Don’t take offense at the Salem Hypothesis!


Every time I mention the Salem Hypothesis, as I did in recent video, I get a bunch of complaints from engineers that they aren’t creationists. I know. Most engineers are not creationists, or even necessarily prone to creationism. That’s not what the Salem Hypothesis says.

Here’s what RationalWiki says:

The Salem Hypothesis is the observation of an apparent correlation between the engineering trade and creationist beliefs (possibly due to crank magnetism, this can also include climate-change denial and other crackpot beliefs).

The hypothesis suggests that people who claim science expertise, whilst advocating creationism, tend to be formally trained as engineers (with the possible exception of chemical engineers).

This hypothesis does not address whether engineers tend to be creationists (the converse); however, it has been speculated that engineering predisposes people to a creation-science view.[citation needed]

There is some evidence that this characterization of respected members of the esteemed engineering profession can actually be extrapolated out to fundamentalism and quackery of all kinds.

Here’s Larry Moran and Bruce Salem explaining further.

The Salem Conjecture was popularized by Bruce Salem on the newsgroup talk.origins. It dates to before my time on that newsgroup (1990) and I haven’t been able to find archives to research the exact origin. The conjecture was explained by Bruce on numerous occasions, here’s a statement from Sept, 5, 1996.

My position is not that most creationists are engineers or even that engineering predisposes one to Creationism. In fact, most engineers are not Creationists and more well-educated people are less predisposed to Creationism, the points the statistics in the study bear out. My position was that of those Creationists who presented themselves with professional credentials, or with training that they wished to represent as giving them competence to be critics of Evolution while offering Creationism as the alternative, a significant number turned out to be engineers.

I know it’s subtle, but it’s not attacking engineers, it’s saying that creationists who claim scientific authority often turn out to be engineers, and not at all qualified.

I’d add a corollary: if they’re not engineers, they often turn out to be MDs or dentists.

Anyway, I also got email from an engineer who understood the distinction.

My name is [redacted] and I am a Mechanical Engineer and graduate from Michigan State University. I am not a creationist, but I did find out I was working with at least 2 young earth creationists. In a building of ~15,000 people at the former FCA/Chrysler headquarters that isn’t surprising. It was my first exposure to such ideas in person. My circle of friends/coworkers couldn’t believe someone had those ideas.

After watching some of your discussions I see they all seem to use the same tactics. I’d use their numbers for the Grand Canyon v Mount St. Helens river carving time and their numbers would work out to make the Earth older than 6,000 years, so they’d jump to a different topic without admitting the error. They’d deny evolution say it was never observed. I’d tell them about MSU’s long running evolution project in the physics building so off to another topic, then another ad nauseam.

Anyway, I just wanted to give you at least a data point to help offset the Salem hypothesis. I wonder what makes us lean toward creationism, odd. Honestly, it’s kind of sad, as I got into engineering because I wanted to know how the real world actually works. I cant imagine chaulking it up to a sky daddy and not thinking about it.

Just for laughs, though, here’s a creationist who thinks the Salem Hypothesis is just great.

Perhaps the reason that engineers are more likely to be critical of evolution, is because evolution actually is more of a question of engineering than biology, as it deals with the development of the most intricate, purposeful systems available. Thus, the field of study most likely to be able to correctly analyze this question would, in fact, be engineers.

See? Not knowing anything about biology is an advantage for certain kinds of engineers who want to pontificate on evolution.

Comments

  1. chrislawson says

    Same logic as all those institutional investors in Theranos who convinced themselves their CFOs and a board stacked with celebrity know-nothings understood more about pathology testing than pathologists and scientists.

  2. nomaduk says

    I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.  
     
    — John Stuart Mill, letter to the Conservative MP, Sir John Pakington (March, 1866)

  3. birgerjohansson says

    The mention of Salem reminds me; the judge who wrote about why Roe vs Wade had to be rejected referred to an English 17th-century judge who had sentenced women for witchcraft.
    .
    I do not know if this supreme court judge also believes in creationism but the odds for it would be pretty high.

