Shorting DeLong

Brad DeLong picked a fight with Jonah Goldberg last week, criticizing a Goldberg column about the dearth of Republicans on college faculties. Among other things, DeLong offered up a litany of reasons why “engineers and scientists” that he says he’s talked to aren’t Republicans.

Unlike DeLong, I’m actually an engineer. Based on DeLong’s list of supposed non-starters, I’m guessing most of the “engineers and scientists” that he spoke to teach college at Berkeley (like DeLong himself), or at the very least live in the Bay Area. In approximately six years of college and graduate school (BS, Auburn, MS, Texas) I probably had two or three engineering professors who were identifiably far enough to the Left to be called Democrats. The rest (at least those who noted politics at all) were a pretty conservative bunch. The leftie count was higher among graduate assistants, and considerably higher among the physics profs–but I think I can say without serious fear of contradiction that physics departments worldwide have a reputation for general weirdness (you can make of that whatever you like).

In over ten years of professional work, I think I’ve encountered maybe four working engineers who would admit to voting for a Democrat. There are a few who lean liberterian, but they’re also in a considerable minority. The overwhelming number of engineers whom I’ve encountered (at least those who voluntarily express political opinions; I don’t go around asking) are conservatives who vote for Republicans.

Not unlike in DeLong’s case (although he’s too pompous to admit it), this is undoubtably due to a great deal of self-selection. I’ve worked almost exclusively for defense contractors at Southern military bases during my career, and you don’t normally find MooreOns coming out of the woodwork in those places.

What does it all mean? Very little, other than the simple fact that like minds do tend to congregate together. Lefties are more likely to teach at Berkeley. Conservatives are more likely to work for the military.

Not much of an insight, I know–but the point was obvious enough for Brad DeLong to miss it, and go out of his way to be a jerk in the process. Which, come to think of it, is also hardly a surprise…


75 Responses to “Shorting DeLong”

  1. Jack Says:

    I’m a scientist working in an engineering field (a Physicist doing look-ahead R&D in the semiconductor industry) who until a year ago lived in Austin, Texas. Now I live in France and can’t give a good indication as to the current attitudes of my colleagues in the US.

    Most of the folks I worked with a year ago didn’t particulary care for George W. Bush or the attitudes of the Republican Party, expressing concerns on possible outcomes that were recently made reality in the Schiavo matter, yet they were almost equally disgusted with the Democratic Party.

    I think of them as “classic conservatives” using the definition of “conservative” of “resisting change.”

    Most attempts at generalization of human attitudes or human behavior are dangerous and likely to bite you in the ass, which is I suspect why engineers (and scientists) prefer their technology and associated toys. They are much easier to understand than those pesky people…

  2. Hammerbach Says:

    I work in marine design for the Navy, and I’ve noticed that in my industry the right/left split seems to correlate strongly (though not perfectly)with the former military/non-military split. Birds of a feather do flock together.

  3. jmaster Says:

    My two cents:


  4. WitNit Says:

    I work in a semiconductor company in Silicon Valley. Most of the engineers I talk to lean left, but then many are recruited from SF Bay Area universities (Stanford, UC Berkeley). I won’t mention I voted for Bush unless I’m prepared for a “discussion.”

  5. Pat Says:


    I knew in my heart, you had to be from the South. You’ve always seemed too level-headed to be from anywhere else.

    Go Tigers!

    Best wishes from an Alabama girl.

  6. wavemaker Says:

    I think it’s obvious that Brad DeLong is a politically-biased scientist, not a “poltiical scientist,” and he ought to leave the latter to the (unbiased) latter.

  7. Ernst Blofeld Says:

    I think the university environment in engineering tends to select for non-risk accepting behavior. Think about it: You’ve got the choice of graduating and going out into the wide world to make your way. You will probably move several hundred miles away and plunge into a completly new environment with new people, doing new things. Odds are that within a few years you’ll be in yet another job. If you’re sharp you may start up your own business with a completely new idea, and learn something about accounting, marketing, business relations, venture capital, and hiring and firing.

    Or you can hang around the university and do more or less the same thing you were doing for the last four or five years. Sure, it’s a gross over-simplification, but probably valid nonetheless.

    BTW, brains doesn’t have much to do with the process for choosing grad school. There are far too many fantastically smart people in industry. Probably just about anyone in the top 1/4 or so of an engineering class can hack it in grad school.

  8. Lee Willis Says:

    I’m a programmer, and worked the first 10 years of my career in Defense-related work, mostly in the midwest. My coworkers were predominantly Republican. Many were veterans. The last 10 years I’ve been working outside the DoD world, in Silicon Valley, and my coworkers are predominatly Democrats, and none are vets.

