Or, more precisely, to a disdain for ambiguity and compromise that, in turn, leads to terrorism?
At least among engineers?
Reportedly teasing out the effects of engineers being particularly well-qualified to become terrorists,
Gambetta and Hertog write about a particular mind-set among engineers that disdains ambiguity and compromise. They might be more passionate about bringing order to their society and see the rigid, religious law put forward in radical Islam as the best way of achieving those goals.
Gambetta and Hertog found engineers only in right-wing groups — the ones that claim to fight for the pious past of Islamic fundamentalists or the white-supremacy America of the Aryan Nations (founder: Richard Butler, engineer) or the minimal pre-modern U.S. government that Stack and Bedell extolled.
Among Communists, anarchists and other groups whose shining ideal lies in the future, the researchers found almost no engineers. Yet these organizations mastered the same technical skills as the right-wingers. Between 1970 and 1978, for instance, the Baader-Meinhof gang in Germany staged kidnappings, assassinations, bank robberies and bombings. Seventeen of its members had college or graduate degrees, mostly in law or the humanities. Not one studied engineering.
The engineer mind-set... might be a mix of emotional conservatism and intellectual habits that prefers clear answers to ambiguous questions — “the combination of a sharp mind with a loyal acceptance of authority.”
Do people become engineers because they are this way? Or does engineering work shape them? It’s probably a feedback loop of both, Gambetta says.
Terrorist organizations seem to have recognized this proclivity... 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.
William A. Wulf, a former president of the National Academy of Engineering, is, no surprise, no fan of the Gambetta-Hertog theory... The sample of militants Gambetta and Hertog used was simply too small for them to be sure they haven’t stumbled into a meaningless numerical accident, he says. The theory, according to Wulf, misrepresents what engineers are about. “A person who is rigid,” he says, “is a bad engineer.”
Most leading universities in the U.S. are cultivating thinking skills completely opposite to what they state as a preference for “clear answers to ambiguous questions.” The goal of my own school — and I know that we are not alone in this — is to produce whole-brain thinkers. We want to produce engineers who are firmly grounded in analysis, logic and rational thinking but who also have intuitive and metaphorical thinking skills — the kind that open up new avenues of thought.