Science, engineering and political identity

Some commenters on my post on the academic backgrounds that that the science and engineering graduates should be distinguished. I have done this and also separated out those with qualifications in IT.

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As can be seen, while science graduates were the largest single component of the original broad ‘science and engineering’ category for both groups, social democrats are relatively speaking more likely to come from a science background, and classical liberals from an engineering or IT background.

21 Responses to “Science, engineering and political identity

  • 1
    Son of the Ratpack
    May 11th, 2009 21:26

    Thanks Andrew. Results as expected. The bigger question, where significant differences exist, is whether students choose their field of study by the political philosophy they have in Year 12, or is that philosophy shaped by their university studies.

  • 2
    J
    May 11th, 2009 21:50

    Science graduates on average earn less than engineering and IT graduates. There would likely be a correlation between income and support for laissez-faire economics and a propensity to identify as ‘classical liberal’.

  • 3
    Son of the Ratpack
    May 11th, 2009 22:05

    Except that engineers are more conservative while at university. Which doesn’t make them classical liberals. On the contrary, they like to control things.

  • 4
    TerjeP (say tay-a)
    May 11th, 2009 22:19

    “Control Theory” is a prominent topic within Engineering. However it tends to teach you the futility of ignoring the inherent characteristics of a system.

  • 5
    Dave Bath
    May 11th, 2009 23:17

    I wonder if biologists are more social democrat than other sciences, as many of these graduates would come under “Health Sciences” – and one would hope these folk would be big on altruism (jokes about medical specialists and golf aside).

    Speaking from a background in pathology, the only “free” cells, those that are unregulated, are malignant ones, and obviously harmful to the body as a whole. It’s pretty straightforward to draw an analogy (however flawed many would think it) between the human body and the body politic.

    And in the IT field, those who work on (or with) process scheduling algorithms understand that too much local optimization can lead to a global pessimum. Many IT graduates of the last couple of decades are not exposed to these things. Perhaps if they were, the figures for IT graduates would be different.

  • 6
    TerjeP (say tay-a)
    May 12th, 2009 00:16

    Why do you assume that a higher dose of altruism will make someone more likely to be a social democrat than a classical liberal. For instance advocating abolition of the minimum wage does not bring popularity or any other social or economic benefit but classical liberals persist in doing it out of a sense of altruism towards low skilled workers. Meanwhile social democrats readily trade off the interests of these low skilled workers simply so they can puff themselves up with moral pride. So clearly many social democrats lack altruism.

    If we want to look at pathology then isn’t it the case that most cells are regulated by their neighbours rather than by some single central (as opposed to cellular) authority. And heck anybody versed in ecology and evolution should be able to handle the economic concept of a self organising system.

    And when it come to IT everybody should by now know that the grand unifed and fully integrated program that can do it all is simply a very expensive pipe dream.

  • 7
    opit
    May 12th, 2009 03:51

    There is a classic delineation separating the ability of a given percentage of the population to throw off social programming and indoctrination by media. That would be accentuated by any tendency of a group questioning dogma ( ideology by any name would warp as well ) to self select for liberal arts. There’s an interesting military tradition which discriminates against – not homosexuals – people with musical talent : a trait further associated with increased mathematical ability.
    But the integrated program part is easy to address via Wiki entry on forms of government – which include chameleons.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forms_of_government
    BTW Hi to Dave Bath

  • 8
    John Humphreys
    May 12th, 2009 09:15

    Terje — clearly social democrats have more altruism because they want people to have fewer freedoms, less money, worse health & education, fewer options & opportunities and no sense of self-respect. And that is the buddhist path to enlightenment… 🙂

    I just wish the social democrats would stop “helping” (sic) me. 🙁

  • 9
    Ken Miles
    May 12th, 2009 17:04

    “Control Theory” is a prominent topic within Engineering. However it tends to teach you the futility of ignoring the inherent characteristics of a system.

    I have to admit that I am very sceptical about linking engineers liking control to their political views.

    A possible reason for the difference is the different career directions. Because most successful scientists are employed by either a academic institution or CSIRO (very little fundamental research is carried out by private industry, and the research that is performed tends to be carried out by non-Australian companies such as IBM) so most science graduates have close exposure to the government grant system. Engineers, OTOH, are much more likely to find employment within a private company.

    I suspect (but I doubt that Andrew has the data to demonstrate this) that PhD engineers are much more similar to science graduates in their views.