  9. David OHara Says:

    Physics Depts have a reputation for weirdness? Damn, I thought that was by definition. Being a BS Physics, MS Physics, MSEE, I can attest to physics types being waaaaaay weird compared to engineers. I’ll break it down even further for physicists, experimentalists tend to be more conservative than theorists just as you’d expect.
    I never heard politics discussed by an engineering prof and the politics of many physics types was too weird to be recognizable as anything.
    As a grad student, I voted for Mondale over Reagan, an admission that makes me doubt the sanity of my younger years. As an older small hi-tech business owner, I voted for Bush.
    When I went to work in defense industries after grad school, I was really surprised at the high level of scientific expertise I saw there. As this was the first time I had any contact with military types, I was profoundly shocked to see how intelligent, professional and responsible were the young military scientists I saw. These REALLY were the smartest people I had ever seen. I especially want to thank Air Force Capt. Anne L. Wells who invited us to many meetings where I saw this over and over. It was truly a mind altering experience.

  10. Neo Says:

    I’m an engineer for a semiconductor company. Our company engineering staff looks like most graduate schools i.e. lots of Indians and Chinese with a minority of non-Asians. Anyone who can put a gauge on these folks must be f,,king genius.
    In all of my engineering jobs, the general rule has been that at work engineers rarely talk about politics and never talk about sex. They talk about engineering and sometimes about marketing. When they do talk about politics, it usually bends conservative to libertarian. Most liberal engineers get jobs in marketing and are the target of endless derision.

  11. CowboyEngineer Says:

    I’m an engineer, and Republican (Libertarian leaning)

    I really think political preferences are based on emotional makeup. Emotional people tend to be left/liberal, more rational people tend to be classic conservative/free market types.

    Engineers tend to be conservative because we’re not really emotional people. More attracted to logic, data, verified results. Hence the attraction to what’s been proven to work.

    Leftists get caught up in the plight of the disadvantaged, and get way over emotional in demanding action. Emotion trumps logic/data.

    Libs: Kill the rich! (engineer: but they provide jobs for people to earn money..)

    Libs: Government control of everything is fairest for all! (engineer: history shows it kills initative, and concentration of power corrupts everybody who has lots of power)

    and so on…

  12. Robin Roberts Says:

    In my career in software development, the only time I found myself surrounded more by liberals/leftists than the converse was when I was in Santa Monica or the SF Bay area. Otherwise, its been dramatically the reverse.

    In the academic world, my experience with comp sci / engineering is that its more balanced.

    But in both realms, I found that there was a greatly grounding in reality. The business has less room for the DU / MoveOn nutbags. Such people have a harder time faking the ability to get something done.

  13. SP Says:

    About engineers being rational,
    The only Columbia undegraduate school that did not go on strike in 1969 was the engineering school.
    Columbia Engineering, Class of ’72

  14. Brent Says:

    I’m an ’86 EE who ago moved to the dark side of programming 11 years ago. When I was in school I liked Reagan because, well, I liked the man and yet I was apolitical or leftist on any given day. Politics, to me as a kid trying to figure out quantum physics or tensor analysis while not starving yet still having relations with the opposite sex as frequently as possible, was a luxury that I really never indulged in.

    As I grew older and “naturally” moved through my career line I drifted to the right because, well, the left was the opposite of logic (to me.) It was all about outrage and emotion and failed ideas as far as the eye could see.

    Frankly I can’t see how any honest and seasoned engineer could ever be a lefty. But that’s just me I guess.

  15. Reid Says:

    Majors in theoretical physics tend to work on speculative and impractical frontiers of knowledge. They have to be inordinately optimistic that things that cannot be proven, and even appear to be rather far-fetched, will eventually yield to solutions.

    That is a perfect description of lefty idealism if I ever heard one. But, it is paradoxically limiting in the sense that, if reality does not match the theory, all attempts must be made to fit the reality to the theory before there is any willingness to countenance other paradigms. It takes a radical guy like Einstein to upset the status quo and force new ways of thinking. Again, fully compatible with the lefty MO.

    Engineers tend to be more practical and grounded in the possible and the proven and, to accept the limitations dictated thereby so that progress can be made with the tools and resources at hand. A pretty fair description of conservative thought, I would aver. So, although a gross generalization, I would not find it surprising to find that political persuasions are distributed among these groups in the manner implied in your post.

  16. Reid Says:

    On optimism and realism, one of my favorite jokes (you probably have to be a practicing engineer to really get it) is:

    The optimist thinks the glass is half full. The pessimist thinks it is half empty. The engineer thinks the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

  17. Another cowboy/engineer Says:

    Engineers, I be one, BSME ’66. Worked on a ranch to pay for it.
    Yep, we be claiming to be rational, and not emotional.
    Liberals be claiming to be rational, but ARE emotional.
    I can’t believe nobody said “right brain/left brain”.
    I’m in love with a musician. Go figure.

  18. Mike McDaniel Says:

    And the flight test engineer thinks, “Is there booze in that glass?”

  19. nerdbert Says:

    Engineer & physicist? Yep, nearly did the Ph.D. in physics and did the Ph.D. in EE. Physicists are wierder, especially the theorists, no question. It’s a point of pride amoungst physicists. The culture is also very different: physicists tend to talk politics, but engineers tend to shy away from the subject.

