New paper shows evidence for the Salem hypothesis

I was pointed to this EDN blog post about an Oxford University paper via a mail list posting. I later found another article about it in EETimes. The title of the paper is “Engineers of Jihad” the full paper as a PDF is here and here. It’s part of the Department of Sociology, Working Paper Series at the University of Oxford. The paper is by Nuffield College Professor Diego Gambetta FBA, PhD and Steffen Hertog.

I have only skimmed through most of the paper’s 90 pages so far but I plan a more detailed reading as time permits. The only section I read completely is the section “Religiosity of engineers” beginning on page 51. This section refers to the Salem hypothesis and gives data from a 1984 survey of academic engineers. While the survey does not explicitly deal with creationism it clearly shows engineering academics to be more likely to be conservative and religious. In my experience, the combination of conservative and religious is a good predictor for creationist beliefs, hence my feeling that this supports the Salem hypothesis.

This reply on the mail list surprised me:

Sounds to me more like paranoia over the protestors who are attempting to stop Oxford University building a laboratory where animals will be used for experimental medicine. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/oxfordshire/4707251.stm for typical news item on it.

This engineer jumps right up to say the paper is merely a conspiracy to draw attention away from the PR problems Oxford is currently having. Lets see if this makes logical sense based on the evidence that I see. First, the paper was published three months ago and has not been actively promoted by the university. To me that seems like the absolute worst way to use the paper for deflecting public opinion away from the other troubles. Active early promotion of the paper would help support the premise that this was a diversion but that didn’t happen. Second, I’ve never seen conservative religious groups protesting against animal laboratories, in my experience these types are more likely to defend the laboratory. The paper makes the case that academic engineers are more likely to be conservative and religious. Intentionally irritating those who are most likely to support your cause does not seem to me to be a good way to deflect public criticism. So, from what I see if this paper was meant to diffuse the animal laboratory issue, Oxford has made a very illogical choice.

Reading over the comments at the EDN blog and EETimes article, I see many irrational and conspiracy minded responses from people who likely haven’t even read the paper (some even admit this). The ad hominem attacks, claims that all sociologists are fools and multiple commenter’s saying how they know so many religious non-Muslim engineers, all provide evidence to support the basic premise of the paper and the Salem hypothesis. It sure looks like many of the commenter’s didn’t take the time to read the paper and instead are simply reacting to the papers title, sigh. With all the ridiculous comments is it any wonder that scientists are suspect of engineers when it comes to questions of science.

Another interesting data point is that economics and business majors came in number two, right behind engineers, in the conservative and religious proclivity. Now where have I been recently seeing a high profile member of this 2nd group involved in promoting creationism? Bueller?… Bueller?… Bueller?

While researching this post Tyler DiPietro published an interesting post, Irrational Engineers: A Conjecture. I’m thinking about this and will comment over at Tyler’s site later.

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