Score:4, Insightful)

      by andy1307 (656570) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @11:07AM (#30593586)

      s 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

      Taken out of context, that could apply to the bankers on Wall Street.

  • 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.

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

  • by Maltheus (248271) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:36AM (#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.

  • by Thelasko (1196535) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:44AM (#30593232) Journal
    They're all maniacal engineers. [wikipedia.org] *rimshot* [instantrimshot.com]
  • by assertation (1255714) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:46AM (#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.

  • by pirhana (577758) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @10:49AM (#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.
  • by dnwq (910646) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @11:12AM (#30593664)
    Okay, I know nobody RTFAs. But the original paper is here [ox.ac.uk], and it makes the following points:

    1) It has nothing to do with technical abilities. Terrorists don't attempt to recruit people by technical ability, they just take whoever they can get.

    2) It has nothing to do with ease of immigration as a skilled migrant. The paper cites studies on American religious terrorists (the nominally Christian far-right) and concludes that the unusual tendency of engineers towards right-wing radicalism seems universal.

    3) The paper argues that the 'styles of thinking' that predispose people towards engineering, also predispose them towards right-wing radicalism. Engineers are more reliably right-wing than even economists! (who are the second-most reliably right-wing academic group). Likewise, a liberal arts education is correlated with left-wing radicalism (e.g., communist bombing campaigns [wikipedia.org] in postwar Western Europe). But there have been relatively few left-wing bombing terrorist acts after the end of the Soviet Union, while right-wing radicalism is on the rise. Hence mad engineers rather than mad Marx-spewing liberal arts graduates.
  • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @11:14AM (#30593698)

    Every serious military fan boy (or whatever) knows that combat engineers are, overall, the most economically effective soldiers.

    Take everything you'd want in a grunt, but invest a little more education so they can use more technology, and that is basically a combat engineer. A super-grunt, the grunt of the future ... today.

    Per dollar invested by society, per person, per pound, per whatever, combat engineers are simply the most effective soldiers on the planet. There are other groups with "more battlefield power", tac nuke artillery, attack copter pilot, etc, but they invariably require a million to trillion dollar rear echelon and military industrial complex back home, and lack the sustained long term fighting power of a combat engineering group. Anything that can crush ten combat engineering units, has an overall societal cost maybe 1e6 higher than a CE unit, so assuming enough smart enlistees, your overall military power is the highest when you maximize your combat engineers.

    The only reason more combat engineers aren't used, is the quantity of enlistees with the required superior brain power is limited.

    In the 70s/80s there was kind of a "revenge of the jocks" doctrinal move toward special forces, etc, but that has pretty much failed, fizzled out, and the combat engineers reign supreme on the battlefield once again...

    Non-military folks can pretend to be surprised that a military force would try to recruit engineers for pageviews or whatever, but for those in the business, its no surprise at all.

    (And, yes, I was in the Army in the early 90s, and no, I was in Ordnance not combat engineering, and as a supplier we were well aware that the combat engineers have by far the most effective armaments)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Duradin (1261418)

      Rome in its heyday is a very good example of the power of (early) combat engineers. The soldiers weren't just soldiers, they had they skills to basically bring Rome to wherever they went as well as being able to build, maintain, transport and use some rather complex weapons (for their time).

  • by assertation (1255714) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @11:16AM (#30593730)

    The obvious point: Terrorists need people with money and people with the skills to make bombs.

    Not much room for English or Journalism majors at the Al Quedia training camp.

    The communication skills from those disciplines are useful, but the Islamic terrorists already have the SUV/Saudi Arabian funded clerics taking care of brain washing and recruitment.

  • by anorlunda (311253) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @11:17AM (#30593744) Homepage

    Hey, can you think of any recruiter in any field and any country who isn't out to snag the best and the brightest?

    Wouldn't it be recruiting malpractice so not do so?

  • I'll bite... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TaggartAleslayer (840739) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @11:19AM (#30593780)

    I am a software engineer by trade. Note, I do not call myself a programmer, as that has an entirely different tone to it.

    I can see where recruiting young engineers would be best. When I was 20, I was a sharp network engineer (again engineer) working on integrating a section of the Exxon and Mobil servers when they merged. At that time I was also studying several translations of the christian bible trying to find meaning in life.

    I can see how someone with an analytical mind, logical training, and a sort of philosophical interest could be of use to nearly any cause.

    Quite a few years later I am married, have a good life, and gave up the network bit for my hobby (coding). I am back in college, aiming for a degree that matters to me and now am much less prone to theological stints. Wisdom comes with age.