    As to engineers? Having worked in places like Vermont, Florida, California, and Ohio about all I’ll make the comment is that engineers are more conservative than the average bloke in their locale.
    I’ve known liberal engineers but very few leftist engineers with any real working experience — the leftist, idealist mindset tends to shatter when reality asserts itself and those types head into marketing or sales.

  20. Mike Says:

    This is way off topic but, did anyone just see the second fight on UFC? One of the greatest fights of all time anywhere. It rivals Forman vs. Ali!

  21. Tim McDonald Says:

    I are an engineer too. In Tennessee. At the Engineering school I went to (TTU), I have to admit I have no idea which professors were liberal or conservative, other than two or three with whom I remained in contact with after graduation. Most of my interaction with the professors was them trying to force enough knowledge into my thick skull so I would be a walking talking testament to the effectiveness of the school, and a positive reflection on the school based on the work I was qualified to perform due to teaching I was paying for and they were delivering.

    Maybe it is different at Berkeley, but Thermogoddamics does not really give a rats ass weather you are conservative or liberal, entropy increases anyway. (my favorite Thermo quote “You can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game).

  22. Prof. Dave Says:

    Your commenting engineers all seem to be EE or ME. I

  23. Ron Says:

    Went to UCLA in 60’s. Lots of student activity. Even though I worked in the Physics department as well as having a major there, I NEVER heard a political discussion between Profs. Theoretical Physicists were not liberal/conservative, just very strange people in nice ways.

    Many political activist Profs on North campus in liberal arts.

    I later worked for the Army and in Southern California Aerospace. The army had more liberal employees than the Aerospace firms and the engineers did discuss politics, football, girls, cars.

  24. Anonymous Says:

    My old man is a UC Berkeley trained engineer (BSME 1950s) Endowed a chair at Berkeley. Invented stuff that probably saves 10,000 lives a year.

    And he’s a Republican. So, Brad DeLong, fuck off.

  25. bubba Says:

    i a dam scintest wurkin in the feld of corn squezins an im a republiken. so thar damit!

  26. Mike Says:

    I are one as well, and I’m farther to the right than GW is.

    DeLong must be talking about sanitation engineers, or perhaps maintenance engineers.

  27. Dan Levine Says:

    While it’s true that Delong’s “research” isn’t worth all that much, I think your post misses the point: the real thrust of Delong’s post was that Goldberg’s argument (if one can call it that) was absurd; He admitted he had absolutely no data, and then asserted a completely asinine conclusion anyway. And about that, Delong is spot on.

  28. Kevin Says:

    Chemist myself and teach parttime in an Mat. Sci Eng Dept…

    My day job is technical support for an instrument company and I must visit all 50 states in a year. Even in the Bay area of California, I find engineers and scientists in technical positions tend to be conservative or libertarian. I think its because if you do experimental science for a living, you assume stuff will go wrong… and hence you do not want people experimenting with your life.

  29. Loweeel Says:

    David O’Hara & Nerdbert – I’m also Physics/EE. I did a joint BA/BS program, (BA from Williams in History & Physics, BS from Columbia in EE), and now I’m in law schoool to go be a patent lawyer.

    SP – Same school, BS (EE) ’04.
    For the most part true, but there is (currently) a pretty liberal group called Engineers Without Borders (who weren’t amused when I suggested that they should have called themselves “Engineers Without Boundary Conditions” instead, as it was more precise, accurate, and funny).

    Unfortunately, my Electrodynamics prof (an old, Indian man) got on his soapbox a few times, albeit briefly, about the war, and even held a makeup class one sunday night for students who missed one particular class session to go to a protest.

  30. JorgXMcKie Says:

    I should just butt out, since I am now a political scientist (and wavemaker, there *are* no unbiased political scientists, just some who, like the MSM, won’t admit it), but lo those many years ago I majored in mathematics. If you think physicist are weird, you should know a theoretical mathematician or two. They make physicists look downright stable. If you ever see anyone sit in a chair and sit right through it, you’re looking at a theoretical mathematician, because they absolutely *know* that chair is more than 99% empty space.

  31. Tim P Says:

    Interesting topic.

    In the early 70’s I was a history major at Kent State. I quit my senior year to work full time as an electrician. Had my own small electrical contracting business and then went back to school to get my EE degree in early mid-life.

    I’m currently working for a multi-disciplined consulting firm with offices in Alaska, Seattle, Spokane and recently LA. We work with the military, industry and the commercial sectors.

    From my point of view, location also seems to be a factor. Our Seattle office seems to be more to the left than the folks in Spokane. We in Anchorage tend to be more center/right libertarian. Our folks in LA, I don’t know about, but they’re mostly of middle eastern descent, so I doubt they’re left leaning.

