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.This is the so-called "soft" version of the conjecture. The "hard" version is that there is something about being an engineer that leads one to become a creationist. That's not what Bruce said,
For a long the so-called "soft" hypothesis is the one I have been putting forth, not the one earlier attributed to me. I have also further qualified it by saying numerous times that religious belief was the most significant factor. The reason I prefer to call my idea a "conjecture" is that I have had only anecdotal data to support it.The Salem Hypothesis has its own entry on Wikipedia [Salem Hypothesis]. Both versions of the Salem Conjecture are listed there. The talk.origins Jargon File is incorrect because it only lists the hard version and attributes it to Bruce Salem.
We all know that scientists overwhelmingly reject creationism so it doesn't come as a surprise that there are so few scientists in the creationists movement. Ironically, the creationists long for scientific validity while, at the same time, they attack all the basic principles of science. The few so-called scientists who subscribe to superstition get very prominent play among the creationists.
Engineers are not scientists and they did not have much scientific training in school. They are technologists (i.e., engineers) and that's not the same thing. I don't think engineers spend much time studying evolutionary theory in university. (It's probably too difficult for them.)
Among the general public the distinction between scientists and technologists is lost so whenever an engineer comes out in favor of superstition (s)he is counted as a scientist. This is what the Salem Conjecture says. Whenever you see a common run-of-the-mill creationist who claims to have scientific knowledge, chances are they're an engineer and not a scientist.
Here's how Bruce explained it on talk.origins on May 10, 1996 in response to an engineer who was objecting to the conjecture.
By your own admission you are running the risk of becoming yet another data point for something called the "Salem Hypothesis" or "Salem Conjecture" in which I noticed some time ago the number of people publically supporting Creationism whether in Creationist publications or this group claiming to be "scientists" were mostly engineers. Most of them had little knowledge of the scientific disciplines that relate to the scientific acceptance of evolution and an old earth. Many people have noticed subsequently that while engineers as a group seem more inclined as a majority to believe Darwin, those with a background in certain religions and those concerned with intelligent design seemed predisposed to acceptThis morning Larry Faraman, the author of the blog I'm From Missouri, posted this message [The Salem Hypothesis].
Creationism or the arguments that support it.
I have been aware for a long time that engineers have an especially strong tendency to be skeptical of Darwinism, but I just now learned that this tendency has a name: the "Salem hypothesis." I am especially interested in this tendency because I am an engineer myself ....The irony is palpable. Mr. Faraman, an engineer, is skeptical of evolutionary biology and, by implication, most of the rest of science. On the other hand, he's not the least bit skeptical of creationism. Another solid data point for the Salem Conjecture. In this case, it's the "hard" version that Mr. Faraman is supporting. He claims that training in technology predisposes one to believe in superstitious nonsense. Maybe he's right. I look forward to hearing from other engineers on this point.
I feel that the reason why we engineers tend to be skeptical of Darwinism is that we are a logical, practical, no bullshit, cut the malarkey, "I'm from Missouri," "show me" kind of people.
BTW, Missouri must be a very strange state. These days when someone begins a conversation with "I'm from Missouri" it's usually following by something irrational.