  4. Matt G says

    I had a conversation with a civil engineer who explained to me that the cure for cancer was a machine invented 100 years ago which sends out cancer cell-killing vibrations. What happened to it? Killed off by the pharmaceutical industry. Towards the end of the conversation he told me his niece died of cancer at age 15.

  5. says

    Here’s my take on the Salem hypothesis: people who grow up in narrow-minded, rigid, backward religious environments, and who show aptitude for mathematical, scientific or rational thinking, are less likely to be given the opportunity to study actual science; so they’re more likely to gravitate toward engineering, since one can be an engineer without having to question anyone’s basic religious beliefs or prejudices, or find one’s own beliefs called into question. So a backward Christian can get a good job without necessarily having to have any contact with nonbelievers or other (non)beliefs, the person’s church and beliefs get a reputation boost, and everyone is happy.

    I read of a similar trend in Tsarist Russia, where people of a (relatively) freethinking bent tended to end up in army engineering, simply because even the dumbest officers knew they needed engineers and thus had to give them at least a tiny bit more freedom to think than anyone else got.

  6. René says

    My father was an electrical engineer, not an Ir but an Ing. I think he always resented his older brother for having an academic title. I inherited my father’s logical thinking, and his staunch anti-Vatican stance.

  7. blf says

    Just a quibble / question — Could it be more(?) accurate to say “creationists who claim scientific authority almost always turn out to not be biologists, and not at all qualified; they seem to frequently claim to be engineers”? And would that be more(?) accurate?

    I know I am being (rather deliberately) fuzzy here — as one example, what is meant by “accurate”, i.e., how is that measured & and what results exist? — but what I am trying to grapple-with is that, except for one study a long time ago, I’m unawares of any quantified support for any particular “sciencey” profession being claimed by cretinists as their qualification. (Please note I am trying to exclude non-“sciencey” self-claimed alleged-expertise, which I presume form a significant majority of cretinists.)

    That one study is an admittedly vague recollection of Turkish cretinists(? engineers?) which did find (from possibly-flawed memory) a statistically-meaningful correlation. (Being Turkish, I also presume most subjects, if religious, were Muslim, possibly a confounding variable.)

  8. headdesk says

    I am a mechanical engineer and also not a creationist. My guess why engineers show up as supporters of creationism is that: 1) Engineering is probably held as a more respectable profession among young creationists who are choosing a career; and, 2) Engineering is less likely to challenge a creationist’s world view in a way that would significantly impact their career as an engineer. There aren’t as many filters in place that would weed out creationist engineers as there are in the sciences.

  9. says

    It also kind of makes sense in that what engineers do, by definition, is design complicated objects and figure out how to build them. So they’re in the habit of thinking that’s where stuff comes from. Maybe some just can’t expand their thinking beyond that model. And if they are theists, naturally their notion of the ideal, all powerful being is going to be the greatest engineer ever. It’s also flattering to them that they are Godlike in their limited way.

  10. AstrySol says

    +1 on the assumption that engineering is the result of narrow-mindedness + being able to get a decent job, instead of the reason. Unless the job requires big picture, narrow-mindedness won’t interfere much with an engineer’s daily job.

    However, I think YEC probably will be a sloppy engineer if big picture is involved. Suppose I need to design a camera from stratch, with the following details:
    1. CCD units need to be behind the wiring;
    2. Because of 1), I need to make the wiring transparent;
    3. Because of 1), I need to poke a hole in the CCD array to run the wires;
    4. Because of 3), I need to move the camera spontaneously to get more video frames, and use software tricks to merge and cover said hole to generate the video.

    I think my competent engineering peers will point to 1) and 3) and laugh at me (“Why are you doing that if you are designing from scratch?”), instead of pointing to 2) and 4) and marvel (“How ingenious your solutions (to your self-created problems) are!”).

  11. whheydt says

    Re: blf @ #7…
    One can be very precise and wildly inaccurate at the same time. It’s a trap physics students seem to fall into, to the despair of the engineering students working with them.

