A Little Knowledge IS A Dangerous Thing, When It’s In The Mind Of The Moron

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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I mentioned a while ago in a post about Prof Cipolla’s “Basic Laws Of Human Stupidity” that two psychologists at Cornell University had written a study with the fabulous title, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Leads to Inflated Self-Assessments”.

Their names were Dunning and Kruger and their work developed into what is now known as the “Dunning-Kruger Effect”. They were awarded a Nobel Prize for their paper on the subject in 2000.

 

Graphical representation of the Dunning-Kruger Effect
Graphical representation of the Dunning-Kruger Effect

 

Stated scientifically, the “Dunning–Kruger Effect” is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average.

This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.

It further states that actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.

Kruger and Dunning conclude, “the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others……..this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.”

The effect has been shown by experiment in several ways. Dunning and Kruger tested students on a series of criteria such as humour, grammar, and logic and compared the actual test results with each student’s estimations of their performance.

Those who scored lowest on the test, in the bottom quartile, were found to have “grossly overestimated” their scores. Conversely, those with the highest scores underestimated their performance in comparison to others.

The tendency for those who scored well to underestimate their performance was explained as a form of psychological projection: those who found the tasks easy (and thus scored highly) mistakenly thought that they would also be easy for others.

This is similar to the “impostor syndrome” — found notably in graduate students and high achieving women — whereby high achievers fail to recognize their talents as they think that others must be equally good.

The Imposter Syndrome
The Imposter Syndrome

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Put in layman’s terms, people who suffer from the “Dunning Kruger Effect” are so dumb not only do they fail to realize that they themselves are dumb, they actually believe themselves to be much more competent than everyone else.

It is a very dangerous phenomenon.

 

The idea isn’t a new one. Many people have come to the same conclusion independently, many of them a lot more famous than these two scientists.

For example, in 1871, Charles Darwin, in “The Descent of Man”, stated that “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”.

In the 1930s Bertrand Russell, in “The Triumph of Stupidity”, said that “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”

And in his 1996 book “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot”, Al Franken described the phenomenon of “pseudo-certainty” which was rampantly being displayed by pundits and politicians such as Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich, who would use “common sense” as the basis for their confidently-made assertions, which were made without actually backing them up with time-consuming research or actual facts. In his own way Franken associates all this quite candidly with the term “being a fucking moron”.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect in action
The Dunning-Kruger Effect in action

 

So there you have it. It really isn’t just me sounding off or having a bit of a rant now and again. There is hard scientific evidence to show not only that stupidity exists big time, but that many of those possessing this infirmity are blissfully unaware of their problem.

Remember folks, please “Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

 

20 thoughts on “A Little Knowledge IS A Dangerous Thing, When It’s In The Mind Of The Moron

  1. Does this help explain that speed and conviction of an answer outweighs accuracy and substance?

    Off topic – a possible future post for you …. Incidents when people thought The Onion report was real.

    • It may well prove that very thing. It’s always a god policy to have a think about something before you pronounce too strongly on it.
      The idiots who thought the Onion was real is a good idea for a post, although you are probably a lot better equipped to do it.

      • I only do Onion headlines … however, I know of three incidents … Iran (recently), a Congressman uses a new conference to condone the building of an abortion megaplex, and a pastor using an Onion article to condem Harry Potter (told to me by a reader). This research project is right up your alley!

  2. So if I like what you’re writing, are you calling me a moron? Or are you claiming that you know what you’re writing about, and are therefore dumb, and therefore I must be dumber to follow you? Well?!? 😉
    Aw, who am I kidding? You can do this stuff SO much better than I can….. 😀

    • Some of the best people I have met (some of them very successful and rich) are the ones who had a good dose of humility. The worst people I have met are just the opposite of that. And that goes for people who aren’t rich or famous too.

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