The Ethical Skeptic

Challenging Pseudo-Skepticism, Institutional Propaganda and Cultivated Ignorance

Abuse of the Dunning-Kruger Effect

When does a Dunning-Kruger misapplication flag the circumstance of ad hominem attack by a claimant who sees them self as superior minded? When you observe it being applied in situations and domains inside of which the study authors, Kruger and Dunning, never intended. It behooves the ethical skeptic to actually read the studies which are purported at face value to back habitual social skeptic condemnation tactics. Knowing how to not commit a Dunning-Kruger Effect error in application, ironically is a key indicator as to one’s competency under a Dunning-Kruger perspective in the first place.

A saying is attributed to Thomas Jefferson about the wisdom of self-knowledge, and goes as such “He who knows best, best knows how little he knows.” This quote is actually highlighted inside a celebrated study by Cornell University Psychologists, Justin Kruger and David Dunning; commonly referred to as the ‘Dunning-Kruger Effect’ study. Indeed this principle elicited by Jefferson is embodied inside two of the Seven Tropes of Ethical Skepticism:

I.    There is critically more we do not know, than we do know.

II.   We do not know, what we do not know. Only a sub-critical component of mankind effectively grasps this.

Dunning KrugerOne wonders if Thomas Jefferson, in recognizing this human tendency would have been the wiser to not attempt his bold assertions inside of “A Declaration by the Representatives of The United States of America, In General Congress Assembled.”¹ This haughty document, certainly venturing into an arena in which Jefferson himself had no personal degree or particular expertise, represented a projection into a subject about which he could not possibly have known competency.  Surely this is a case of Dunning-Kruger ‘fallacy’ if ever one was observed. A enormous boast of unseemly levels of claim to knowledge (ones which make socialist and social skeptics uncomfortable to this very day):

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with inherent and certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness: that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, & to institute new government, laying it’s foundation on such principles, & organizing it’s powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety & happiness.¹

Indeed, the Seven Tropes of Ethical Skepticism continue with a focus outlining that the necessity of knowledge, even in absence of knowledge, is to observe and correct when a party seeks to control by means of ignorance, provisional knowledge, methodical cynicism and authority alone (the three basic elements of Social Skepticism). It holds our common service to each other and love for our fellow man and his plight, to underpin with utmost importance our qualification to observe and direct the processes of knowledge. In this instance, regarding Jefferson and those who crafted our first ideas of what a government was to be, courage, risk and personal gumption outweighed calls for caution – specifically because of the particular need, benefit or danger entailed. Dunning-Kruger indeed did not apply because the situation dictated actions of character on the part of an agent of change (see #12 below). This is most often the circumstance which we as ethical skeptics face today.

Dunning-Kruger awareness does not apply as a fallacy of disqualification in such circumstances. This awareness about both the limits of knowledge, as well as when a Dunning-Kruger Effect does and does not apply, relate directly to the Seven Tropes of Ethical Skepticism. Several species/errors in application arise under a logical calculus which seeks to survey the landscape of the Dunning-Kruger Effect:

Dunning-Kruger Abuse (ad hominem)

/philosophy : pseudo-science : fascism/ : a form of ad hominem attack. Inappropriate application of the Dunning-Kruger fallacy in circumstances where it should not apply; instances where every person has a right, responsibility or qualification as a victim/stakeholder to make their voice heard, despite not being deemed a degree, competency or title holding expert in that field.

This circumstance of employment standing in stark contrast with legitimate circumstances where the Dunning-Kruger Effect does indeed apply. Including those circumstances where ironically, a fake skeptic is not competent enough to identify a broader circumstance of Dunning-Kruger in themselves and their favored peers (several species below).

Dunning-Kruger Effect

/philosophy : misconception : bias/ : an effect in which incompetent people fail to realize they are incompetent because they lack the skill or maturity to distinguish between competence and incompetence among their peers

A principle which serves to introduce the ironic forms of Dunning-Kruger Effect employed skillfully by Social Skepticism today:

Dunning-Kruger Denial

/philosophy : pseudo-science : false skepticism : social manipulation/ : the manipulation of public sentiment and perceptions of science, and/or condemnation of persons through skillful exploitation of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This occurs in four speciated forms:

Dunning-Kruger Exploitation

/philosophy : pseudo-science : fascism/ : the manipulation of unconsciously incompetent persons or laypersons into believing that a source of authority expresses certain opinions, when in fact the persons can neither understand the principles underpinning the opinions, nor critically address the recitation of authority imposed upon them. This includes the circumstance where those incompetent persons are then included in the ‘approved’ club solely because of their adherence to proper and rational approved ideas.

Dunning-Kruger Milieu

/philosophy : pseudo-science : fascism/ : a circumstance wherein either errant information or fake-hoaxing exists in such quantity under a Dunning-Kruger Exploitation circumstance, or a critical mass of Dunning-Kruger Effect population is present, such that core truths observations, principles and effects surrounding a topic cannot be readily communicated or discerned, as distinct from misinformation, propaganda and bunk.

