Monday, November 12, 2007

The Salem Conjecture

The Salem Conjecture was proposed by Bruce Salem on the newsgroup [The Salem Conjecture]. Here's how he described it on 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 should not be confused with the "hard" version of the Salem Conjecture (Hypothesis), which says that engineers are more likely to be creationists. Both versions are described in the Wikipedia entry [Salem Hypothesis].

Joshua Rosenau discusses the possibility that the hard version of the Salem Conjecture might be correct and this explains the soft version [The Salem Hypothesis explained!]. Read the comments.

[Photo Credit: I pretty sure this is a photograph of Bruce Salem.]


  1. Though I don't say I am competent to be a critic of biological theories, I do like asking questions, if I see what seems to be an oversight. But I am indeed an engineer!

    Lee <- Always did want to drive a train

  2. This is one of those things that brings me up with a start of recognition: “Wasn’t something like this lurking in my background mind all along, but somehow I never managed to become conscious of it and articulate it?” We have heard of psychopaths and more recently sociopaths, but do we now need to introduce another psychological type: the gnostopath? And perhaps we ought to see if there is at least a statistical relation with testosterone levels in the womb, that male hormone which in over doses is implicated in hyper-masculinization and an autistic tendency.

    Perhaps we can understand why those who deal with the squelchy messy yucky stuff of biology might be predisposed to a fuzzier, liberal more ‘feminine’ mindset that is compliant in the face of ambiguity and paradox. On the other hand isn’t biochemistry, with its molecular mechanisms, basically the engineers take on biology, the very antithesis of ambiguity and paradox, an all-embracing grand narrative that some would see as winner-takes-all cognitive imperialism? Moreover, isn’t it inhabited by some testosterone charged curmudgeons? And aren’t some of the trysts of biology largely a male domain of occasionally ill-tempered engagements?

    And where do computer scientists and mathematicians, with their need for a quasi-autistic mind that facilitates a blinkered razor sharp “I’ll be back” focus, and a preference for systematization and grand narrative in the extreme, fit in all this?

    There are some real ironies and paradoxes here. Am I being serious? I don’t know, I’ve just had a brainstorm full of ambiguities and paradoxes: your blog Larry is nothing if not stimulating!

  3. I think the Salem hypothesis is embeddable in that you meet identifiable engineers as cranks and denialists of all kinds, among other professions. And that engineers may bloviate on their experiences and qualifications.

    Why that is so may have several explanations.

    From the poor basis of personal experience, I would agree with Nick Matzke's explanation on pattern matchers, pattern matching yes/no, yes-or-no, black-and-white, formal and/or procedural (not "linear", I think), thinkers.

    And I would think from the same poor basis that engineers basic orientation and/or interest in science but often inexperience in it, make them open for pursuing such interests outside the academic frame.

  4. > And I would think from the same poor basis that engineers basic orientation and/or interest in science but often inexperience in it, make them open for pursuing such interests outside the academic frame.

    Well, I think that's along the lines of the right idea, but I expect that I would pursue such interests with or without training.

    It seems for me anyway, it's the desire to understand, like with the kid who takes apart clocks to see what makes them tick, even though they may not be a watchmaker.

    Lee <- Spoiled one of his auntie's clocks on such an adventure

  5. Take a hint from me Lee; next time you decide to fiddle with clocks, poke you eyes out first, and you might find you do a whole lot better. You see Lee, there's this guy called Richard who's written a book on the subject.....

  6. "If I can't figure it out, it can't be done, so God must have done it." Scientists, like engineers do search hard for good answers, but I think scientists also search for good questions. It's a more open-ended pursuit.

  7. You're using more sombre paint than necessary, Timothy, how about we lighten up a bit?

    Behind such persuasions need not be a Freudian Complex, nor need we propose that people go poking their eyes out, nor are inquisitive people gnostopaths, nor would those who wonder about Maxwell, have a demon.

    Lee <- Know tho that you would not likely believe in demons...

  8. Could it just be that biologists, chemists etc are less likely to be creationist/iders because of their traning and experience?

  9. As an MSEE, who is not a creationist, I can say that I do know some engineers that are creationists in the Dr. Ken Miller sense, but not in the common creationist (aka silly) sense. Since I am a chemistry major first, perhaps I do not qualify.

    Although, I would say that perhaps many who say the are creationists and engineers are not really engineers. I find it amazing how many people tell me they are an engineer, but they do not have a degree.

    George in Oregon

  10. Well actually Lee my tongue was firmly in my cheek when I wrote that 'Brainstorm'. But looking back at it there might be some ideas there worth following up.

    I know about maxwell's demon: Fred Hoyle talks about it in his eccentric book "The Intelligent Universe".

    BTW don't poke your eyes out, use a blindfold to achieve the same effect! (I assume you understood my reference to 'Richard'?)

    I'm a theist, but I have to admit that I favor an evolutionary view (currently).

  11. Of all the different ways of dividing people into two types (tsk, tsk) one way is the performative/denotive split.

    In the 'performative' mind there is a mystical or essential link between a word and the 'thing' it refers to.

    In the more modern denotive mind the relationship between words and things is accepted as arbitrary, and subject to evaluation of the truth of the relationship.

    I reckon that creationists tend to be of the performative mindset, with its implicit acceptance of unchanging authority. Evolutionists have a more testing and flexible attitude, with its implicit challenge to authority.

    Now, which mindset attracts the majority of any one discipline? Engineers *tend* to deal with concrete objects, life sciences *tend* to expect more variation in the natural world... and neither can fully understand the other.

  12. Probably worth noting that engineers are the second largest profession (after teaching) at least in the USA. So if you look at creationists backgrounds, it's not surprising to find a lot of engineers.

  13. trinifar says,

    Probably worth noting that engineers are the second largest profession (after teaching) at least in the USA. So if you look at creationists backgrounds, it's not surprising to find a lot of engineers.

    There are more teachers and engineers than lawyers? Who knew. :-)

    (Maybe lawyers don't count as a "profession"? That would explain it.)

  14. People are speculating about personality and the "Salem Hypothesis" In the Enneagram of Personality the types 5 and 6 have a problem with paranoia and hidden agenda. They use their mind to protect themselves from the inscrutable actions of others. This is why ogres like Stalin, Hitler, Sadamm Hussian were 6's. Fear is the ruling paradigm. George W. Bush and Richard Nixon are also 6's but somewhat less malignant than the others. Engineers very much tend to be these types, and unless they are in balance, aware of the tendancy to be alone or to collude with others in paranoid conspiracies, they are susceptable to crackpot ideas of all types. It is just what gets them off. Look at the History Channel which is the wonderful mesh of science and pseudoscience, you will see these types either talking about cosmology, like Tyson, or UFOs.