Ramblings about what I encounter within the realm of the geosciences, as well as the occasional rant about nonsense.

23 November 2008

Unskilled and Unaware

Yet another blog post that is only tangentially pertinent to geology. My advisor recently assigned this article [subscription to Journal of personality and social psychology required] to the new crop of grad students (it subsequently made the rounds to the rest of us, the title itself is enough to evoke interest).

"Unskilled and Unaware of it: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments. "

I bring this up because appropriate examples have been cropping up around the internets recently. P. Z. Myers and Eric have both brought up the same iconography of "debating" these individuals. Both of them have come to the same conclusion that these individuals play an "intellectual" version of Whack-A-Mole. (Personally, I prefer to compare it to Playing Chess with Pigeons, but that is just me). Essentially, someone says something so off-kilter that we can't resist responding to them and correcting their world-view. This leads the original nut to think that they touched on an actual weak point in some theory (why else would a scientist get so angry). They then continue to reiterate the same point over and over, drawing more scientists into the growing vortex. Each time a scientist beats a point down into drivel, the nut reiterates the point from the beginning claiming that the scientist "dodged" the issue rather than addressing it. Eventually, the scientists involved get fed up with the ignorant horde and depart the conversation. The original idiot then claims victory. [note: the instigator is not NECESSARILY an idiot, they may have garnered marginal success in some unrelated field (thus they have a false sense of confidence). Just look at celebrities opposition to vaccinations].

Though, in light of this article, the individual only claims victory as a product of their own incompetence. The article makes the point that it is an individual's inability to understand a topic (their ignorance) that impedes their ability to recognize their own ignorance. Unfortunately, the only way to cure these individuals of their inability to recognize their ignorance, is to teach them about the topic (which they won't submit to, because they can't recognize their own ignorance).

In other words, it is a Catch-22. You can't teach them, because they think they know more than they do (and are unwilling to hear out a scientist, who is part of the "conspiracy"). And you can't get them to realize they are ignorant, because they ARE ignorant (so they don't realize they are ignorant). Kinda gets the head all spinning just thinking about how to break this infernal web of ignorance. Before they can be cured of "the stupid", they need to be made aware that they are ignorant, which requires that they aren't full of "the stupid" to begin with....It ends on an optimistic note though (kinda), this study did successfully educate several individuals about their incompetence. In subsequent runs, they demonstrated that they were no longer incompetent, and they could realistically evaluate their performance. Unfortunately, the problem still remains, the incompetent don't realize they are incompetent (and continue to crap all over the chess board).

Kruger, J. and Dunning, D, 1999, Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 77, no. 6, p. 1121-1134.


MJC Rocks said...

I disagree with your statement that this post is only tangential to geology. It is a central problem with geologists dealing with a sometimes uninformed public. I was one of the teachers who got drawn into the vortex of Eric's thread on an expanding earth, and your post is a perfect description of what transpired. It was a truly frustrating experience, but it is probably important to get into these discussions once in a while.

Bryan said...

Thanks for the comment.

Yeah, I noticed Eric has one hell of whirlwind over there.

I was a "lurker" (I suppose that is what it is called). I read the comments, but I only made a single post.

I agree it is important to engage, but I can't see doing it effectively on the internet (too much crack-pottery at peoples fingertips).

Though for lack of a better idea, you are probably right that occasionally getting sucked in is for the greater good (though I imagine it is detrimental to your blood-pressure). I think you and Brian are doing a great job BTW. Hopefully the thread won't deteriorate into an EE nutbin by the time Eric gets back from Egypt.

BrianR said...

I think its important to get into these 'discussions' sometimes not so much for those involved but for genuinely interested onlookers. I wouldn't debate cranks if nobody was listening because it would be pointless, as you point out. But, if cranks are exposed to others for what they are, I think it can be beneficial and valuable to do it. Just can't let them pull you into a debate about the debate ... make them talk about actual data. They hate data.


All the Latin on this page is from my vague recollections from High School. There are mistakes in the text. I just was trying to get the point across

Between Los Alamos,NM and White Rock, NM

Between Los Alamos,NM and White Rock, NM
The photo of the travertine spring was taken in the small opening in the center of the image.

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