I came across the Duning-Kruger effect in a series of tweets by an amusing fellow called @GodlessAtheist who argued that it is the reason why religious people are so smug. I don’t doubt that this is true. (Have you ever heard a religious type arguing any scientific issue?) However, it seems to me that it is a much better explanation for another irritating phenomenon: the existence of vast amounts of unreadable self-published fiction.
Let me tell you more about this fascinating effect. According to Wikipedia, it is “a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average.” The idea is that unskilled individuals can’t see that they are making mistakes – because they’re unskilled. They think that competent people are no better than themselves because they are unable to see wherein lie the differences. People who are actually competent, make the opposite mistake, assuming that other people are better than they actually are. Thus incompetent people are annoyingly self-confident, whereas competent people are, equally annoyingly, self-deprecating.
To quote yet again from Wikipedia (the fount of all wisdom):
“Kruger and Dunning proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:
- tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
- fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
- fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
- recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill.”
See how perfectly that fits the writers of truly awful self-published fiction? Especially number 3? Only number 4 gives hope to the world, yet number 3 suggests that few will seek training.
It’s what we’ve all known all along, of course, but now we have a name for it!