Dunning-Kruger Projection (aka Plaiting)

/philosophy : misconception : bias/ : the condition in which an expert in one discipline over-confidently fails to realize that they are not competent to speak in another discipline, instead relying upon their status in their home discipline or as a scientist, to underpin their authority or self-deception regarding an array of subjects inside of which they know very little.

Dunning-Kruger Skepticism

/philosophy : misconception : bias/ : an effect in which incompetent people making claim under ‘skepticism,’ fail to realize they are incompetent both as a skeptic and as well inside the subject matter at hand. Consequently they will fall easily for an argument of social denial/promotion because they

1.  lack the skill or maturity to distinguish between competence and incompetence among their skeptic peers and/or are

2.  unduly influenced by a condition of Dunning-Kruger Exploitation or Millieu, and/or are

3.  misled by false promotions of what is indeed skepticism, or possess a deep seated need to be accepted under a Negare Attentio Effect.

Dunning-Kruger Denial is a chief objective of social skepticism. So it was not surprising that social skepticism recognized this overall malady first; as exploiting its ad hominem potential, is one of the principal tactics of fake skepticism.

Nonetheless, back to the principal context of this blog, with regard to fair contextual application of actual underlying Dunning-Kruger principles, and framed in a more simple and condensed expression:

One does not possess the right, to dismiss the rights of others – by means of a Dunning-Kruger Effect accusation.

What the Kruger and Dunning Study Did Say

Dunning-Kruger ExhibitThe famously heralded study, one by Justin Kruger and David Dunning inside the Department of Psychology of Cornell University in 1999, implied the importance of recognizing when one has outlasted their competency in a given field versus their peers in that field – and the importance of keeping mute/inactive in circumstances where this could serve to embarrass or endanger. A study which would have certainly been embraced by the Royalist or Tory in the day of Thomas Jefferson.  More specifically the study outlined four pitfalls which were observed among 60 – 90 Cornell University undergraduate first year students (below).

(Note: This certainly a Dunning-Kruger commentary in itself as to Kruger and Dunning’s ability to develop unbiased inclusion criteria which would or would not serve to amplify desired effect. Have you ever known an undergraduate freshman who did not overestimate their success in an upcoming exam or evaluation? This is the definition of freshman.

Scientific parsimony would have been applicable here, especially from the perspective of selecting a source-S sample pool of silver-spooned Ivy-Leaguers who have been told their entire lives that they are the smartest person in the room/building. This is like observing if fights will break out when two people hit each other, by conducting surveys inside a drunken London mosh pit full of Manchester United and Arsenal Football Clubbers. It is stupidity dressed up in lab coats. An epistemologically shallow if not elegant convenience of social skeptic tradecraft. A common produit-decélèbre on their part – especially among psychology PhD’s.

What they observed in fact, was the unique nutrient solution of psychology and social pressure which serves to cultivate our brood of social skeptics. These test subjects and their indoctrinated peers will be sure to never step out of line, or speak up when they might be afraid, ever again. See # 11 below.)

Given this skewed inclusive criteria group, one with which Kruger and Dunning were very familiar and inside of which they had already bore an intuitive estimation of positive result, four predictions from the surveys were developed and confirmed:

Prediction 1. Incompetent individuals, compared with their more competent peers, will dramatically overestimate their ability and performance relative to objective criteria.

Prediction 2. Incompetent individuals will suffer from deficient metacognitive skills, in that they will be less able than their more competent peers to recognize competence when they see it–be it their own or anyone else’s.

Prediction 3. Incompetent individuals will be less able than their more competent peers to gain insight into their true level of performance by means of social comparison information. In particular, because of their difficulty recognizing competence in others, incompetent individuals will be unable to use information about the choices and performances of others to form more accurate impressions of their own ability.

Prediction 4. The incompetent can gain insight about their shortcomings, but this comes (paradoxically) by making them more competent, thus providing them the metacognitive skills necessary to be able to realize that they have performed poorly.²

None of the cautions above and below herein of course, serve to invalidate the effect Kruger and Dunning (and others since) have cited in the referenced study. These cautions simply function as a sentinel, flagging conditions wherein such a study might be abused for social ends. To that end, let us discuss some of those circumstances where a social skeptic might abuse such a study as a means of demanding conformance through social ridicule, on issues they are seeking to promote.

When Dunning-Kruger Effect Does Not Apply

 A reasonable man would suppose that underestimating one’s ability to adeptly handle the intricate subtleties of a Dunning-Kruger accusation, stands as a form of Dunning-Kruger fallacy in itself. But that does not inhibit our self-appointed elite, the social skeptic from slinging around the accusation with all the adeptness of a demolitions expert in a porcelain factory. The sad reality is that the majority of instances in which I have seen the accusation foisted, have been instances of invalid usage. In other words, as the social skeptic interprets this study and instructs their sycophants as to its employment, they and their disciples are now scientifically justified (remember they represent science) in making the following accusations.

How the four findings of the Dunning-Kruger study are abused in the anosognosia vulnerable mind:

  1. People whom I do not like, do stupid things.
  2. People whom I do not like, fail to recognize how smart I am.
  3. People whom I do not like, fail to recognize how stupid they are.
  4. It is simply a matter of me training the stupid, because as they become more informed like me, they will be come less stupid and recognize stupidity in others.

