By Paul Blase
Fortunately, as someone who’s been inquisitive their whole life, as well as receiving higher education, I’ve been able to learn about all sorts of obscure things. I mean, hell, when I’m bored, I’m usually watching videos on popular YouTube channels RealLifeLore, Half As Interesting, Kurzgesagt, Today I Found Out, and so many more. I’ve fallen asleep to the voice of Simon Whistler more than I’d care to admit to. I’ve done my fair share of Wikipedia surfing, going from page to page, starting somewhere reading about a particular animal only to end up reading about quantum physics or the national dish of Mauritania. If you really want to know how bad this curiosity gets, sometimes I’ll go on travel.state.gov and read up on things to know when traveling to random countries.
Yes, I’m a nerd, and I’m prepared for the ribbing.
However, there’s one thing that I learned about during my schooling that I’ve been seeing more often than at any other time during my adult life. That one thing is the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
For those unaware, the Dunning-Kruger Effect is essentially a psychological phenomenon in which people who possess very little knowledge on a topic grossly overestimate their understanding of the said topic. Examples of this can be seen from folks who discuss healthcare, politics, or even everyday things as simple as mechanical work. It is important to note that, realistically, there are limited numbers of “experts” in any given field. However, claiming to know something isn’t exactly a representation of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, but claiming to be an authority or having the definitive answers, although you may not, certainly is.
I’ve always loved this quote from the Greek philosopher Plato: “Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.” And I really think that it’s fitting when we talk about the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
A great example I can give is in the world of hockey. I’m not claiming to be Wayne Gretzky, but I did play professionally across 5 years. During some recreational beer-league games, I like to talk with my teammates, and let them know what I’m thinking and seeing. If someone makes a mistake, I’m always willing to offer insight to help capitalize on their next opportunity. All things considered, I am indeed an expert in my field. With that said, there are sometimes people who have never played a competitive game past their youth that try to give advice to players who are playing the “correct” way. Player A, the inexperienced one, can tell others to make bad decisions based upon his bad decisions. Obviously, this creates a fundamental breakdown that can lead to chances for the opponent. But Player A is so enthralled with his own ability (or lack thereof) that if you try to tell them to change the way they play, they’ll proclaim that you’re not doing it right, even though they cannot see that they are the issue.
Thus, the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Thinking they know better than people who may have a greater knowledge base than they do – and that’s not saying that it’s exclusively me. There are plenty of other qualified people to make suggestions and adjustments.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the Dunning-Kruger Effect is the fact that so many people are using the term these days. It’s almost like the Dunning-Kruger Effect meets the movie Inception. You will see people who cannot formulate their own opinions or rebut to someone with a different idea simply cite the Dunning-Kruger Effect, claiming the other person is uneducated or has no premise for their beliefs.
Again, what’s so intriguing about this phenomenon is that the people who cite the Effect willingly admit that they lack knowledge or the ability to obtain it. They are perfectly fine with staying ignorant and allowing others to make decisions for them, instead of attempting to have discussions with more knowledgeable people, if not experts, and forming opinions of their own. Recently, I wrote an article for this blog discussing being coerced into receiving a Covid-19 vaccine. I’ll be the first to admit that I went to business school, not med school. I did, however, talk with my doctor, who’s been practicing medicine for over 40 years. I spoke with friends who hold titles such as Director of Nursing, Neurosurgeon, Pharmacist, etc. Initially, I was against the vaccine for the same reason many other people were. After talking to experts, I formed the opinion that it is safe. The caveat? I just don’t believe that private citizens should be forced to make medical decisions by any government or private entity. That being said, I would exclude my opinion from any form of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
However, reciting talking points on any matter and just deferring to other people sets a dystopian precedent. I remember a time when people argued with one another respectfully. Each person brought facts to the table, life experiences, anecdotal evidence, and we would buy each other a round of beer. Maybe we’d go home with a different perspective; perhaps we wouldn’t. At the end of the day, people civilly challenged one another. That’s how our country was formed. At a pub, discussing ideas. Sure, the finer points of this world should be addressed only by experts. That makes complete sense. But not everybody has access to these resources, nor necessarily seeks them. Since the dawn of humanity, conversation has been key in relaying thoughts and ideas, as well as creating new ones, some of which have shaped the world we know.
Ultimately, the biggest Dunning-Kruger Effect is going to end up in a real-life iteration of the movie Idiocracy. Some would argue we’re more than halfway there. It’s my opinion that people need to start taking control of their own thoughts, actively seek out knowledge, and stop deferring to others. Even among economists, there’s dissent among the multitude of theories– some give compelling arguments for Marxism, Communist, various modes of capitalism, etc. Deferring to people who cannot reach a consensus is a dangerous game, no matter the field.
So the next time you or someone you know accuse another of being proof of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, just remember one thing. That, in and of itself, could be the most glaring proof of all.