Sunday, November 11, 2007

Science marches on

Academic group-blog Crooked Timber highlighted an "absolutely fascinating" statistical study of 404 Islamists (sometimes calling them Islamists and sometimes calling them violent extremists) showing that "they" are disproportionately of an engineering background. The report's conclusion was that probably (in addition to secondary sociological factors) there is something about the engineering "mindset", that is "given to simplification, monistic understandings of the world and a desire that existing social arangements be preserved..." (in the words of the absolutely fascinated presenter of this, Washington-based social scientist Henry Farell).

The "study" didn't distinguish between members of a progressive movement like Hamas (81 people in the sample out of a total of 404) and people you could genuinely call "violent extremists", a distinction that is obviously of the utmost importance for any real understanding that goes beyond stereotypes.* Instead they were all thrown carelessly into the same pot, and (after stirring in a good dose of prejudice about what engineering is all about) sure enough the conclusion was defamatory of all Islamists (and engineers as well, as at least one engineer noted in a comment: He said "Now I know what it must feel like to be a Muslim these days"). Nor was there any acknowledgment of the fact that Islamist groups in Palestine and elsewhere are to some degree at least the inheritors of the progressive instincts of the earlier secular-left movements. The innuendo about a hyper-conservative Islamist "mindset" prone to simplistic views and violence, as an explanation for the overrepresentation of engineers in this sample, was pure [word deleted by the blog administrator]. But the blog-owner Henry Farell, who called attention to this "fascinating" study, wasn't having any of it. In reply, he says the author of the study is "in the top two or three" world-wide, among "rational choice sociologists", suggesting his readers would be impressed by the structure of the academic hierarchy, if not the argument itself, and he added if there are mistakes in the study, "they're unlikely to be wrong because of stupid or obvious methodological errors." He didn't mention ideology.

My suggestion is that if you want illustrations of groups that are "given to simplification, monistic understandings of the world and a desire that existing [academic hierarchical] arrangements be preserved", you might want to take a peek at this kind of thing.

* In fact the Palestinians in the sample (mostly Hamas members) had the lowest share of engineers of any of the national groups, and the authors noted that "many engineers [in Hamas] are prominent in senior management positions with no technical [by which they mean bomb-making] functions". But they use this observation merely to bolster their point that it is the broadly conservative "mindset" that tends to attract engineers to "Islamism", rather than any narrow need on the part of groups for such "technical" skills.


Blogger D. Ghirlandaio said...

Engineering and utopia have a long history, and I'm not a fan of the mindset. Al Qaeda is utopian as a modernist/antimodernist extremism. Like fascism. Hamas isn't. The Islamists in Turkey are the reformers not the secularists.

Here's for a return to exegetical and juridical logic, to scepticism and empricism and irony, to the humanism and doubt of the Italian renaissance, and for leaving behind the anti-humanism of 18th century France. History is the model, not mathematics.
I'm so sick of this shit.


10:12 AM  
Anonymous b. said...

Engineers are very smart. That's why they know when changes are needed.

Engineers know how to build bombs. That's why they build the bombs while the doctors tend to the ill.

If engineers were like sociologists, you would read this sentence from a perchment.

(I am a dangerous engineer, so watch what are your responding)

11:29 AM  
Blogger badger said...

now now

1:14 PM  
Blogger D. Ghirlandaio said...

In that case it's just like the military. Fine with me but then you're under civilian authority (aka adult supervision).

Check out my comment @#77 on H Farrell's post. Engineering is is the master allegory of modern politcal thought. it's the logic that says every enginner is an architect. There's no such thing as over-determined in mechanical design. In social and intelletual life it's something else entirely. I hate nerds; and the fact that they've taken over the humanitiies disgusts me. And if you know the origin of that song you quote you know that the best of Weimar was never about the cure; it was just the honest art of the disease.
It ended here

Henry Farrell can't respond to data that he doesn't fit into his preexisting categories. And his defense is to pretend he doesn't have them, to pretend his own subjectivity does not exist. That's autism. He doesn't see it has having to do with Israel or the Palestinians, and in fact it doesn't. But they've already been categorized and its too late to change.

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we should lock up all engineers for the foreseeable future.

Particularly American ones, because they are the most dangerous.

2:58 PM  

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