    Based on my observation, I don’t buy into the rational/emotional, leftbrain/right brain dichotomy. I tend to think that those who were educated in schools that were predominently left and who come from large urban areas tend to lean more to the left. While those who are from rural or small town areas and were educated in schools not noted for overt politicism tend to lean more to the center/right. Folks who lean center/right, in my observation, tend to be more independent in their thinking and their lives. The left leaning folks I’ve had contact with tend to want a collective solution for problems, imposed by an outside authority. The freedom versus security thing.

    More importantly I think the political/philosophical leanings we pick up have much to do with our upbringing and the leanings of people who were influential in our lives at crucial periods when we were very open to those types of influences.

    My brother-in-law is a physicist and he is very weird. But even weirder and more arrogant, are the architects.

  32. slickdpdx Says:

    Not only are you right, you are far more charitable than your counterparts. And more insightful.

  33. Mark Says:

    I’m a software developer with two Computer Science degrees from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Science and engineering degrees are hard work. As Dave Barry says, there are known facts and right answers. You can’t just make stuff up. Most people I went to school with were likewise too busy to give a whole lot of thought to political issues.

    I think of myself as a classical liberal, which probably reads as conservative to many people, but I find the worst nannies of the left aren’t as scary as the worst moral police of the right.

    I work in the Democratic stronghold of Chicago, but we’re all midwestern corn-belt folks too. I find a little of everything.

  34. Jason H Says:

    I’m a Civil (Geotech) engineer and live smack dab in the middle of flyover country. My guess is that about 95% or better of civil engineers in this area lean to the right.

    One point that I didn’t see made, but maybe I missed it, is that engineers live to solve problems. Being confronted with a problem that hasn’t been solved yet, and then doing the research and analysis to solve it, is what it is all about. It’s what makes dealing with the dark side of engineering (marketing, liability issues, etc.) bearable.

    Most leftists that I have personally known (outside of work) never really cared about coming up with feasible solutions to problems. It’s all about principles and being pure in their ideology. It’s doesn’t matter if their ideas are not implementable, only that they allow them to feel that they have the moral highground.

  35. Darvin Says:

    I’m a EE from UW-Madison, ’01.

    One of the things that I’ll never forget was a statement by the Dean of Pre-Engineering made to all the pre-engineers. He said something to the effect of (paraphrased) “Engineering has the unfortunate effect of making students politically conservative.”

    It’s not as if they didn’t try to re-educate us with “ethnic studies” and mandatory “breadth” requirements. I also knew quite a few Democrat inclined engineers. However, after school I didn’t hear of any swinging left, most swung right or libertarian.

  36. Dee Says:

    I got my chem & bio degrees from the heart of blue-state land (Boston), and am living in Chicago. Quick poll of the local scientists/engineers I know gave overwhelming negatives towards Dems. This was true even amongst the NW profs I asked (though each have their hands in some heavy venture capital financing deals, so aren’t exactly insulated eggheads when it comes to the business world). The one exception? The engineer who trained at IIT and UW-Madison, works at Argonne Natl Labs, and eventually wants to teach. He was raised to think that Repubs are mean, scary, and religious freaks who would interrupt his Saturday night fornication attempts…

  37. PersonFromPorlock Says:

    Could it be that the sheer complexity of Big Government puts off the elegance-seeking sort of person who becomes an engineer?

  38. John "Akatsukami" Braue Says:

    The optimist thinks the glass is half full. The pessimist thinks it is half empty. The engineer thinks the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

    Nah, a real engineer thinks, “The capacity over-design makes the glass less likely to spill” 😉

  39. Dean de Freitas Says:

    Usually stated as “The glass is designed with a factor of safety = 2”

  40. Steve Says:

    I’ve got a BS/MS in Chemistry with an emphasis on Analytical. My experience with the academic types in my tribe broadly breaks down:

    Organic / Biochem: center-left
    Pharmacutical: libertarian
    Analytical / Inorganic: center-right
    Physical / Nuke: Independent-wierd

    My mentor speculated during one of our weekly research meetings at the bar he owned that this was due, at least in part, to the funding sources for research. The organic/biochem guys sucked pretty exclusively on the goverment teet. The analytical/inorganic/pharmacutical group depended on outsourced funding from private industry. The p-chem/nuke crowd got money from the military side of government.

  41. DrObviousSo Says:

    Graduated from a small school outside of Pittsburgh PA with a software engineering degree in ’03. The faculty there was overwelmingly libertarian-conservative.

    Had my first internship in a large established EE firm you’d probably recognize if you’re reading this far. Political debates where very common. Social conservatives vs. Libertarian conservatives. I had thought the gay, city breed EE in the back was liberal and didn’t take part b/c he was out of place. Turns out he was the most socially conservative, but just under the most deadlines.

    Had an internship at NASA Langly, worked mostly with indipendant contractor’s employees. The contractors where almost to a man/woman Republican or Big L Libertarian. The government employees (mostly managment) where almost to a man/woman Dems. They where the ones who said my skin tones (a healthy meditranian olive) ‘wheren’t right for the NASA image, don’t bother applying for a job here’.