    I’ve mentioned on occasion a couple of examples. One being a swimming pool with depth marking in centimeters to two places after the decimal point, and an article about the arrival of a US dignitary in S. Korea that said the press were kept back at least 331 feet. It is my strong feeling that calculators have a lot to answer for.

    However…for a much lass controversial example for this blog… IIRC, Bishop Ussher pinned down the beginning of the Biblical creation to at least the half-hour, if not the minute. So very precise. Since he put it on the order of 6K years ago, also inaccurate by being off by about 6 orders of magnitude.

  12. bcw bcw says

    @10 oh you’re not describing a CCD camera, you’re describing a LCD display. (sort of true actually.)

    I think there is goal difference between scientists and engineers that changes the whole mindset: Engineers see scientific concepts as fixed tools to make things, so science ends when not part of a solution to fixed goals. They don’t necessarily think of scientific ideas as applying to everything. Scientists on the other hand, are looking for universal concepts about the world as it is. As a scientist myself doing engineering, I see success as figuring out how to make it work despite the limitations of the world’s rules as learned from science. Engineers see such limits as faults in the tools they are supposed to have.

  13. bcw bcw says

    @12. Usshers chronology was published in 1650 so you have to say the earth is 6372 years old, now:

    …..Some tourists in the Museum of Natural History are marveling at some dinosaur bones. One of them asks the guard, “Can you tell me how old the dinosaur bones are?”
    The guard replies, “They are 65,000,011 years old.”
    “That’s an awfully exact number,” says the tourist. “How do you know their age so precisely?”
    The guard answers, “Well, the dinosaur bones were sixty five million years old when I started working here, and that was eleven years ago.”

  14. IX-103, the ■■■■ing idiot says

    For a modern twist, I wonder whether AI researchers are more or less likely to be creationists. On the one hand AI is designed. On the other hand there are all those papers about AIs designed to walk that can learn to fly in the right environment.

  15. jrkrideau says

    @ 13 bcw bcw

    I have often thought that engineers and medical doctors have been taught that there is a correct answer to the problem whereas scientists are taught to deal with, sometimes wild, uncertainty. I think this is just another way of stating your response.

    I remember, years ago, reading a Ph.D thesis that pointed out that engineers and scientists even attack new problems differently. The engineer started out by consulting with the resident experts; the scientist started a lit search.

  16. jrkrideau says

    jrkrideau @17: What’s your excuse for reality denial?
    You might have to elaborate a bit more as I do not understand your question.

  17. magistramarla says

    I live with an electrical engineer, who is most definitely an atheist and understands evolution quite well.
    Perhaps this is because his first two degrees were in biology and chemistry. EE was his third.
    He got interested in AI, and his master’s degree is in computational neuroscience.
    He has used this degree to work in cybersecurity, so his PHD wound up being in computer science.
    He’s been known in his career as a “renaissance man”, who is quite skilled at attacking problems in unique ways.
    He has often complained to me about working with competent and otherwise intelligent engineers who are religious zealots and/or creationists.
    It seems to me that the more well-rounded the education, the less likely the engineer is to espouse creationism.

  18. whheydt says

    Re: jkrideau @ #17…
    My sister once took an analog computer course (she was a math major) run by the engineering department. The first day, the instructor got up and said, “You know all those engineering problems where we told you that no one knows how to solve the equations? This is the course where you’ll learn how to solve them.”

    Engineers are faced with a lot of problems where you can set up the right equations, but no one knows how to solve them. So the engineers learn to use approximations and then carefully adjust the approximate results to be conservatively over-engineered in case the approximations err on the side of failure in the results.

  19. Reginald Selkirk says

    @13: @10 oh you’re not describing a CCD camera, you’re describing a LCD display. (sort of true actually.)

    That should be @11, not @10.
    Not sure if you are in on the joke or not, but he was describing the human eye.

  20. Rob Grigjanis says

    jrkrideau @19: Your disingenuousness is at world class levels. You’ve been parroting Kremlin talking points for nearly three months, defending the obscenity of Putin’s ‘special military operation’.

