Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Why EEs are often creationists: Part 1

If you followed the link from my last post, you'll know that the Salem Hypothesis states in part that
In any Evolution vs. Creation debate, A person who claims scientific credentials and sides with Creation will most likely have an Engineering degree.
Further, this behavior is noticed most of all in electrical engineers (EEs). Why is this? There are a number of reasons, but I think one in particular is pretty significant.

EEs don't generally take biology. Personally, as a PhD student close to completion, I haven't taken an actual biology class since freshman year of high school. I took two course related to life sciences in undergrad (a geology class on dinosaurs and a class on human sexuality), but both were purely for fun. Neither fulfilled a single degree requirement.

This is quite common. A thorough survey would be a bit excessive for a blog post, but let's look at the undergrad requirements of three top EE programs:  MIT, Stanford, and UC Berkeley.

UC Berkeley: EEs need 30 (semester) units of natural science, mathematics, and statistics. This must include 16 units of math, 4 units of a CS course on probability, and 8 units of physics. This leaves one more course, which could be biology, but I imagine is much more likely to be chemistry or the completion of the physics series. ("Electromagnetic waves, optics, relativity, and quantum physics" is actually quite important for EEs, to the point I'm astonished it's not a required part of the curriculum). I don't see anywhere else that biology can fit in.

Stanford: EEs must take 45 (quarter) units of math and science, specifically including about 28 units of math (with a few options on coursework) and 8 units of physics (with another 4 strongly recommended for some tracks: Reflection and refraction, lenses and lens systems; polarization, interference, and diffraction; temperature, properties of matter and thermodynamics, introduction to kinetic theory of matter." Once again, what's up with not requiring optics for EEs?) That leaves a few units to play with, which could be filled by biology, though I notice that none of the sample schedules, including that for the Bioelectronics and Bioimaging track, list it.

MIT: MIT is an exception. It appears that the University requires a biology class, so a specific requirement from the department is unnecessary. I suspect that very few other institutions have such a requirement, and this also implies that a person with any degree from MIT has had a course in biology.

Do I think all schools should be like MIT and require biology of all engineers? Not necessarily. The number of worthwhile fields to study is enormous and undergraduate engineering curriculums tend to be jam-packed with units already. A biology course isn't necessary to understand upper-divison EE courses, and general education requirements should rightfully focus more on arts, humanities, and social sciences.

My point is simply this: when some idiot claims to be a scientist supporting creationism and it comes out that they have a EE degree, know that they most likely did not take any coursework in biology. A degree in EE gives you no more inherent training in biology than a degree in English does.

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