    Now going to a very, very prestegious comp sci school working on my masters. I’ve only run into two instances where a comp sci prof talks about polatics. One said conservatives write greedy algorithms, liberls write dynamic algorithms (funny as hell if you get it), and one prof had to leave early b/c he had choir practice he had to go to to get ready for Easter (not exactly a political statement).

    And by the way, when an engineer sees a glass filled 50% with water, he says “Thank you, I’m thirsty” or “No thank you, I’m not thirsty”.

  42. Brian Macker Says:

    I earned my degree in computer science. None of the engineers or scientists that taught me ever expressed their political views in class. I didn’t go to Berkeley and graduated in in the early eighties. So either things have changed in the last twenty years or there is something special about Berkeley. In either case it is not a happy thing. Hopefully, he’s getting these opionions in the faculty lounge and not from the classroom.

  43. David Says:

    I used to be a theoretical physicist, but I was a modeler. That is to say we took hard looks at the standard models (stellar and partical for me). We were a reasonably rational bunch. The left right divide among my friends was about 50/50. The left being close to Scoop Jackson Democrats the right liking Reagan. Of course there were the bubble/string guys (5th demension crowd too), but we tended to ignore them. Not all theoretical physicists are the same. I left the business 20 years ago to just teach (which I like better than research).

  44. Good Ole Charlie Says:

    Well, I’ve gone to Caltech(undergraduate) and Harvard(gradate) degrees. All in chemistry with specialization in theoretical/organic areas. I offer the following comments.

    Most Caltech profs could be described – in terms as seen in this thread – as libertarians. Most were extremely cynical about the ability of ANY government to do anything positive to affect personal lives.

    Best quote: “The best affirmative action program is to work your butt off.” RPFeynman, in conversation.

    During my tenure at Caltech, we had Linus Pauling and the Ban The Bomb movement. Linus was about as far left politically as anyone, BUT politics were left out of his lectures and classrooms. You did your work and got the right answers or else…

    And this held true in the graduate school physical sciences at Harvard. One was there to work hard, take your degree, get on a tenure ladder somewhere, and publish significant papers.

    The Bozo Stuff – as political things were called – was confined to humanities types, and possibly your girl friend (oh well, like my now wife).

    Best quote: “Black studies are where we hide affirmative action admissions.” We called him “Woodie” for those in the know…

    I have known mostly theoretical types. around two-thirds tend to “libertarian” view, except when trying to raise research funds (then they play to the audience, good actors that they are). Most teachers and researchers at both institutions could be described as a-social. They weren’t all that much interested in people as such. Nice manners and all that, but deep conversations and soul-searchings were confined to the subject(s) at hand.

    BTW, during the Caltech phase, I was in the AFROTC. Most military personnel connected with this area were well accepted by faculty and students. To use a hackneyed phrase, they were credits to their profession and uniform.

    That’s one man’s recollection…

    Any questions? There will be a short quiz tomorrow on this subject…

  45. Mike Says:

    As one who has taught at both the undergrad and graduate level, there is no doubt in my mind that the science types tend to be 1) more conservative, and 2) brighter. Nothing brought more distress to me than to try to teach statistics to “social science” types to whom anything more complex than simple sums brings tears to their eyes. It was always interesting to note that those who couldn’t hack the program were usually liberals. Oh, my background? BS Math and Physics, MS and PhD in EE.

    My motto to my students: “A degree in liberal arts (especially from a ivy league school) does not necessarily constitute an education. This wasn’t a political statement, just one intended to encourage them to go the hard route and complete their science/engineering studies.


  46. Paul Says:

    I spent many years of my life at the top levels of academic physics. I can hardly ever remember any discussions of politics, and the few I can think of were quite cursory and superficial. And in those long ago days when I got my Ph.D., my thesis advisor would vote Socialist Labor, but his mentor and (and much smarter) colleague voted conservative Republican, i.e., Nixon. They shared the Nobel Prize in physics. Go figure.

  47. David OHara Says:

    I once worked for a small defense contractor taht employed 45 engineers and two physicists (me and my boss). The company hired a new secretary and was told the makeup of the company and shown a group photo. Without hesitation, she said “I can point out who is who” and she did, immediately identifying myself and my boss. This still puzzles me as my boss was a Marine Corps colonel in uniform and I was dressed in a suit like everybody else.

  48. Chris Says:

    Nixon was hardly a conservative Republican (during his Presidency, anyway).

    Slightly OT, I graduated from an Ivy League school that destroyed the mind of a good friend and classmate; after washing out of real science, he became a disciple of those “Limits to Growth” morons. He labors under the delusion that he is a scientist (complete with misplaced condescension) while spewing the tenets of a ridiculous and pseudo-religious ideology.

    Thank you Mr. Chairman.

