Friday, October 24, 2014

Confident Idiots


One of the privileges of being an old bunny is that you get to sit in a whole lot of medical and dental offices and read the odd piece of literature that is lying about, assuming there is no wifi.  So Eli was sitting in his endodontic dentist's office (the good ones are the champ anal-obsessives on Earth, which the bunnies will know if they ever had a root canal) and he grabbed something with a guy in a dunce cap on the cover and the headline and if the bunnies look real close, the author of the headline article is David Dunning of Dunning Kruger.  Information may have an urge to be free but publishers don't see it that way.  The interested may have to purchase the magazine, because it does not look like it will be made easily available

Justin Kruger was the graduate student  whose work has become half of a blogbyword and the original can be found on line, in 97 copies more or less.  Eli would be surprised if a friend of his has not read all of them. . . .
 
Dunning, is not full of sunshine on the issue

Kruger  and I published a paper that documented how, in many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize -- scratch that, cannot recognize -- just how incompetent they are, a phenomenon that has come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.  Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight:  for poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack.  To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent.  Poor performers -- and we are all poor performers at some things -- fail to see the flaws in their thinking or the answers they lack. 
What's curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious.  Instead the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge
To Eli, self awareness, knowing when to listen to others is a great and hard won gift.  Also knowing when to ignore them, but that is the same thing.  Dunning has studied the unaware for a long time
An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that's filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge.  This clutter is an unfortunate by product of one of our greatest strengths as a species.  We are unbridled pattern recognizers and profligate theorizers.  Often our theories are good enough to get us through the day, or at least to the age when we can procreate.
The most difficult problem is when a person's subjective world view corresponds to their fantasies.  Dunning is more than a little bit pessimistic about whether there is anything to be done about this.  Education, e.g. exposing people to information which conflicts with their world view does not work well, especially when the INTERNET cacophony is shouting in the other ear.
 If repeating the misbelief is absolutely necessary, researchers have found it helps to provide clear and repeated warnings that the misblief is false.  I repeat false.
One thing, according to Dunning, that does work is to show that the clutter contradicts the believers world view in some way, for example that care for the Earth is central to religious belief.  Another is to massage the self worth of the clutteree before discussing reality with them.  Dunning closes by pointing out that wisdom is knowing one's limits.

35 comments:

Russell Seitz said...

Some movers and shakers of the internet have moved on from truthiness to mythiness., just in time for Halloween.

bluegrue said...

The interested may have to purchase the magazine, because it does not look like it will be made easily available

Watch this space on Monday, October 27:
http://www.psmag.com/navigation/health-and-behavior/confident-idiots-92793/

Victor Venema said...

Dunning: "Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: for poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack."

Logic is not enough. There are many things I am not good at and apparently aware of. My half-marathon time is way above some people's marathon time. I can recognize a beautifully written story, but am not able to produce it myself. It can even go in the other direction, when I just moved to Germany, people complimented me on my German after about 3 months. I was still highly frustrated because I could not say precisely what I wanted to say, but the others do not know that.

...and Then There's Physics said...

You may be aware of this, but there is a short John Cleese video clip on this topic.

stupid

Fernando Leanme said...

You are 100 % on with this post. This is a subject which REALLY REALLY bugs me big time, because I´ve spent so much of my life running around in remote places, and I could see how pin head ideas, dreamed up in air conditioned offices in the "First World", turned out to be huge blunders.

George Bailley said...

An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that's filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge.

This is a subject which REALLY REALLY bugs me big time, because I´ve spent so much of my life running around in remote places, and I could see how pin head ideas, dreamed up in air conditioned offices in the "First World", turned out to be huge blunders.

Theorem and proof :)

...and Then There's Physics said...

One problem I have with discussing the Dunning Kruger effect and - especially - whether or not others suffer from it, is that - by definition - you cannot know if you yourself are afflicted.

EliRabett said...

Smart bunnies can try. Of course a problem with trying is that it becomes too easy to assign genius to confident idiots.

climatehawk1 said...

Reminds me of an old sequence in Peanuts. Linus is facing a test for which he hasn't prepared, but is very relieved when he finds out it is true-false ("Having a true-false test is like having the wind at your back."). He confidently goes about answering the questions based on assumed knowledge of patterns (the first one will be True, then the next False, then the next False also to break the pattern ...) and reflects to himself, "If you're smart, you can pass a True-False test without being smart." As it turns out, he flunks ("I falsed when I should have trued."). Lucy tells him she hopes he has learned a lesson about the need to study, and he responds, "No, I think if I had started off with False instead, [everything would have worked out]."

GM said...

Re: climatehawk1

http://eyeoncitrus.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/image12.png

BBD said...

Fernando

In case George Bailley was being too subtle above, this is you:

An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that's filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge.

Fernando Leanme said...

BBD, I was going to ignore Georgebailys comment, but since you´ve asked for my opinion:

"A truly ignorant mind is one which is filled by only one source, kept within an isolated, self centered, culture which enjoys having its eyes stare at the hairs growing out of its own navel¨

Swami Chidbhavananda

Aaron said...

There is a tendency for SOME people to stop looking for an explanation or solution when they have an explanation or device that seems to work. That is, good ideas block better ideas, or rather available ideas block better ideas.

Competent people know what the good ideas are, and continue to look for better ideas. For example, everybody knows how "that" works, but competent still look for a better explanation. Competent people fix things that are not broke.

Russell Seitz said...

Sometimes we see the Dunning-Kruger effect reified.

Decades ago I owned an all vacuum tube televison set whose verticaly unstable image rolled upwards when you kicked the cabinet from the bottom, and downwards when you banged it from the top.

