Vaccine craziness has taken a extra-crazy turn in New Hampshire lately thanks to a 79-year-old former commercial pilot who graduated from MIT and is now in a position of power in the state legislature, where he sent a 52-page report likening vaccines to “organized mass murder.”  A summary article is here, although it’s mostly about GOP politics.

My question is: What is it with retired engineer types and misinformation?

You’d think a training in quantification and dealing with reality would make it easier for those folks to make objective, rational decisions. But anybody who talks about climate change will tell you that elderly, retired engineers make up a huge percentage of climate deniers. They dig in their heels and become as irrational as any crystal-gazing horoscope dowser. Now they’re doing it for COVID and vaccine denial.

(Obligatory, if obvious, note: Not All Retired Engineers! I’m taking about a very small subset of a useful and fun group. But a very loud and obnoxious subset.)

Why? I think the problem is that at one point in their lives MIT grads and the equivalent were the smartest guy in the room (they’re always male) and loved it so much that they think this will always be their status. I was the smartest guy in the room in my 10th grade geometry class and it was a really heady feeling, until Algebra II knocked me back to reality. MIT grads were smarter than me for their moment in the sun, and some of them can’t let it go.

Once these guys are retired, their own field quickly passes them by. They can’t fool themselves about where they sit in that intellectual pecking order any more, so they look around for something else to be “the smartest” about. I’m smart about fluid dynamics, they think, so I must be smart about epidemiology!

Of course if somebody tried this the other way around – if Dr. Fauci started making pronouncements about aircraft wing design – they’d explode with outrage.

Combine this I-always-know-best attitude with the classic crankiness of old men (this is where I insert the “Old man yells at cloud” meme from the Simpsons) and you’ve got the retired engineer crank.

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