The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Cartoom from xkcd.com

Reproduced by permission xkcd.com

Briefly, the Dunning-Kruger (DK) effect is the erroneous self-assessment of skill, knowledge, or other qualities in a field that is not the person’s area of expertise. This can be laymen grappling with an unfamiliar discipline, or experts who have strayed from their own fields into others. The DK effect is partly due to the person not knowing enough to understand the difficulties and complexities of the unfamiliar field.

Examples of this effect are numerous. Most discussions of scientific topics suffer from the DK effect. This is why we find so many oversimplified and contradictory expositions about quantum or relativistic physics, global climate change, alternate energy sources, the environment, health, law, and so on. The author’s grasp of the topic is weak, his awareness of counter-arguments limited, and his conclusions without merit.

The DK effect often leads to spurious explanations of why mainstream experts don’t agree with the lay author’s ideas. The experts are too rigid or stubborn or stupid to recognize the incomparable beauty of the author’s theories. Or there is some conspiracy – Big Oil, Big Pharma, The Government, The Greys – whoever They are, They’re trying to suppress the truth for some reason. And so on. The author never seems to consider the possibility that he’s wrong.

It’s a near certainty that the author is full of shit. The likelihood that he’s made a new discovery are about the same as winning the lottery. Given those odds, it’s reasonable for experts to ignore laymen who don’t know the subject.

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