  21. PaulBC says

    I’d add a corollary: if they’re not engineers, they often turn out to be MDs or dentists.

    Just before reading this, I thought to myself: “But why engineers and not dentists?” That seems to fit the same criteria of having to learn some basic science that you can present as a technical credential but still being able to learn your trade without ever acquiring a scientific worldview. If that’s the reason, it makes sense to me, and I don’t have a serious problem with it, speaking as a software so-called “engineer.” However, people do sometimes state an incorrect version of the Salem hypothesis, insinuating that there is a stronger connection between engineering and creationism than the hypothesis states.

    The creationist engineer archetype for me will always be Forrest Mims, known for being hired and then fired by SciAm for their Amateur Scientist feature.

  22. says

    Mechanical engineer here. Most experienced engineers are acutely aware of the limits of their own knowledge, and would not hesitate in pointing them out.

    So if there are creationists misusing their engineering credentials, that’s probably just plain old hubris and not specifically related to engineering.

    Engineering is the art of creating things under natural (think laws of physics) and artificial (think budgets, project plans, manpower) constraints. Not a terribly big overlap with biology, AFAICT. Although engineers readily and gladly borrow from nature when the opportunity presents itself.

    One could say that engineers are people of the Book, though.
    But in this case those books are not produced by devine revelation but rather by past experience and/or spectacular failures.

  23. gijoel says

    Are engineers trained in statistics. Cause that pro-Salem comment reeks of lack of understanding of basic statistics.

  24. charley says

    The charley hypothesis: Salem was referring only to creationists who claim scientific credentials or training. Virtually all creationists who claim scientific credentials have little or no evolution education, or else they wouldn’t be creationists. I’m guessing there are simply many more engineers who meet this criterion than any other sciency profession. MDs and dentists, who are also plentiful, may get intro level evolution as undergrads, but they don’t really need it after that. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised that creationists who claim scientific credentials tend to be engineers, MDs or dentists.

  25. PaulBC says

    rsmith@25

    One could say that engineers are people of the Book, though.

    This makes me think of how I always bristle when I hear a how-to guide referred to as a “bible”: the cheese bible, the plumbing bible, etc.

    If you’re a believer, it’s a near blasphemous conflation of the sacred and mundane. If you’re not, then why would you expect to find any useful information at all in a “bible”? As a lapsed Catholic, I tend to react in both of these ways simultaneously.

  26. PaulBC says

    Pandas Thumb had a couple of threads in the past year that were taken over by an MD creationist. I am not sure there are really more engineer creationists than MDs. It would be interesting to collect some actual data on this. Has Pew ever done surveys on creationist belief by profession?

  27. nomdeplume says

    In my observation some of the worst climate change deniers are geologists. The reason seems to be that they inow that the climate has changed radically in the past in all directions and therefore the present change is just one more in a long chain. It escapes their notice that this is back to front logic – it is precisely because there have been big changes in the past that we need to worry. The changes demonstrate that there is no self-correcting mechanism as Spencer has been pushing. Another factor is that if you think in millions of years then the last 100 years is inconsequential. Again, the logic is back to front, that the change has happened in 100 years is cause for very great concern.

    Mind you, some geologists are also creationists – Andrew Snelling being a prime example. That is impossible to explain in any rational way.

  28. kaleberg says

    Does this have anything to do with the fact that engineers are over-represented among terrorists? Is there an attraction to a way of thinking?

  29. mandrake says

    #4@Matt G
    I can relate to that fellow you talked to. The Big 3 auto makers did the same thing to my 200mpg carburetor.

  30. Victorious Yankee says

    It’s not that difficult to understand.
    When you’re an engineer everything looks like a gear, screw, rotor or pulley.

    The bacterial flagellum sure looks like an engineered motor and propeller but that don’t make it so.

    After biologists and researchers discovered so many naturally evolved, micromachines, from the F1FO ATP Synthase enzyme complex to microtubules, what really bugs some engineers is that no engineers were necessary.

