Recently, I listened to an episode of This American Life that included talk about the Dunning-Kruger effect. Now internet shorthand for “You are dumb and don’t know it”, the effect was originally the product of research done by David Dunning and Justin Kruger, showing that the higher the degree of your wrongitude, the less likely it was that anyone would correct you about it.

If you have a stain on your shirt, or something in your teeth, I will tell you, sometimes even if I don’t know you. But if you post on your Facebook in bold, underline, all caps and with subsequent exclamation points that vaccines cause autism, even if I am your close friend, I am statistically more likely to avoid telling you that you are incorrect.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is all about this unfortunate and eternal loop on the train to wrong-town. It’s unfortunate because of the consequences of the situations as well. If you don’t tell me about the thing in my teeth, I might be mildly embarrassed later on in the day. If you don’t tell me that I’m wrong about vaccinating my children, I might accidentally hurt them or other people’s.

And the loop comes in when considering the fact that someone who is wrong about these things has no mechanism by which to know that they’re wrong. They won’t be contradicted or corrected, and so they will continue to think that they are correct. If they hold that belief for enough time, they will find themselves defensive when someone challenges it, and they will further cement their problematic thinking.

When this comes to debating issues on social media, it’s important, I think, to at least try to engage people on what they say. You don’t have to be nasty, (and trust me, even if you aren’t, you may still incur some pretty harsh responses), but it means that that person will be exposed to some kind of alternate viewpoint.


Lest you think that I am just here to reinforce your position on whatever issue you’re thinking about and here to justify your introspection-less evangelism of said idea, I would advocate for the idea that YOU stick around after YOU express ideas like this, because the Dunning-Kruger effect…also applies to you!

If you’re going to express ideas and opinions (and you totally should), you should stick around to hear what people have to say about them. Because it’s possible that YOU’RE the wrong one. I believe that people should make a more concerted effort to get what they think out of their heads and in front of people, because then people can tell you that you’re wrong…which is a good thing. You don’t wanna be wrong, and they are literally telling you how to be right.

So the next time that you have a strong opinion about something, make sure that you don’t just say it.

Stick around and listen.

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