To begin with, I'm not sure I accept the premise that engineers are more politcally consevative than the general population. There certainly are elements on the left of the politcal spectrum that would like to promote the idea that consevatives are generally less educated, and therefore more easliy duped into believing in unscientifically based concepts and ideas. But if statistics bear out the premise, then so be it.
I think that engineers do tend to be skeptical in general of conclusions that are not wholly supported by the available data. Anyone who has performed design of experiments to define the critical variables controlling a process knows that if one important variable is left out the the analysis, intentionally or accidently, the resulting conclusions can seem correct, but in truth be wildly in error under the right conditions. If such ommissions can occur in the study of fairly well understood manufacturing process scenerios, how much more often do they occur in much more complicated systems such as those found in nature, climatology, and environmental sciences?
Eldredge, It may surprise you to know that some research indicate engineers are not less religious than the rest of the American population, for instance. They may be devoted to facts, analysis and empirical research but they also seem to be willing to accept that some things can't be placed under a microscope and so may not be easily explained.
@ bolaji - I don't disagree with you. I was questioning the premise that engineers are inherently more conservative than the general population, but didn't intend to infer religious implications, although that could be an interesting discussion.
Regarding engineers' skepticism, I was really thinking in more concrete terms regarding how things/processes work, addressing why engineers might be more skeptical of climate change, environmetnal science, and other fields that rely heavily on statistical data.
As for Vern & Victor. Vern has been a close friend all these years. He's retired after a career as administrator of the nursing program at the same university where he went to school. He's co-author of probably the foremost book on "natural landscaping," the use of wild native vegetation to landscape around the home. Victor is more of a mystery. I hear of him now and then, but haven't followed his postgraduate life. I'll investigate. By the way, Vern is a politically engaged liberal. Victor, reputedly, is -- at least according to my thesis -- a typically conservative engineer.
Interesting post, David. Great to see some lighter aspects of engineering becoming part of this blog. Don't you think the conservatism in an engineer comes from the fact that all their lives they are taught not to accept anything on the face value and to always base their decisions on complete facts and figures rather than opinions and ideas?
David, What's the latest info on Vern and Victor? I am curious if you have kept in touch with the two and how they are faring today? I am curious also if they changed their beliefs over the years and swapped positions or ended up in the same position they both started out in as friends.
Generally Vern & Victor exist in every generation and at the end are successful in their iwn way, mostly following trends they decide to beleive, however at some point in time is it possible that one Vern becomes a Victor? Or the other way around?
Society needs both.
Engineers have to be conservative at work, not even an English major would like to have the Bridge crash under her ! The same goes for Doctors too. In general, Engineers hold in poor regard those who try to make up for dearth of data, logic and hard mathematics by emotional blackmail and political manipulation. Thus the scepticism, if any, about Global Warming.
@chipmonk We doctors of English learn to appreciate engineering, especially when we teach engineering students at NJIT in writing across the curriculum projects that include readings on what causes bridges to collapse.
Great blog. I've actually found engineers have a wide range of political beliefs and maybe it is just the company I keep, but those that read and comment on the EBN/EETimes pages tend to lean a bit more to the left. Some of the "nerds" I went to school with that have entered the tech industry, in fact, are refreshingly liberal. I have discovered on the business side of things, in talking with CEOs, I have to be more careful in assuming they share my rather liberal leanings, though.
@ Barbara - I agree, and I guess that is what I was trying to say in my first post. Personally, I tend to be more on the conservative side (unrefreshing so, I guess! lol!) But I don't think that is statistically correllated to the profession I have chosen. And like you, I have observed a broad spectrum of politcal opinions with in the profession.
@Eldredge: Right on! The choice of career should have nothing to do with your philosophy, although I find we tend to gravitate toward like-minded people, if not professions. Conservatism, BTW, can also be refeshing :-) I make myself listen to a conservative talk radio show here in Boston just to make sure I am not completely out of touch with other points of view. I draw the line at FOX TV, though...
What has happened is that there has not been as much money in engineering as in the other things that some people do for money. Presently, we engineers work in areas that are sometimes regulated quite intensely, which renders them less profitable.
Engineers tend to appear conservative because we mostly demand information before making choices, and we tend to think logically, and make decisions based on more than emotions. And because we often consider the secondary impact of our choices, they are in fact, more conservative. The sad fact is that avoiding irrational behavior does make us tend to fit in more poorly.
In addition, making choices based on an understanding of the real physics of an activity instead of just emotions or "what everybody else thinks", we do seem to be out of place.
I've worked at several companys and the problem with Engineers is that they don't make decisions, they will argue/discuss either side, black or white usually alot of gray area. We've all heard the Engineering jokes. Two Engineers walking down the hall way, and a SIGN said wet floor! So they did.
Garyk, Engineers get to make certain decisions; just not the one central to their future. Imagine this scenario. The electronics engineer designs the product and decides which parts should go on the board. He/she turns it over to the purchasing guys who look at the board and chuck out all the parts the engineer designed into it in favor of cheaper alternatives from their favorite suppliers (not the suppliers the engineer bought the samples from).
Then purchasing turns the bill of materials/components over to the contract manufacturer specified by the CFO (who doesn't even know engineers exist) and the products are made in China where the engineer has never been and most likely will never visit because he/she is already designing the next winning product and (1) has forgotten about what he previously designed that's winning in the market and (2) has been forgotten by the sales/marketing/executive team being applauded for the great product.
20 years later, the engineer tells his grandchildren how he helped in desigining that great product or solved that great engineering riddle that resolved a major technology crisis. By then, though, the great product has been swept into the historical bin of great products. Anybody remember the Motorola Startac? It was released in 1996 and wowed the market. You'll be able to find references to it on Google, where (if it doesn't fall into the history trap too) you'll be able to find historical references to the iPhone in another 15 years.
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Join EBN contributor Jennifer Baljko on Thursday August 23, 2012, at 11:00 a.m. EST for a live chat on how electronic manufacturers in Thailand have shored up their supply chain to reduce the impact of future natural disasters.
Peter Drucker famously said "Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window." Yet in the razor's-edge world of electronics—with a lean supply chain and just-in-time demands—the need to know the future is vital.
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