    Evolution quite easily explains it all, no magical Devine engineer needed.

  31. Victorious Yankee says

    Go look at the metabolic pathways map of carbohydrate metabolism.
    Then remember that it is just for carbohydrate metabolism.
    The go look at Glycolysis and The Citiric Acid Cycle and then Oxidative Phosphorylation.
    And that’s just respiration.
    Now look at The Central Dogma and protein synthesis and that’s just the beginning of a subject that covers all life on Earth.

    I’m not knocking engineering.
    Not by a long shot.
    The James Webb Space Telescope is The Pieta of engineering.
    The LHC is this age’s Great Pyramid of Khufu but next to the vastness of evolutionary biology, engineering is, well, Sheldon Cooper says it better than I ever could.

    Stay in your lane creationist engineers.
    You simply don’t know enough about biology to credibly doubt Evolution.

    But that doesn’t mean you engineers shouldn’t keep trying.

    What makes science great, is that scientific research is about disproving things not proving them.
    Thing is, if you’re gonna’ challenge science, science does demand you show your work.
    They’re funny like that.
    But science demands that of everyone so don’t take it personally, creationist engineers.

  32. says

    @33: Never heard of the guy. I saw one comment asking him for math, and a response from him that had no math at all. ‘Nuff said.

  33. evodevo says

    All the engineers I have known for 40 years, with two exceptions, are right wingers, whether that influences their choice of religion or not, I don’t know…

  34. Rich Woods says

    @christoph #8:

    I’m from Salem-can I take offense?

    Only if you also smoke them.

  35. PaulBC says

    Rich Woods@38

    Only if you also smoke them.

    Early childhood memory.

    ♫You can take Salem out of the country… but… you can’t take the country out of Salem.♫

    I had no idea what they were advertising or what it even meant. Cigarette ads were banned on TV in the US by January 1971 (had to look that up) so I was 5 or younger. Pretty effective jingle. Amazing how things stick in your head.

  36. jo1storm says

    Out of forty software engineers in my college group, one was a very loud YEC. We had two “public debates” about evolution (read it as “loud discussion in a tavern while waiting for class”). The first one he won, by using a Gish Gallop and arguments I have been hearing for the first time.

    The second debate he lost thoroughly, because I came in prepared (thank you now archived creationscience dot org , the science site and the murderer of creationscience dot com, which is the creationist site) in the same way described in the post. As in, the moment I asked about a weakness in his argument he would try to move to a different one. Rinse, repeat. For twenty or so arguments. Until the audience of fellow software engineers got bored and made us change the subject.

  37. mmfwmc says

    Disclaimer: I’m a psychologist and an engineer.

    I think the difference between an engineer and a scientist is like the difference between a psychologist and a statistician. Psychologists use statistics all the time, including some relatively advanced techniques. Often, this is cargo-cult stuff. “I plug these things into an ANOVA and now I know the truth.” The problem is that they often don’t have the grounding to know exactly when those techniques are appropriate – you often see a psychologist use a statistical technique in a way that looks right but is actually very wrong. It isn’t obvious that it’s wrong, and sometimes the wrongness will spread through the community until someone who does understand the technique properly stamps it out. Psychologists overestimate their statistical ability because their field is “statistics adjacent”.

    Likewise, engineers overestimate their understanding of science. They have been taught to apply maths, physics and chemistry and to understand complicated processes. They are used to extrapolating their training to solve problems – this is, quite literally, their job. So when faced with something that is superficially simple (biology is just applied chemistry, right?) they feel qualified to form an opinion. The thing is, engineers rarely do science. There are some, but most never actually apply the scientific method to anything.

    The reason for the Salem hypothesis is that an engineer thinks they’re a scientist the way that a psychologist thinks they’re a statistician. It can be true in some cases, but mostly it’s just a recipe for wrongness.

    I don’t think that engineering causes creationism, and I never saw that as a link. What I do see is that an engineer that (coincidentally) has any kind of wacky belief is likely to claim scientific authority in their argument.

