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”

 

Did You Know That The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity Have Been Documented?

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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Unfortunately stupidity seems to have always been with us. There are countless examples of stupid people making monumentally stupid decisions throughout history.

However it was not until 1976 that the definitive essay on the subject was written. The author was an Italian economist named Professor Carlo M Cipolla and he called his pioneering work “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity”. If fasab had a hall of fame, he’d be in it.

The Basic Laws Of Human Stupidity
The Basic Laws Of Human Stupidity

Professor Cipolla taught at several universities in Italy, and for many years at the University of California, Berkeley. He also wrote books and studies about clocks, guns, depressions, faith, reason, monetary policy, and money. In fact I first heard of him at University where some of his books appeared on our reading lists. Sadly his “Basic Laws Of Human Stupidity” was not on our lists, I would have enjoyed it even then!  

His essay about stupidity encompasses all those other topics, and perhaps all of human experience.

Professor Cipolla wrote out the laws in plain language. They are akin to laws of nature – a seemingly basic characteristic of the universe.

Here they are:

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1. Always and inevitably, everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
1. Always and inevitably, everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.

 

2. The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
2. The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.

 

3. A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons, while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
3. A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons, while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.

 

4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular, non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular, non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.

 

It has been said that Professor Cipolla’s “Basic Laws of Human Stupidity” give an X-ray view of what distinguishes countries on the rise from those that are falling, or failing.

Countries moving uphill have an inevitable percentage of stupid people, yes. But they enjoy “an unusually high fraction of intelligent people” who collectively over compensate for the dumbos.

Declining nations, on the other hand, have instead, an “alarming proliferation” of non-stupid people whose behavior “inevitably strengthens the destructive power” of their persistently stupid fellow citizens. There are two distinct, unhelpful groups: “bandits” who take positions of power which they use for their own gain; and people out of power who sigh through life as if they are helpless.

In 1999 two psychologists at Cornell University wrote a study with the fabulous title, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Leads to Inflated Self-Assessments”. Without mentioning any form of the word “stupidity”, it serves as an enlightening and dismaying supplement to the basic laws.

Unfortunately Professor Cipolla died in 2000. But thankfully there are others to take up the mantle.

You could be one of them. Like I say almost every day, “Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”.

 

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