    If you catch the young engineer while he's figuring out the world, yeah, he may just sign on for [random cause].

  • Insecure personality (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mdsolar (1045926) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @11:23AM (#30593854) Homepage Journal
    Engineering is a means for people who feel insecure to gain power. Personality flaws are not a real obstacle to getting a degree. I used to tutor premeds in physics and would find some pretty obsessive people, people who did not care at all about the subject, found no joy in learning it, but who covered it to get to their medical goal. But the funny thing was that I met engineering students who had just the same attitude. But physics is much more foundational to engineering that to medicine. What these students seemed most interested in were the sports cars that came along with their coop programs. I'm pretty sure that premeds who did not like medicine itself would not make it through their program while engineering students who did not like engineering would.

    My experience with people who claim to be nuclear engineers here on slashdot is that they are obsessive to the point of being completely blind to reality. More than once I've said that I hoped the commenter had nothing to do with the running of a nuclear power plant because they were plainly security risks. That is on slashdot. Who know who those people really were. But there is at least an association between threats of violence and claims to be engineers. Insecure personalities could explain that association.

    I've also worked with mechanical and electrical engineers who are really great people. Engineering is not a ticket to personality disorder, it just seems to attract and pass through some of that sort.
  • by nate nice (672391) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @11:25AM (#30593892) Journal

    Never blow yourself up!

  • by stewbacca (1033764) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @11:50AM (#30594346)

    I studied Arabic in the Army's immersion program and I can tell you that most Arab males claim to be engineers (even if they aren't). It's one of the highest achievements in their culture. Ana Muhandis (I'm an engineer) is a common phrase and one of the first you learn.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kbahey (102895)

      You are on to something but then totally miss it: titles are big in Egyptian Arabic, not the profession itself.

      Speaking as someone born and raised in Egypt, Arabic being my mother tongue, the society there is very large on titles. If you are writing a letter to an official in the USA, you address it to "Dear Sir/Madam" or to "Mr. John Doe/Ms. Jane Doe". In Egypt, you are asked to address the official with all the titles that he/she got. For example "Al Sayed Al Ostaz Al Doctor Al Kimya'ee John Doe" (Mr ? Dr

  • by Beelzebud (1361137) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @03:34PM (#30598308)
    They just really like trains over there!
  • Bomb building skills (Score:3, Interesting)

    by prefec2 (875483) on Wednesday December 30, 2009 @05:36PM (#30599882)

    An artist or a lawyer normally do not have the necessary skills to switch a lightbulb so how could they probably build a bomb. Furthermore lawyers are better in targeting and destroying companies or the legal system. Artists are good in making fun of western symbols and values e.g. ($ EUR YEN). Also engineering students are more likely to be treated badly by others. Hey they are geeks so they respond "good" when they are the target of jokes. They are more likely introvert. The same persons tend to shoot of peoples heads in high schools for the same reasons.

    So if someone thinks he is mistreated by all other people he most likely does not have any sympathy left for those jerks. Therefore the best way to prevent terror recruitment is to integrate geeks and even dorks back in society. Also as societies: We should not treat other societies as inferior, which is also a source of terrorism.

  • by CAIMLAS (41445) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @03:43AM (#30603630) Homepage

    The fact that they were "engineers" is not surprising. Look throughout history at the people who may have gotten engineering degrees, if such things had existed then:

    * Thomas Jefferson (who was something like a surveyor's assistant, and a botanist of sorts)
    * Michelangelo (who was a tinkerer and inventor, making new things)
    * Edison (of the lightbulb)
    * Ford (of the automobile, was known as a self-taught watch repairman as a youth, and once even held the title 'engineer')

    Problem is, in today's society, an "engineer" is a really wide definition. If you're getting a useful 4-year technical degree, it's an engineering degree or a technology degree. Getting a "civil engineering" or "mechanical engineering" degree would be the most likely means to gainful employment, regardless of where you live.

    And in reality, many men are well suited for the role of "engineer". They're tinkerers, problem solvers, and fixers. If a man is generally competent, he's more likely to make a decent engineer - and by association, is more likely to go into that field. ...

    As for the implications of the article, I am keenly aware of the disturbing social implications resulting from widespread dispersal of this "study". I can easily see security theater like the TSA moving to profile against, say, "religious technical people", making sure to adjust their procedure to not "unjustly discriminate against Islamic engineers with one-way tickets and no luggage.

    The only thing this study really tells me is that men who are of a regimented mindset and/or an engineering background are more likely to become successful terrorists when coming from an Islamic culture. To read anything more into that is foolish, but we should at least heed that correlation.

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