  49. John Says:

    Part of the conservativism (sp?) of engineers comes from our ability to read data and statistics. When some environmental group show the level of XYZ in the drinking water has gone up 250%, the normal person freaks, the engineer asks for real numbers. If you find it went from 1 ppb to 2.5 ppb because a new testing method allowed for a better measurement, the normal engineer looks, says “oh that

  50. Tom Vamvanij Says:

    Dan Levine:

    No, it’s actually DeLong’s reading of Goldberg’s article that’s asinine.

    In paragraph 1, Goldberg, like Krugman, was talking about engineers and scientists on campus (i.e. engineering and science professors). In paragraph 2, he argued that engineers and scientists as a whole aren’t necessarily as “liberal” as the ones on campus, who he believed are the less competent minority. There is no inconsistency.

    (I put quotation marks over “liberal” because I don’t accept the American usage of this term. As a neutral observer, this is one case in which the French are right and the Americans are wrong.)

  51. Neo Says:

    The real reason why there are so few conservatives in academia is that there is so much more money available elsewhere, so only those who feel a need to coddled and be coddled (liberals) with try to extend the “college years” forever.

    The question that Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman should really try to answer is “why there are so few women in engineering ?I think Larry Summers was spot on.

    This really shows in the respondents here. I don’t seem to remember any women.

    I’ve worked for companies that would hire any walking and talking female that knew the first thing about engineering just to show that they made an effort to hire some/any women engineers. Just to try to reduce the male/female ratio from 30:1 to anything smaller.

    While there are usually a greater abundance of engineering jobs than that of the job market in total, the market for women engineer is as wide open as a 747 hangar and has been so for my entire career. And the money isn’t that bad either. So why have so few responded ?

  52. Zach Says:

    I’m a physics grad student at CU Boulder. Despite the radicalism of the campus, it’s actually hard to get a read on physicists. Of the people I know well enough to guess their politics, it’s probably split between right and left, tending left. Political conversations don’t get off the ground very readily.

    One thing I will say is that even the lefties that I know aren’t the foam-spitting lefties that certain other parts of campus attract. Maybe it’s manners, maybe it’s that science attracts a milder breed of people, maybe it’s that physicists meet enough real flakes and oddballs that we have a higher tolerance for people who merely disagree on politics.

  53. John Says:

    Just a view from a current PhD in Civil Engineering (Transportation) down at the North Avenue Trade School in Atlanta (GA Tech). In general, I find most of the engineerings (highway designers, structural people, etc) to be slightly right, though I do find that those of my transpo profs who speak about politics are to the left – especially the Air Quality people. Granted, right now, I get the impression that most are just disgusted in general with both parties. City Planning professors – who I have to deal with quite frequently are all left and way left of center. Do have to comment that when I worked in Boston in 2000, everyone from the design guys to the planners, including the owner of the company was voting for Gore.

    I think Transportation people tend to have a love/hate relationship with both parties with the one side of us prefering the traditional Repub small government/business mentality, and the other side recognizing that in the end, just about all of our clients are Departments of Transportation and Transit Agencies – since transportation infrastructure is usually one of the first services governments provide. Think Roman roads. All in all, I find a general consensus to find politicians as a whole no matter their party as a bunch of boobs.

    As for students, the general GA Tech campus seems pretty conservative – about all I saw in Nov. were those classy, black “W” stickers around campus. Also, students seem more the right than the professors (disclaimer: I did vote for Kerry, but that’s partly because I think he has better transportation policies than Bush and DOT Secretary Mineta is an idoit). All the anti-war/anit-Bush/Pro-Kerry stuff that went on a Tech seemed to be attended by the Architects and Physics facutly with the students walking by and laughing at the speakers. Though Kucinich did get a good turnout, but I think that had to do with the free food.

    As for women, half my department in Civil are women (3 as of last count) and half the grad students including the PhDs.

    Just another prespective from someone currently on Campus

  54. Angie Schultz Says:

    The question that Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman should really try to answer is “why there are so few women in engineering ?” I think Larry Summers was spot on.

    This really shows in the respondents here. I don’t seem to remember any women.

    I was going to respond, but decided not to. Most of my colleagues I’ve talked politics with have been on the liberal side, but then again I haven’t talked politics with most of my colleagues.

    That didn’t seem to me to be a particularly useful data point. I decided if I responded it would just be writing for the glory of seeing my comment in the comments section. Ooooh.

    I’ve worked for companies that would hire any walking and talking female that knew the first thing about engineering just to show that they made an effort to hire some/any women engineers.

    Hot damn. Names, please.

  55. O.F. Jay Says:

    Will, I’ve only a bachelor’s in Biology and as such I really can’t take on the gravitas-laden title of “scientist,” but one thing that I would like to share about the scientific community away from the press is that many of us in the “rank and file” really don’t particularly CARE about politics and what not. We like to do our work, and we concentrate on our research.

    The humanistic endeavors of science can not be ignored; while many of us have our motives as to WHY we do what we do, we just like to hammer away and get to the bottom of whatever it is we’re investigating or building.

