The Dunning–Kruger Effect in Action

Most of you have heard of the Dunning–Kruger effect. There’s a whole article about it in the Washington Post today. Their headline is What’s behind the confidence of the incompetent? This suddenly popular psychological phenomenon, and they have a comments section. Here are some excerpts from their article, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:

You may have witnessed this scene at work, while socializing with friends or over a holiday dinner with extended family: Someone who has very little knowledge in a subject claims to know a lot. That person might even boast about being an expert. This phenomenon has a name: the Dunning-Kruger effect.

They explain it:

In their 1999 paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology [abstract only], David Dunning and Justin Kruger put data to what has been known by philosophers since Socrates, who supposedly said something along the lines of “the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” Charles Darwin followed that up in 1871 with “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” Put simply, incompetent people think they know more than they really do, and they tend to be more boastful about it.

We see the Dunning-Kruger effect all the time with creationists, but the Washington Post is interested in politics. They tell us:

During the election and in the months after the presidential inauguration, interest in the Dunning-Kruger effect surged. Google searches for “dunning kruger” peaked in May 2017, according to Google Trends, and has remained high since then. Attention spent on the Dunning-Kruger Effect Wikipedia entry has skyrocketed since late 2015.

Not surprising. The article continues:

There’s also “much more research activity” about the effect right now than immediately after it was published, Dunning said. Typically, interest in a research topic spikes in the five years following a groundbreaking study, then fades. “Obviously it has to do with Trump and the various treatments that people have given him,” Dunning said, “So yeah, a lot of it is political. People trying to understand the other side. We have a massive rise in partisanship and it’s become more vicious and extreme, so people are reaching for explanations.”

Now they get specific:

Even though President Trump’s statements are rife with errors, falsehoods or inaccuracies, he expresses great confidence in his aptitude.

[Skipping an ark-load to the same effect, supported by links to Washington Post articles]

“Donald Trump has been overestimating his knowledge for decades,” said Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at the University of Michigan. “It’s not surprising that he would continue that pattern into the White House.” Dunning-Kruger “offers an explanation for a kind of hubris,” said Steven Sloman, a cognitive psychologist at Brown University. “The fact is, that’s Trump in a nutshell. He’s a man with zero political skill who has no idea he has zero political skill. And it’s given him extreme confidence.”

The article discusses the dangers of incompetence, and ends with this:

What happens when the incompetent are unwilling to admit they have shortcomings? Are they so confident in their own perceived knowledge that they will reject the very idea of improvement? Not surprisingly (though no less concerning), Dunning’s follow-up research shows the poorest performers are also the least likely to accept criticism or show interest in self improvement.

Very interesting — but what we found most interesting was something that wasn’t said — or even considered. The article discusses the Dunning-Kruger effect only in connection with Donald Trump; there is no hint that it may be at work with anyone in the other party. We don’t want to upset you, dear reader, so we won’t mention any names, but it’s possible that the Dunning-Kruger effect may be a bipartisan phenomenon.

Copyright © 2019. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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23 responses to “The Dunning–Kruger Effect in Action

  1. Trump claims that his gut assessment beats formal scientific study and his gut tells him there’s no real serious AGW effect.

    Dunning-Kruger is no doubt universal, even among us here on this blog, but Trump is the only major figure I know to embrace it as a guiding principle

  2. “It may be a bipartisan phenomenon.” Yup, but Trump is POTUS who repeatedly lies, exaggerates and rejects expertise. Nice try, SC.

  3. No argument that the effect is not confined to any one political party, either in the USA or Europe.

    But tu quoque is a lousy and fallacious argument. Stalin’s murders do not mitigate Hitler’s.

    But if one still wishes to play ‘count the falsehoods’, I cannot think of any political leader who is even in Trump’s league of fabricators, blow-hards, prevaricators, and flat-out dwellers in their own little fantasy world…

  4. How many people resort to the claim that “I am smarter than you”, as if that settled a point? Can anyone think of some truly intelligent person who would say that? Or even a moderately bright person? Even how many politicians, preachers, etc,?

  5. I cannot ever imagine Trump saying “I was wrong” or even “I’m sorry”. It feels like he doesn’t have the capacity for introspection.