BBD said...

Fernando

but since you´ve asked for my opinion

I didn't ask for your opinion. It was an observation.

The Swami sez:

"A truly ignorant mind is one which is filled by only one source, kept within an isolated, self centered, culture

Well, yes. At this point, we pause to consider the difference between science and the contrarian fringe.

Magma said...

A yearly subscription to Pacific Standard can be obtained though iTunes for $4.99, and individual bimonthly issues for $0.99. Worth considering.

Steve Bloom said...

NIPCCronomicon is brilliant, Russell. Keep 'em coming.

Russell Seitz said...

Steve , you give me too much credit -- when I try to depict Dunning -Kruger I find my craft ebbing.

Jeffrey Davis said...

I'm confident that the universe is meaningless, but I suspect that I'm just too stupid to know what it means.

Every theory is frayed at the edges.

Hank Roberts said...

Cited by 2048

Anonymous said...

Dunning talks on this CDS rado show Ideas

The show is about the "Fool's Dilemma" - teh dilemma being that the fool does not know he is a fool.

Dunning says the paper was written from the point of view of self-examination, and not to spot fool. The trap is that the fool is always the other guy.

Some tips given for escaping the fool's dilemma. Enjoy.

http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2013/12/12/the-fools-dilemma/

Toby

Fernando Leanme said...

I´d like to quote Aaron:

"There is a tendency for SOME people to stop looking for an explanation or solution when they have an explanation or device that seems to work. That is, good ideas block better ideas, or rather available ideas block better ideas.

Competent people know what the good ideas are, and continue to look for better ideas. For example, everybody knows how "that" works, but competent still look for a better explanation. Competent people fix things that are not broke."

This is an excellent comment. I would also like to emphasize that a "good idea" in North America may turn out to be a "terrible idea" elsewhere. And viceversa. I don´t want to get personal, but Americans do tend to be a bit arrogant, and think their ideas should prevail. I wouldn´t feel too guilty about this arrogance issue, take it as a drawback which you have to overcome.

The British and other large country Europeans tend to be similar, but aren´t nearly as bad. It´s what I call the "post Imperial conditioning".

The inability to overcome it is what led to huge blunders such as the way they treated Germany and Turkey after WW I (which led to WWII), the Iraq war, and etc etc. It also leads many of you to support global solutions to the global warming problem without much of an understanding of the outside world.

George Bailley said...

Fernando said : In case George Bailley was being too subtle ..

His Rabettness does promote subtlety - but you're right - subtlety is not an effective D-K antidote.

Will try to do better next time.

climatehawk1 said...

GM, thanks for the link to the Peanuts cartoons! Right on point, just as I recalled. Evidently this is not an entirely new phenomenon.

J Bowers said...

"It also leads many of you to support global solutions to the global warming problem without much of an understanding of the outside world."

Your outside world is an abstract concept, a fiction, a result of choices. It's ruled and owned by the real outside world, the one that's physical and can't be negotiated, which you don't understand but which many of the bunnies here do. Your 'outside world' will bend to the will of physical reality or it will break. But by that time you'll be dead and buried, and your grandkids will be dealing with the problems you helped create for them because you felt it was more important to look like a smartass and massage your ego than it was to help secure their future.

Jeffrey Davis said...

" without much of an understanding of the outside world."

Who could conclude an indictment like that? Who would?

Brandon R. Gates said...

ATTP,

One problem I have with discussing the Dunning Kruger effect and - especially - whether or not others suffer from it, is that - by definition - you cannot know if you yourself are afflicted.

I thought I'd licked that one upon reflecting that someone with a severe case of D-K wouldn't seriously consider the possibility. I almost immediately pooped my own party when I realized that D-K may best be described as self-confirmation bias.

...and Then There's Physics said...

Brandon,
Yes, that's the ultimate problem. Being confident that you can't have D-K because you've been willing to consider that you might have D-K, could - itself - be an indicator of D-K.

cRR Kampen said...

"... you cannot know if you yourself are afflicted."

Expert not knowing he/she's an expert, no deal for me.

BBD said...

cRR

D-K cannot afflict an expert in their field of expertise. Only outside it.

Brandon R. Gates said...

ATTP,

Having grown tired chasing my own tail, I resolved the conundrum thusly: what really matters is whether the other guy's D-K is worse than my own. Frex, someone told me today that statistical models have no valid use as evidence in court because lawyers aren't interested in truth, only about telling juries a convincing story, and because models can only be validated by iteratively testing them against out of sample data. He then provided an anecdote.

Anonymous said...



While I certainly think there is something to the claims of D &K (which they were not the first to make) I think one has to be careful reading too much into them. After all the "experiments" (surveys) were performed on Cornell undergrads and as anyone who has ever been around Cornell students knows, they are hardly a representative sample of the population at large.

The plumbers, carpenters, cashiers etc that I have known have been far more humble and aware of their limitations than most of the people I interacted with at Cornell. To be blunt, the latter tend to be know-it-alls.

So, D& K were starting with a population of know it alls,with a few non-know-it-alls sprinkled in for diversity

Susan Anderson said...

While D-K is useful amongst those who know what it is or have heard of it, it is unfortunately fairly recent (1999) and a bit of jargon common amongst insiders. Without prejudice to the meaning (and the clever point about Cornell) I suggest it doesn't work in the part of the world that needs to understand that knowledge is not belief, and science is about increasing knowledge and understanding and is only tangentially possible to describe as a belief system.

Of course, then there is the problem of closed minds. I'm not sure what to use to pry them open, but accusations of D-K certainly won't work.

Russell Seitz said...

Anonymous should have invested more time in the hotel school and the Department of Horticulture

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