Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What don't you know?

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge"
-Charles Darwin
Yesterday I mentioned "Credentialed, Not Educated" to describe leaders at all levels of politics; people with little experience that have a very high opinion of their abilities and knowledge. Recently the Instapundit cited a reference to the Dunning-Kruger effect in the context of political hubris. I'd never heard of this so I looked it up.

Justin Kruger and David Dunning published a paper while at Cornell University entitled, "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments".
They found while testing students, that those who scored poorly rated themselves as much more skilled than they really were. While those who tested well had self-doubts about their knowledge and rated themselves less skilled than actual.

Some people just don't know what is missing from their knowledge. This is not to say that they cannot learn; only that there are topics they have never-ever been exposed to and are completely unaware of. To use a physical example, many people are unaware that they have a vision problem. If you've always seen the world as blurry, then you think that this is natural and normal. You have no clue that others see the world sharper and in more focus. Then when you get your first pair of glasses, it's like, wow, I never knew things could look like this.

When a doctor asks me to rate a pain on a 1-10 pain scale, I'm flustered. What does 10 feel like? If I've never experienced it, how do I know that my present pain is only a 7? Is my level-10 pain the same as his? (As it turns out, no. I have a high pain threshold so I've been under rating myself on the pain scale.)

Returning to Kruger and Dunning, they proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:
  1. tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
  2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
  3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
  4. recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they can be trained to substantially improve.
Many politicians get a degree in social science or politics or law, do some social work, and get elected. They have never managed a business, never really had a nine-to-five job in their life. Yet their self-confidence in their ability to fix the business world with new laws is stratospheric. They are blind to personal areas of ignorance.

Bottom Line

Poet W.B. Yeats captured the irony between those well informed & able (who do nothing) vs the uninformed & incompetent (who are militant),
"The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."

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Blogger Wendy said...

Love Yeats' quote and find it to be illustrative of much of the world right now.

February 9, 2011 at 2:21 PM  

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