  38. erik333 says

    Im unsure who you would expect to be the most science literate class of creationist, if not engineers? Surely there arent very many biolologist researcher creationists? The engineers are just the best of what is left.

  39. Reginald Selkirk says

    @43 Surely there arent very many biolologist researcher creationists?

    Not very many. The few I have known personally have been creationist for clearly religious reasons, and did not try to make a scientific case for it.

  40. birgerjohansson says

    Statistics- it is not very intuitive, so I understand the scope for massive screwups. The only subject back in my youth that gave me more headache was trying to “get” quantum physics (a mistake; you cannot intuitively understand it).
    .
    And evolution superficially looks simple, so people with a shallow understanding think they get it.

  41. birgerjohansson says

    Salem’s Lot: home of creationist vampires.
    Salem’s Pot: where creationist leprechauns keep their gold.

  42. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Semi-OT: The Salem Hypothesis would make a great minor league baseball team name. “Now batting for the Hypothesis, third baseman…”

  43. Jazzlet says

    @ PaulBC
    Marlbrough not Salem. I figure it was so they could have a handsome (of course) cowboy, western mounted (of course), overlooking somewhere like Monument Valley (of course).

  44. KG says

    In my observation some of the worst climate change deniers are geologists. The reason seems to be that they inow that the climate has changed radically in the past in all directions and therefore the present change is just one more in a long chain. – nomdeplume@31

    Another reason: a lot of geologists are employed (and well paid) by the oil and gas industry. Few people want to believe that their work, and source of a comfortable income, is putting the entire world in deadly peril.

  45. Deepak Shetty says

    creationists who claim scientific authority often turn out to be engineers

    An observation which as useful as “Creationists who are also racists often turn out to be white”

  46. says

    So-called “liberty university” (a misnomer on both) has degrees in both aeronautics and engineering.

    Creationists don’t object to these (or pure mathematics, probably) because it doesn’t force then to confront the falsity of their beliefs. Yet they love to claim “expertise” in sciences they’ve never studied while pooh-poohing those who actually understand evolution.

    They’re cranks of the same order as Ray Kurzweil and John McAfee, except with more backing (money and number of fanatics).

  47. acroyear says

    The whole thing is so old (as noted, there were discussions from 90 to 95 at the very least).

    It really was all played out in Project Steve. The creationists presented this list of credentialed professionals (“scientists”) who supported creationism. It seemed an impressively large list.

    The scientists countered with the list of JUST biologists named Steve (or Stephanie or any of the variants there-of) and outnumbered that creationism list 10 to 1 within a matter of weeks and kept growing. Panda’s Thumb would give updates every few months.

    But in the end, that was the real point: in looking at the list the creationists presented, there were a lot of engineers (and md’s and dentists, as noted), and almost none from within the biology field actively practicing or teaching biology. Behe was one of a very few exceptions.

  48. says

    Engineer here. Not at all qualified to judge the merits of evolution (I trust biologists are right), but I have a notion about the Salem hypothesis.

    There are many engineers. BLS sez 2 million in the USA. Even if we assume that engineers are only 10% as likely to be creationists (due to education) as the general population (4% vs 40%), we’d still end up with a whopping 80 thousand engineers who are creationists. Similar math explains why we have so many mining engineers and petroleum chemists who doubt AGW. It doesn’t indict a profession, but it does indict a country that has been brainwashed for over a hundred years because it serves the political aims of a few powerful men.

    Because they don’t have this problem in the rest of the developed world.

  49. pick says

    I have a degree in Cell & Molecular Biology but I’ve practiced HVAC Engineering all my professional life.
    Engineers make terrible scientists because they don’ t honor or know how to falsify their hypotheses. Like Architects, they are generally in love with their own ideas and firm believers in top down design. They think of themselves as “intelligent designers” while ignoring the vast amount of evolution behind every thing they do.

