Why are so many top terrorists engineers?

Diego Gambetta and Steffan Hertog report:

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…

Henry Farrell adds commentary.  I take the bottom line to be that engineers are systematizers by nature and in Islamic countries in particular they face difficult social  circumstances, relative to their human capital and ambition.  I suspect also that elites with a clear inherited path to the top do not become engineers.

I am less convinced by the parallels drawn with politically conservative engineers in the United States, but the piece offers (p.51) this fascinating bit:

…engineers turn out to be by far the most religious group of all academics – 66.5 per cent, followed again by 61.7 in economics [emphasis added by TC], 49.9 in sciences, 48.8 per cent of social scientists, 46.3 of doctors and 44.1 per cent of lawyers, the most sceptical of the lot.  Engineers and economists are also those who oppose religion least (3.7% and 3.0%), and, together with the humanities, those who more strongly embrace it…

Footnote 63 (p.58) is not satisfactory but nonetheless intriguing.  This is probably the best piece on terrorism I have read.


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