    Show me a scientist who is overly active in politics and activism and you have shown me one who has a tendency to ignore research contradicting his own talking points. I can’t say much else about engineers though.

  56. rosignol Says:

    I think the university environment in engineering tends to select for non-risk accepting behavior.

    Heh. You wanna see ‘non-risk accepting behavior’? Talk to an engineer for one of the big commercial aerospace companies.

  57. anony-mouse Says:

    BSc-EE here, Colorado School of Mines. CSM has its share of left-leaning students and profs, but the school arguably hosts the most conservative public campus in the entire state (which itself leans slightly to the right). Many of the leftists are in the school’s small liberal arts division, but even those tend to be the realistic kind, not the canine-throated moonbats.

    FWIW, the school has extensive relationships with industry and business, and no small number of the profs have come from the industry (and some go back to it), and/or run participated in business ventures and consulting gigs on the side.

    And by the way, when an engineer sees a glass filled 50% with water, he says “Thank you, I’m thirsty” or “No thank you, I’m not thirsty”.

    You know some strange engineers. Many of the ones I’ve encountered would immediately dump out the water and make the glass completely full under a beer tap. Or, in the case of a recently completed exam or thesis defense, under a handle of Jack.

  58. Klug Says:

    Steve is clearly wrong: Organic chemists are primarily conservative, especially the synthetic types. Although yes, academic organic chemists do “suck on the government teet (sp)”, they receive more and more of their funding from industry. Not to mention, that’s where most of their students are going. Not to mention that their primary employers are pharmaceutical companies, which have been the Democrats’ punching bag since 2000.

    I would argue that the continued push on the part of Democrats against pharma will breed a new generation of pro-business conservatives.

  59. Brian H Says:

    This is kind of heretical, but perhaps pertinent. I think that ALL attitudes, opinions, and beliefs are based in emotion. Those who value rationality do so because it gives them stronger positive “hits” than responding to others’ emotions and the expression thereof. Those who respond readily to others trust others and themselves more, and feel discomfort treating self and others as “data points”. And so on.

    And what shapes and drives emotions? They are not random and “unsane”; they are somehow fundamental and very survival-oriented. They certainly are where the action is. But if it’s all just biochemistry at base, then biochem is a lot more coherent and has many more “emergent” characteristics than we yet understand.

    The politics of emotion and the emotions of politics have a lot of inherent posturing and pretense and manipulation, of course. The emotional urge to be righter than the other guy or than everyone has universal power.

  60. Steve Says:


    Did you miss the line about pharmecutical chemists leaning libertatian?

  61. Steve Says:

    Sigh, pharmecutical types are LibertaRian.

    Preview is my friend.

  62. Slartibartfast Says:

    I’m an engineer working for the same company (different division) as Will, but it’s not the only place I’ve worked. In the world of defense, practically all of the engineers are conservative. I have a boss who’s liberal, and we had a long, earnest discussion one day in which I made it clear to him that not only was he not going to convince me, but I completely got that I wasn’t going to convince him. After that, we got along much better.

    I have all the respect in the world for him, as a technical guy. Politically, though, he’s full of crap. Doubtless he thinks the same of me. I also have a co-worker who’s a liberal; Ph. D. in physics. Dunno if the rest of the physicists are typified by him, but he loathes Bush.

  63. Neo Says:

    Angie: I recommend DuPont

    I don’t work there anymore, but ..

  64. Deacon Blues Says:

    Like Will I attended Auburn University but in Architecture. I am now an Engineer and have worked literally all over the US. I think I’m pretty much dead center conservative but in Portland, Oregon, San Francisco CA., and Boston, Ma. I’m far right. In Birmingham, Al., Knoxville, Tenn., and Oak Ridge, Tenn., I’m slightly to the left of center. Physics people aren’t the weirdest, Architecture students are.

  65. Fred Says:

    As an engineer with prior military service, and a political conservative, I think I’m one more data point in an established pattern. A couple of different observations though: the idea that we don’t love learning for learning’s sake might have some validity. I didn’t take several courses in fluid dynamics because I had some fascination with laminar flow, but because I needed that knowledge to operate a ship’s power plant, and later on to actually build the ships I once drove. I became an engineer because I wanted to “do” and to “build”. For me, and the majority of my classmates, school was necessary preparation for the real world, but it really wasn’t a place we wanted to stay. There’s certainly nothing wrong with being a college prof, but I couldn’t imagine devoting the earlier part of my life (when I was actually doing and building)to the effort it would take to reach a tenured position. Its not so much a question of money, as a more utilitatian approach to learning. Is this a conservative tendency? I’m not sure, but a lot of my conservative co-workers seem to share it.

    I have noticed a military/non-military divide with regards to conservative vs non-conservative attitudes, but there is another aspect where I work: union vs non-union experience. At our shipyard there are a fair number of engineers who started out as unionized welders, pipefitters, etc., then got their degrees and moved into engineering positions. These guys (and women too) tend Democrat, though not the extreme left-wing variety. People who were hired with existing engineering credentials (most with military experience)tend to be more Republican. It seems that spending your formative years in a liberal institution, union or university, does leave a mark.