  • 10
    Rajat Sood
    May 13th, 2009 01:26

    There seems to be a broadly positive relationship between the minimum TER required to get into a particular course and the likelihood that a person is a classical liberal as opposed to a social democrat. I wonder if greater academic ability/success helps drive a belief in self-reliance.

  • 11
    Ken Miles
    May 13th, 2009 02:14

    I wonder if greater academic ability/success helps drive a belief in self-reliance.

    If this is correct, then surely our universities teaching and research staff (all of whom have exhibited excellent academic success) should have an extraordinary high rate of classical liberalism?

    Also, minimum TER is hardly a good indicator academic ability/success. Rather it is an indicator of demand for the course. AFAIK, science has a low TER but a very high relative ratio of high achievers in it.

  • 12
    Son of the Ratpack
    May 13th, 2009 11:07

    Media studies has a very high TER but probably not a lot of classical liberal students.

  • 13
    parkos
    May 13th, 2009 11:27

    “broadly positive relationship between the minimum TER required to get into a particular course and the likelihood that a person is a classical liberal”

    Most doctors work thru medicare or thru rebate supported medical schemes. Albeit, some could make more under a US style system.

    The higher up the TER ranking you look the more social democratic it becomes in practice. Most of the econo-law mob didnt make it to that altitude (although they tried and failed unlike many of the arts grads) and can’t see value in the health of their fellow humans beyond the bulge of their own wallets.

  • 14
    Andrew Norton
    May 13th, 2009 12:36

    There are few classical liberals in any occupation, but Rajat’s basic point is plausible. If we assume that political worldviews are fundamentally shaped by sociological and psychological factors, we would expect people capable of self-reliance to more likely to find classical liberalism making intuitive sense than those who realise that their living standards will depend on transfers.

    Among educated people, there is a conflicting self-interest in that many want to use their superior intelligence and skills to use the state to manage other people according to approved norms: eat better, drink and smoke less, more education etc etc.

  • 15
    Son of the Ratpack
    May 13th, 2009 13:31

    Rajat’s basic point is that people with high levels of academic achievement are more likely to be classical liberals than be social democrats.

    If anything, the opposite is true. While few people think of themselves as classical liberals, those that take a rugged individualist view of life are found largely among the self-made business people, who were their absence of academic achievement as a badge of honour.

  • 16
    Russell
    May 13th, 2009 13:39

    “Among educated people, there is a conflicting self-interest in that many want to use their superior intelligence and skills to use the state to manage other people according to approved norms: eat better, drink and smoke less, more education etc etc.”
    Perhaps a conflict if they are wanting to manage people into being happier or better people, but not so much conflict if they are hoping to manage them into costing us less – fewer health and policing interventions!

  • 17
    Jason Soon
    May 13th, 2009 15:59

    People whose pride lies in their academic achievements are if anything less inclined to be classical liberal because they believe that IQ is the one indicator of worth and the market clearly does not respect IQ and IQ alone since they see that people who are clearly less intelligent than they are making more money.

  • 18
    Rajat Sood
    May 13th, 2009 16:19

    I’m not necessarily talking about academic superstars, just people who came at or towards the top of their high schools in order to get into a certain course at uni. I think it’s natural for people for whom schoolwork comes easily to gravitate to a view of the world in which people are primarily responsible for their own well-being. One would need to control for who pays people’s salaries to test for whether this has theory any merit. For example, public hospital doctors and GPs as well as university academics may not be representative of people of their academic ability due to long years on the public teat.
    And it may be that un(formally)educated business people are more classical liberal than anyone; I’m just making comparisons between those who went to uni.

  • 19
    parkos
    May 13th, 2009 17:15

    The lapsed protestants and lapsed jews who make up Australia’s monetary richlist are in many cases undereducated, clannish, fat, soft, dependent on a planet and society they dont care about, and basically the opposite of “rugged individualists” that ratpack thinks they represent.
    See Bushtucker Man.

    Back in the day, all you needed was a Scottish primary school education to be governor of Victoria and amongst the richest men in the world:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Munro_(Australian_politician)

  • 20
    Son of the Ratpack
    May 13th, 2009 20:28

    “a view of the world in which people are primarily responsible for their own well-being.”

    This is not very helpful. Social democrats also think that people are primarily responsible for their own well-being. The issue is how much of the residual is picked up by society. There is no reason to think that academic high achievers would be inclined to think, “not much”, as per the classical liberal view. Especially if they are high achievers because they happen to born with a high level of ability, which is entirely a matter of luck.

  • 21
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