  6. Is it really Dunning-Kruger though in Trump’s case? He’s not expressing his certainty in being correct based on inversely proportional ignorance, but expressly claims to know more than anyone on earth on dozens and dozens of topics ( a very quick google has me up to 24 topics on which he has made this claim – I’m sure there are more). Whilst a clear pathology, it seems as if it’s a very different pathology altogether and one far more concerning than Dunning-Kruger. Added to which he’s a venal corrupt crook and a completely foul human being. We live in interesting times

  7. Tom S – anyone who proclaims that he is a stable genius is neither.
    RevR – Trump has never even asked for forgiveness because he claims to never have done anything requiring that.
    CMD – agree.

  8. Michael Fugate

    What I find more interesting is how afraid republicans are of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and they keep tripping over themselves trying to silence her.

  9. Our dear SC tries to be thoughtful:

    “We don’t want to upset you, dear reader, so we won’t mention any names.”
    Now you have upset me. You’ve got the opportunity to pan some prominent Democrats and let it pass?! Shame on you!
    Every single politician should be panned whenever he/she deserves it. If you think I can’t take it, think twice. I probably won’t even vote for the leader of my own political party Groen Links.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_Klaver

    Too much neoliberalism to my taste. But I very likely will vote for

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Sargentini

    in the next elections for European Parliament for taking on Hungarian president Orban, who thus far has done much more harm to his country than Donald the Clown to his.

    @Mega: No matter how much I love to criticize our dear SC’s silly views, like “Hillary Clinton is a socialist” (which is my nr 1, just before “IDiocy is wrong hence socialism too”), he’s not guilty of a Tu Quoque. See, he didn’t make an argument nor contradicted one, but only pointed out the onesidedness of the WP. That’s totally valid.

    @MF: and I sincerely hope it stimulates her to make only more noise.

  10. I don’t think that I would ever tell a kid, “I’m right tbecause I’m smarter than you.” The same with an adult. I would be embarrassed to be caught saying that.

  11. Michael Fugate

    It is hard to argue for an idea when the only means of communication is twitter and with a limited vocabulary.

  12. @TomS: Every time I hear Trump tweet or talk about “how smart” he is, I cringe. When I was a scientist I heard many talks by, and worked with some, Nobel laureates, one of whom didn’t finish his PhD because he had already won the Nobel prize. I never heard any of them brag about how smart they were or how much they knew, even about their specialties, let alone every topic they ever heard of.

  13. I have heard smart people say that they are not knowledgeable about a particular subject, even something close to their recognized area of expertise.
    I know that some people play at being dumb. It can work to one’s advantage to seem dumb. But I don’t see what advantage there is in writing up one’s own medical report with obvious mistakes in it, to take one blatant example.

  14. Ross Cameron

    The DKE reigns world-wide. We have had a political party in power in Australia for several years and right across the spectrum from back-bencher to Prime Minister, it`s Alice in Blunderland every time one of them opens his/her mouth. At least we no longer have to put up with Hambo.

  15. @Douglas E

    “And though his brain is smaller than his tiny little penius,
    He is the very model of a very stable genius.”

    Funny — very clever, imo.

  16. The article discusses the Dunning-Kruger effect only in connection with Donald Trump; there is no hint that it may be at work with anyone in the other party. We don’t want to upset you, dear reader, so we won’t mention any names, but it’s possible that the Dunning-Kruger effect may be a bipartisan phenomenon.

    And, per the subject of this blog, it’s a certainty that it applies to the so-called “experts” who speak for the Discovery Institute and its cause.

  17. It is difficult to say when behavior is driven by DK, that is, when speakers believe that they are knowledgeable when they are not, and because of that mistake, believe what they are saying.
    People may have other goals in speech.

  18. Charles Deetz ;)

    This in Twitter today, 19 things DJT is best at, according to himself …https://mobile.twitter.com/nowthisnews/status/1081279851405983745

  19. The real puzzle is why people think that he is knowledgeable about several disparate things.

  20. Ross Cameron

    Oh, Donald, please stop using those goggles when you`re tanning. Those white circles around your eyes remind me of a raccoon. Sorry, raccies.
    https://www.123rf.com/stock-photo/raccoon.html?sti=m5nhmfbs6kazrzs8mu|

  21. @ FrankB: You’re correct–except, I did not charge our Curmudgeon with making a tu quoque argument, but endorsing his self-confessed restraint in not making one. 🙂

  22. Random – chortle….