Do you see the sales cycle evolving here? This is a religious pitch used by fundamentalist Christianity. They could print this up in a tract and hand it out inside Airport bathrooms. In other words what the Dunning-Kruger misapplication has introduced is an act of social anosognosia (a deficit of self awareness) on the part of those who see themselves as superior minded. This relates to the more complex comparatives between Intelligence and Rationality, a perception on the part of social skeptics which we addressed in an earlier blog.

Intelligence is smart people who do or think unauthorized things. Rationality is smart people who do or think correct things. Social Skepticism is about knowing the difference.

Ethical Skepticism says ‘Bullshit’ to this line of reasoning.

Which introduces the final point set of this blog, circumstances where the Dunning-Kruger Effect does not bear applicability. Instances where the sociopathology of the anosognosiac have crossed the line into abuse of both the Dunning-Kruger Effect and more importantly, those around them:

Specific instances in which the Dunning-Kruger Effect does not apply include:

1.  In matters of Public Policy.

e.g. ∈ You have the right to speak up about contaminants in your food, you do not have to be a chemist or agricultural scientist.

2.  In matters of Voting, Political Voice and Will.

e.g. ∈ You have the right to speak up about foreign trade policy and jobs, you do not have to be a degree holding economist.

3.  In situations where professionals and non-professionals are involved. Dunning-Kruger is speaking about continuous scale comparatives between peers, not discrete breakouts between groups, as in the case of professionals and various tiers of non-professionals (from layman to dilettante) in a given discipline. From the ‘notes/discussion’ section of the Kruger and Dunning study itself:

“There is no categorical bright line that separates “competent” individuals from “incompetent” ones. Thus, when we speak of “incompetent” individuals we mean people who are less competent than their peers.”²

e.g. ∈ You have the right to speak up about where NASA’s space programs are headed, you do not have to be an astrophysicist or on NASA’s advisory board.

4.  When the speaker is a victim of corporate, governmental, mafia, criminal, supposed or real expert actions or fraud.

e.g. ∈ You have the right to speak up about your vaccine injured child, you do not have to be an epidemiologist or medical doctor.

5.  In matters where there is more unknown than is known, or where science has studied very little.

e.g. ∈ Einstein bore the right to speak up about Special Relativity while simply an entry level patent engineer, he was not disqualified by a previous academic C-average, nor by his not holding a PhD.

6.  In matters where competency in reality only comprises simply a few memorized facts, procedure or trivia concerning the subject.

e.g. ∈ You have the right to speak up about water contamination in your community, you do not have to be involved in constructing assay sheets at your local processing plant.

7.  In matters where social conformance is conflated with competency (i.e. social skeptic ‘rationality’).

e.g. ∈ You have the right to speak up about science ignoring an important issue observed in your local community, you do not have to be a degree holding scientist in that arena.

8.  In matters of personal financial and household management.

e.g. ∈ You have the right to organize community to refuse a tax levied on your home for unfair reasons, you do not have to be a career politician or expert in the subject which is funded by the tax itself.

9.  In matters of personal health, disease prevention and health management.

e.g. ∈ You have the right to speak up about things harming your family’s health, you do not have to be a member of Science Based Medicine.

10.  In matters of personal religious practice or choice of faith.

e.g. ∈ You have the right to say that you observed something extraordinary or miraculous from a spiritual perspective, you do not have to be a priest or scientist.

11.  In any matter or circumstance where the Dunning-Kruger Effect is employed to intimidate or create compliance by means of fear/ridicule.

.e.g. ∈ You have the right to speak up about unbridled immigration and population dumping, this does not make you a racist. You have the freedom and right to identify such things as acts of war.

12.  When courage, risk and personal gumption override calls for caution because the need, benefit or danger entailed dictate actions of character on the part of an agent of change.

e.g. ∈ You have the right to speak up about VINDA Autism, you do not have to be a Centers for Disease Control professional, in order to demand third party review of ‘settled science.’

The study authors, had they been following the protocols of science, should have included points such as these in their commentary and counter-point acknowledgement sections. This is what ethical skeptics and scientists for that matter, do; they remain aware of and allow-for counter-point arguments. They regard them as matters of importance. Unfortunately, save for number 3. above (and only in part even for that one), Kruger and Dunning did not bear such circumspection about their own findings in their work. Another shortfall in scientific method.

Knowing how to not use a weapon is the supreme qualification for a user of that weapon. Knowing how to not commit a Dunning-Kruger Effect error in its application, ironically is a key indicator as to one’s competency under a Dunning-Kruger perspective in the first place.

TES Signature


²  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: American Psychological Association, December 1999 Vol. 77, No. 6, 1121-1134; Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments; Justin Kruger and David Dunning, Department of Psychology, Cornell University. A series study conducted by survey of a series of Cornell University undergraduates about competency and self perception, meta-cognition and projection. (

May 12, 2016 - Posted by | Agenda Propaganda, Argument Fallacies | , , , , ,

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