Terrorism and high IQ underachievers

Some interesting thoughts from Half Sigma on the counterintuitive idea that terrrorists have higher than average IQ. Also related, why so many terrorists have engineering degrees:

A paper (PDF) released this summer by two sociologists, Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog, adds empirical evidence to this observation. The pair looked at more than 400 radical Islamic terrorists from more than 30 nations in the Middle East and Africa born mostly between the 1950s and 1970s. Earlier studies had shown that terrorists tend to be wealthier and better-educated than their countrymen, but Gambetta and Hertog found that engineers, in particular, were three to four times more likely to become violent terrorists than their peers in finance, medicine or the sciences. The next most radicalizing graduate degree, in a distant second, was Islamic Studies.

So what’s with all the terrorist-engineers? The simple explanation is that engineering happens to be an especially popular field of study in the countries that produce violent radicals. But Gambetta and Hertog corrected for national enrollment numbers in engineering programs and got similar results. Even among Islamic terrorists born or raised in the West, nearly 60 percent had engineering backgrounds.

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 …

Gambetta and Hertog propose that a lack of appropriate jobs in their home countries may have radicalized some engineers in Arab countries. The graduates they studied came of age at a time when a degree from a competitive technical program was supposed to provide a guarantee of high-status employment. But the promises of modernization and development were often stymied by repression and corruption, and many young engineers in the 1980s were left jobless and frustrated. One exception was Saudi Arabia, where engineers had little trouble finding work in an ever-expanding economy. As it happens, Saudi Arabia is also the only Arab state where the study found that engineers are not disproportionately represented in the radical movement


6 Responses to “Terrorism and high IQ underachievers”

  1. conrad Says:

    I can give them a third possibility too, which is that most engineers have visual-spatial abilities well in excess of their verbal abilities. Such a pattern is common with psychopaths — presumably they must live in a frustrating world — think of all the good ideas they must have without being able to tell their friends!

  2. Steve Edney Says:

    Engineering is an ideal choice for those of any fundamentalist religious beliefs in my opinion. You can stick to the purely technical and avoid the fundamental science stuff (evolution and cosmology) that may challenge your religious convictions. You can also avoid any humanities material that challenges your opinions on morality, views of history etc.

  3. steve from brisbane Says:

    Yeah I agree with Steve E. I’m pretty sure there is a higher incidence of autism spectrum problems with engineer’s kids, suggesting that the may well be inheriting a tendency towards it from their father. It sounds like a cruel generalisation, but some scientist friends who had jobs in which they met a significant number of engineers (as did I in a previous career) used to agree that, as a class, engineering seem to attract an unusually high percentage of men with pretty dire social skills.

    It therefore doesn’t surprise me that as a career it lends itself well to somewhat socially isolated suicidal zealots who lack empathy with their victims.

  4. rog Says:

    I’ve known and know of engineers who crack up when things dont go right – one committed suicide after his project failed to fulfill the design brief.

  5. charles Says:

    Ya Yeltsin’s was an engineer also, you know the quy who brought an end to the communist state is Russia.

    Engineering is about turning dreams into reality. Perhaps it is because the can see alternate realities. Perhaps it’s because they get out and do, while most just talk.

  6. Adrien Says:

    engineers, in particular, were three to four times more likely to become violent terrorists than their peers
    Coming from a long line of engineers I can’t say I’m surprised. 🙂

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