  50. ColonelZen says

    Engineer is an easy title to carry. It requires state certification to call oneself certain kinds of ‘engineer’ (e. g ‘Civil Engineer’) but outside of a few trademarked or legislatively mandated limitations, ‘engineer’ (e.g my formal title ‘(Senior) Software Engineer’ – i generally just say ‘computer programmer’) is a free-for-all.

    So a creationist – or anyone else – wanting to pad their cred with a title – ‘engineer’ is an easy way to do it. An otherwise unemployed graffiti artist can call himself an “urban aesthetics engineer” with no consequence (and ftm, I’ve seen some spectacular but still amateur art that is often thought provoking and sometimes startlingly beautiful).

    Some of us … especially those of us who aren’t formally trained and who never sought the title but are larded with “engineer” got there because grew up and always have been devotees of science even if we never had opportunity to take a formal degree. This “software engineer” is about as hard-headed about what is real as it gets … (I say “truth is a verb” … if you can’t define a way to – determinably and distinguishably – test it, it isn’t; “true” means doing something demonstrating the assertion you are making).

  51. ColonelZen says

    @mmfwmc …. Likewise, engineers overestimate their understanding of science. They have been taught to apply maths, physics and chemistry and to understand complicated processes. They are used to extrapolating their training to solve problems – this is, quite literally, their job. So when faced with something that is superficially simple (biology is just applied chemistry, right?) they feel qualified to form an opinion. The thing is, engineers rarely do science. There are some, but most never actually apply the scientific method to anything.

    Makes too much sense from what I’ve seen. From where I am as a largely self taught “engineer” I earned my title basically be making almost all the mistakes possible in the many things I’ve learned in CS along the way (as well as learning to read various journals up to and including some theory) with both respect and skepticism. But I see too many people getting CS positions who only know a lot of theory by classroom lecture; they haven’t had to understand network traffic by capturing packets and haven’t had to fix corrupted databases by editing blocks on disk. They know API’s that say “this does that” and maybe spent a couple days on network theory in one lecture and on ISAM data structures in another and vaguely know that there are paradigms out there besides object oriented and functional. (No I’m not jealous – other than that many are young – as I’m near enough retirement that I can’t be threatened.)

    And from simply the way a lot of engineering is now, it pretty much has to be that way for other engineers. There are probably very few aeronautics engineers of build their own planes and test fly them themselves (and certainly not multi-engine jet aircraft)… and not many nuclear engineers have their own reactor…. nor aforementioned civil engineers who build their own dams and bridges.

    But the where-the-formulas-numbers come from needs to be banged into heads of engineers. For structural engineers … one of those things usually requiring a state license or certification … one of the channels I follow has a guy pointing out – rightly that so far as I can see – that for commercial building codes “every line is written in blood” and there’s always more blood when they aren’t followed. But that’s why they are licensed. Realistically the title “engineer” – including my title – doesn’t really mean much without such licensure. For other “engineers” where such certifications are not required I think it’s fair to ignore them. (I’ve always considered my title a bit of a ridiculous burden and overly pretentious and only use it as required, but there are “political” reasons at work I had to accept it and use it “officially”).

  52. PaulBC says

    I don’t know if he’s a creationist, but Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky is a great example of an asshole engineer. He’s also a climate change denier who thinks “political science” is a funny punchline* and that being an engineer obviously qualifies to hold forth on anything technical.

    It really does annoy that he has degrees from MIT and won awards for developing haptic interfaces. I have to conclude that Massie is not a dimwit even if he smiles like one. I am certain he’d beat the pants off me in a calculus competition. But it doesn’t sound as if he’s much of a critical thinker. Just another know-it-all engineer.

    *In fact “political science” is an old term dating from a time when “science” was applied more generally to any body of knowledge (scientia) and as not, as Massie might think, an expression of “science envy.”

  53. says

    …in looking at the list the creationists presented, there were a lot of engineers (and md’s and dentists, as noted)…

    What about eye doctors? Can’t forget the eye doctors, they were gonna come roaring back with the final refutation of Darwinism…any decade now…or so they said…

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