Critical Thinking & Dunning-Kruger


“Stupid People Aren’t Smart Enough to Know They’re Stupid”

Recently, in my home town, there was an event that grabbed attention all over the world: the trucker “Freedom Rally”. Like so many topics now-a-days, it was an extremely polarizing event. Everyone had/has an opinion on the trucker protests, and many other topics, and it seems that bringing them up in conversation provokes everything from disapproving looks to fist fights. It seems that having civil conversations about any of these hot topics has become nearly impossible.

There is a reason for that: we’ve become personally, and emotionally invested in these topics, and an attack on them (for lack of a better term) has suddenly become an attack on ourselves; and that is wrong.

It seems that we as a society have become so insecure that we cannot abide being wrong in the slightest fashion. No one likes to be wrong, I certainly don’t, but I would very much prefer to look a little silly, and change my mind, than look extremely stupid desperately holding on to an opinion that has been proved wrong.

From and older blog of mine, but still relevant. (And hilarious.)

There is a fun thing called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect: in psychology, a cognitive bias whereby people with limited knowledge or competence in a given intellectual or social domain greatly overestimate their own knowledge or competence in that domain relative to objective criteria, or to the performance of their peers, or of people in general.

Basically that means that you need to have a certain amount knowledge on a topic, to truly understand how much you don’t know about it. In layman’s terms: “Stupid people aren’t smart enough to understand how stupid they are.”

The Internet is a tremendous resource, but it has enveloped many people in the Dunning-Kruger Effect, because it gives us the impression that we have learned a lot on a topic, when we have barely scratched the surface.

“Way back when”, when COVID vaccines were first being developed I was really unsure about them, but I did some digging, REAL digging. I looked at both sides of the argument. I read many articles both “pro” and “anti”, and found that while some anti-vaxx arguments were valid, most were not. On top of that, I kept my eye on the totals. How many doses delivered? How many adverse reactions? How bad were the reactions? I tried to not get emotionally invested in the topic and just stick with facts and logic, and eventually I changed my mind.

It is actually extremely difficult to find arguments and information contrary to your thinking because most social media and internet browsers have algorithms to feed you information it thinks you would be interested in. That means you see suggestions and search results that re-enforce your current beliefs. The counter to this is understanding that you are (essentially) being programed by the internet, that you are being fed information that adds to your current beliefs.

As a result of these algorithms social media and many news outlets show sensational and over the top examples of “experts” (likely in the grips of Dunning-Kruger themselves) presenting “facts” in a way that suggests anyone that thinks contrary to them is unpatriotic at best, or inferior and degenerate at worst.

Self correcting your thinking in this kind of environment is not easy.

However, there is a simple test to find out if your thinking is logic based or emotion based. All you need to do is ask yourself “what would it take to change my mind?”

If the answer is “nothing” then your reasoning is emotion based, and very likely inaccurate.