  66. MrZenith Says:


    BS Physics, Penn State ’83.

    I never got a sense of any political leanings from any of my physics professors. The arts/humanities professors were another story . . .

    I worked as a semiconductor engineer for 18 years at AT&T/Lucent/Agere. The manufacturing/product engineers (mostly BS/MS EE or ChE) with whom I worked were as conservative as I, with two exceptions: one whose family fled Iran during the Revolution and who viewed the US Government’s role as social equalizer, and one who was an ex-hippie. The Bell Labs process developers/chip designers (mostly PhD Physics/EE/ChE) seemed to be much more liberal.

    The AT&T corporate “culture” was chillingly Orwellian, especially in the ’90’s. Affirmative action and diversity training (which were exercises to get us to embrace politically-correct Newspeak in order to prevent workplace “crimethink”) were emphasized over other in-house skill-enhancing technical courses. One’s performance review was enhanced by taking one of these non-technical courses.

  67. LankyB Says:

    Hi there. Thought I’d add my 2 cents. I have a ChemE BS (Cornell ’98) worked a few years at a large pharmaceutical and am now 4 years into a doctorate.

    Engineering is really about quickly and efficiently absorbing data, analyzing it critically, and drawing logical conclusions. There’s nothing in that to necessarily predispose an engineer to one party or the other. One interesting feature though, is that (good) engineers are less likely to take things on faith. Show me the data, and I will analyze it. Perhaps that makes them less susceptible to spin, or less comfortable with the cognative dissonance needed to toe a party line. Engineers also have a clinically developed sense of cause and effect. Steady state means rate in = rate out. If you want to add an entitlement or a war, you need to pay for it. Failure to pay will have consequences on the system.

    I have pretty strong libertarian tendancies. (Yes, I usually vote libertarian.) In 2004 for the first time ever I voted party Democrat. I’m philosophically opposed to party tickets, but it was a sort of punative damages. It’s simply a matter of projection. Where we are is worse than where we were, and I don’t see any accountability. Where will we be in another 4 years? It is foolish to deceive our allies. It is foolish to go on record as torturers. It is foolish to force Europe into a united whole. And it is foolish to run up debt to China. Sorry if that’s unpopular here, I call it how I see it.

    One last point. I have a family member who is a mechanical engineer, builds nuclear submarines for a living, voted Reagan twice and Bush Sr., who for the first time ever contributed money to the Democrats this past election. He doesn’t go around work claiming to be Democrat (of course he’s not, he’s registered independent) but both the wallet and the vote went that way this time. What people see at the workplace is not always who people are.

    In the end, all of our spot observations are meaningless. Even if everyone here’s two cents adds to fifty dollars, this is still a pretty self-selecting group. The way to know how engineering professors vote is to go ask them.

  68. vitalpowers Says:

    Engineers more likely to be

    Engineers more likely to be liberal?

  69. Pete The Elder Says:


    Jonah Goldberg published a lot of emeils this weekend about politics and engineers in response to a Kevin Drum post. I think all the engineers I know are conservatives and/or Republicans (I know for sure that most of them are…

  70. Queenie Says:

    As a Physicist who became an Engineer, I must take issue with your assertions of weirdness Will. There is absolutely nothing strange about little me. I’m just oft misunderstood. My tiny eccentricities are really of no consequence, and certainly do not justify the daily protest marches staged by the neighbours, local Churches, trade unions and schoolchildren….

  71. T Says:

    Speaking of self-selecting groups, did anybody notice how DeLong phrased the question? He went around asking people why they weren’t Republicans.

    Ummm. Okay. I think that might just be a leading question.

    Of course, I’m an engineer in the oil industry in Houston. The vast majority of the engineers and scientists here are Republicans.

  72. theautoprophet Says:

    I am an engineer in the Auto industry in Detroit. My co-workers are typically moderate to hard right, very few are liberals.

    Lots of UAW guys are also pretty right wing, except for on one key issue.

  73. Steve Says:

    BS, MS, PhD in aerospace, all from “top ten” universities. I generally describe myself as a small-L libertarian. This was a bit unusual in Boston; it’s uncomfortably unusual in Silicon Valley.

    I can only think of one grad-school professor whose political views I’m sure I know. He was a centrist Democrat. Would’ve had a nice job (near Cabinet level) in the first Gore administration.

  74. Ed Says:

    There is a reason there tend to be more republicans in the work force, and more democrats in education.

    Those who can do,
    Those who can’t teach.

  75. Jeff the Baptist Says:

    Engineers and Politics

    Will Collier wrote a short piece about how, despite claims to the contrary, engineers tend to be conservative. I’m an engineer. There is a general tendency towards conservatism in the engineering community. I think this comes from two things…

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