How Smart Are Islamic Terrorists?

Bruce Schneier asks the question.  It is true that plenty of them are dumb.  But not all of them are.  And I’d like to point out a snippet from a paper I wrote a few years back:

Claude Berrebi notes that “[i]f there is a link between income level, education, and participation in terrorist activities, it is either very weak or in the opposite direction” (Berrebi, 42).  In a later study, Efraim Benmelech and Berrebi show the importance of human capital in suicide bombers and how suicide terrorism is usually accomplished by educated individuals (Benmelech and Berrebi, 2-3).  And finally, Krueger and Maleckova show not only that higher-income Lebanese are more likely to join Hezbollah (Krueger and Maleckova, 135), but also that “there is little evidence to suggest that a deteriorating economy or falling expectations for the economy” resulted in the September 2000 Intifada (128), meaning that economic conditions do not appear to be a significant driver for terrorist activities.

Benmelech, Efraim and Claude Berrebi.  “Attack Assignments in Terror Organizations and the Productivity of Suicide Bombers.

Berrebi, Claude.  “Evidence About the Link Between Education, Poverty and Terrorism Among Palestinians.”

Krueger, Alan B. and Jitka Maleckova.  “Education, Poverty and Terrorism:  Is there a Causal Connection?

In other words, although many terrorists are stupid, these organizations do not select for stupidity, and there is some evidence that they value highly-educated members.

That’s The Funny Thing About Going Against Common Sense

Scientists make a living out of disputing common sense (or at least putting it through the ringer):  publishing papers that indicate that bears use the woods as waste disposal grounds tend not to excite people and get those professorships at Harvard.  So instead, they try to find interesting paradoxes, like the paradox of choice.  Unfortunately, it seems that those studies don’t stand up to robustness checks.

Interesting points:

  1. This does damage to the New Paternalism argument.  If it turns out that there isn’t really a paradox of choice, a large part of their theory—that it’s better to have government restrict choices because individuals will have difficulty making the “right” choices—goes away.
  2. It’s funny reading all about the commenters’ neuroses.  Ketchup?  Catsup?

Personality Types

About a week ago, Jeff Ely had a post entitled “Is This Your Personality Type?” Nearly everybody rated a particular profile as highly accurate.  I, naturally, had to go through it and see how it applied to me…

  1. You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.
  2. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.
  3. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage.
  4. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them.
  5. Your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you.
  6. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside.
  7. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing.
  8. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations.
  9. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof.
  10. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others.
  11. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved.
  12. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic.
  13. Security is one of your major goals in life.

Going through this, #1 is completely unlike me:  I don’t much care what others think of me…  #2, yeah, okay.  #3, nah, not really.  I tend to think of it as knowing where the margins are.  #4 is totally off-base—I don’t have personality weaknesses!  I have no idea what #5 means, but I’m offended by the insinuations.  #6 isn’t true, either—I’m as secure as the UN.  #7 isn’t the case—my decision automatically has to be the right decision, no?  #8 shows the paradox of thought:  we want rules, but on our own terms.  It applies somewhat, but not quite as much as you’d think.  #9 also doesn’t quite work out; I’m not arrogant enough [ed:  really? Shaddup.  And quit stealing Mickey Kaus’s schtick.] and take for granted a lot of what others say, so long as my priors indicate that I can trust them.  #10 is true, yeah.  #11, not so much:  screw that extroversion thing.  I don’t believe in #12 because that would indicate that I have to update my priors, and that might mess up #10.  Finally, #13 is only true in passing.

So, like usual, I break the mold with a steel chair.  Great job, me!

Hours Wasted

On the way home from work today, I found out that my iPod (Shuffle, 2nd gen) decided that it didn’t have any MP3s on it any longer, despite the fact that there are plenty of podcasts on it.  When it was hooked up to the computer, it would play the podcasts on the player just fine, but when it was hooked up to a speaker, it wouldn’t play anything.  Instead, it would blink green and orange, indicating that there was no music on the iPod.  After adding a couple of songs, I found out that it would see the music but not the podcasts.

Unfortunately, I have no idea exactly how I fixed the problem, given that I tried a number of things.  The thing that seemed to work was that I hooked it up to my laptop running Linux and ran gtkpod, which recognized the podcasts.  After that, it seemed to work, and I was able to use iTunes to re-organize the podcasts.