It’s Not What You Know…

Posted in Uncategorized by chamblee54 on February 23, 2010

Little Green Footballs tells the story of a man who claimed to have the “smoking gun” on global warming. The only trouble was, he forgot to read the last line of the report. “Our results provide direct experimental evidence for a significant increase in the Earth’s greenhouse effect that is consistent with concerns over radiative forcing of climate.”

Maybe it is rhetoric that is warming the air, not CO2. After the release of the stolen emails at UEA ( aka climategate), a newspaper in England printed this
“Until Climategate, we “Sceptics” were considered freaks – almost as bad as Holocaust deniers – beyond the pale of reasonable balanced discussion. Suddenly we’re the norm. Climategate has finally given us the chance to express openly what many of us secretly felt all along:
AGW is about raising taxes; increasing state control; about a few canny hucksters who’ve leapt on the bandwagon fleecing us rotten with their taxpayer subsidised windfarms and their carbon-trading; about the sour, anti-capitalist impulses of sandal-wearing vegans and lapsed Communists who loathe the idea of freedom and a functioning market economy.

We know it’s all a crock and we’re not going to take it. This is our Berlin Wall moment! They can’t stop us now!”

There is a saying that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. This seems to be the case when it comes to climate science. Many people know just enough to make a good sounding argument, which will convince people who want to agree.

A few years ago, there was an academic paper titled “Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments”. The authors were Justin Kruger and David Dunning, who at the time worked at Cornell University. The Dunning-Kruger effect is named for them.

When you learn about a subject, you begin to see how much there is to know. One measure of how much you know, is how much you don’t know. An expert on a subject will be humbled by the amount of information that he has to learn, and rate his capabilities more modestly than someone who is lower on the knowledge scale. On the other hand, many people who watch a tv show or read a magazine article consider themselves experts, and rate their capabilities higher than they should.

In our culture, self esteem is considered a good thing. To express doubt or ask questions is to express weakness. We have lots of people who believe in themselves, and their belief in themselves is based on having belief in themselves. It goes round and round, and the train seldom stops to let true knowledge on. It is a lot easier to listen to some self improvement tapes about believing in yourself, than it is to attend classes and read books.

The dominant religion in our culture is Jesus Worship, a religion of beliefs and not practices. All you have to do to be a Christian is have the right beliefs. You don’t have to do anything, you just have to believe. It is a short step from a beliefs only religion to the cult of believing in yourself when you don’t know very much.

The Dunning Kruger effect is a good fit for modern America, and the debate over carbon pollution. People don’t want to give up the comfort of our high energy use lifestyle. When some psuedo scientist tells them they don’t have to, they are ready to believe. You can fool a lot of people when they want to be fooled.
Pictures are from ” Special Collections and Archives,Georgia State University Library”

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  1. […] might be a good reason to do an urban myth check. 5-Something that is not an urban myth is the Dunning-Kruger effect. This is where the neophytes think they are experts, and those who know a lot are humbled by how […]

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