Saturday, 20 June 2015

the dunning-kruger effect

"The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude. Conversely, highly skilled individuals tend to underestimate their relative competence, erroneously assuming that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others."
David Dunning/Justin Kruger.
or -
"The Foole doth thinke he is wise, but the wiseman knowes himselfe to be a Foole"
W. Shakespear. (As You Like It).

In 1995, an American crook called McArthur Wheeler decided to go on a bank robbing spree; he was caught soon afterwards as his face was clearly visible in the security cameras of the banks he had robbed.

Ethical Considerations Archives
He couldn't understand how he had been identified as he had taken the precaution of rubbing lemon juice on his face before setting out. He had read that lemon juice could be used as an invisible ink, so by rubbing it on his face he believed he would be invisible to the cameras.

His action inspired the psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger at the Cornell University Department of Psychology to come up with the Dunning/Kruger effect. Crudely put, it explains that stupid people are too stupid to know that they are stupid and so overestimate their own competence; or, not knowing enough about a subject to realise just how little they actually know.

An excellent source for information about this and other issues discussed in this article can be found here.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the area of scientific and medical endeavor where you have people like American Senator Jim Inhofe walking into the Senate building holding a snowball to prove that global warming is a hoax or crank doctor Joseph Mercola advocating using breast milk to cure ear infections. (Breast milk contains antibodies, nothing to do with antibiotics).

Poor McArthur Wheeler seems to have done no real harm other than to himself, the other two though could cause a lot of unnecessary suffering, injury, death, and even extinction of our species if enough people follow their lead.

I have said before and make no apology for labouring the point, I simply cannot understand how so many people are willing to accept possible life changing or life threatening advice from people not qualified to give it.

I enphasise the term "scientific and medical" because this seems to be where most of this ill informed advice seems to live. 

Gwyneth Paltrow (a Hollywood actress with no medical qualifications) regularly offers health and diet advice which is followed by millions. How many of them would follow her advice on how to defuse a bomb? Very few, I suspect although she is equally qualified to do so, which is to say, not qualified at all.

Sir Michael Parkinson offered advice on how to self diagnose prostate cancer but not on how to repair a faulty gas boiler even though he knows just as much about gas boilers as he does about prostate cancer.

Personally, I would never listen to diet advice from any unqualified celebrity just because they look fabulous. Actually, I tell a lie.

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