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RE: You are not "Dumb old guys"--if you are you don't know it

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Incompetent People Really Have No Clue, Studies Find They're blind to own
failings, others' skills

Erica Goode, New York Times 1-18-2000

There are many incompetent people in the world. Dr. David A. Dunning is
haunted by the fear that he might be one of them.

Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell, worries about this because,
according to his research, most incompetent people do not know that they are

On the contrary. People who do things badly, Dunning has found in studies
conducted with a graduate student, Justin Kruger, are usually supremely
confident of their abilities -- more confident, in fact, than people who do
things well.

``I began to think that there were probably lots of things that I was bad
and I didn't know it,'' Dunning said.

One reason that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured,
researchers believe, is that the skills required for competence often are
same skills necessary to recognize competence.

The incompetent, therefore, suffer doubly, they suggested in a paper
in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

``Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices,
but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it,'' wrote
Kruger, now an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, and

This deficiency in ``self-monitoring skills,'' the researchers said, helps
explain the tendency of the humor-impaired to persist in telling jokes that
are not funny, of day traders to repeatedly jump into the market -- and
repeatedly lose out -- and of the politically clueless to continue holding
forth at dinner parties on the fine points of campaign strategy.

Some college students, Dunning said, evince a similar blindness: After doing
badly on a test, they spend hours in his office, explaining why the answers
he suggests for the test questions are wrong.

In a series of studies, Kruger and Dunning tested their theory of
incompetence. They found that subjects who scored in the lowest quartile on
tests of logic, English grammar and humor were also the most likely to
``grossly overestimate'' how well they had performed.

In all three tests, subjects' ratings of their ability were positively
to their actual scores. But the lowest-ranked participants showed much
distortions in their self-estimates.

Asked to evaluate their performance on the test of logical reasoning, for
example, subjects who scored only in the 12th percentile guessed that they
scored in the 62nd percentile, and deemed their overall skill at logical
reasoning to be at the 68th percentile.

Similarly, subjects who scored at the 10th percentile on the grammar test
ranked themselves at the 67th percentile in the ability to ``identify
grammatically correct standard English,'' and estimated their test scores to
be at the 61st percentile.

On the humor test, in which participants were asked to rate jokes according
to their funniness (subjects' ratings were matched against those of an
``expert'' panel of professional comedians), low-scoring subjects were also
more apt to have an inflated perception of their skill. But because humor is
idiosyncratically defined, the researchers said, the results were less

Unlike unskilled counterparts, the most able subjects in the study, Kruger
and Dunning found, were likely to underestimate their competence. The
researchers attributed this to the fact that, in the absence of information
about how others were doing, highly competent subjects assumed that others
were performing as well as they were -- a phenomenon psychologists term the
``false consensus effect.''

When high-scoring subjects were asked to ``grade'' the grammar tests of
peers, however, they quickly revised their evaluations of their own
performance. In contrast, the self-assessments of those who scored badly
themselves were unaffected by the experience of grading others; some
subjects even further inflated their estimates of their own abilities.

``Incompetent individuals were less able to recognize competence in
the researchers concluded.

In a final experiment, Dunning and Kruger set out to discover if training
would help modify the exaggerated self-perceptions of incapable subjects. In
fact, a short training session in logical reasoning did improve the ability
of low-scoring subjects to assess their performance realistically, they

The findings, the psychologists said, support Thomas Jefferson's assertion
that ``he who knows best knows how little he knows.''

And the research meshes neatly with other work indicating that
is common; studies have found, for example, that the vast majority of people
rate themselves as ``above average'' on a wide array of abilities -- though
such an abundance of talent would be impossible in statistical terms. This
overestimation, studies indicate, is more likely for tasks that are
difficult than for those that are easy.

Such studies are not without critics. Dr. David C. Funder, a psychology
professor at the University of California at Riverside, for example, said he
suspects that most lay people have only a vague idea of the meaning of
``average'' in statistical terms.

``I'm not sure the average person thinks of `average' or `percentile' in
quite that literal a sense,'' Funder said, ``so `above average' might mean
to them `pretty good,' or `OK,' or `doing all right.' And if, in fact,
people mean something subjective when they use the word, then it's really
hard to evaluate whether they're right or wrong, using the statistical

In some cases, Dunning pointed out, an awareness of one's own inability is
inevitable: ``In a golf game, when your ball is heading into the woods, you
know you're incompetent,'' he said.

But Dunning said his current research and past studies indicated there are
many reasons why people would tend to overestimate their competency and not
be aware of it.

In various situations, feedback is absent, or at least ambiguous; even a
humorless joke, for example, is likely to be met with polite laughter. And
faced with incompetence, social norms prevent most people from blurting out
``You stink!'' -- truthful though this assessment may be.

Dr Dunning and his co-author, in presenting their research to the public,
exhibit the diffidence of the truly competent. "This article may contain
faulty logic, methodological errors or poor communication," they caution.


Why the inept are blissfully ignorant

by Richard Allen

The truly incompetent are blissfully ignorant of their lack of ability,
according to a study by two American psychologists.

Whereas people who do things well underestimate their performance, the
inept have no idea how bad they are, according to the research.

This means they suffer twice, say Dr David Dunning of Cornell University
and Dr Justin Kruger of the University of Illinois.

Writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology they state:
"Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices
but also their incompetence robs them of the ability to realise it."

Their tests have found that the skills needed for competence are the same
skills necessary for recognising it.

Those who scored in the bottom quarter in tests of logic, grammar and
humour were also those most likely to have delusions of competence.

Asked to evaluate how well they had done at the logic test, those who
scored in the bottom eighth reckoned that their ability was in the top
third. Those in the bottom tenth in grammar also believed they were in the
top third. Those who really were in the top third, however, tended to
underestimate themselves.

In the absence of information on how well others do, they tended to assume
others were just as competent.

When shown other peoples work the competent soon revised their
opinion but the incompetent did not - some even inflated their estimates of

(c) Associated Newspapers Ltd., 19 January 2000  -- This Is London

-----Original Message-----
From: J. K. [mailto:structure_r_us(--nospam--at)]
Sent: Friday, March 01, 2002 3:30 PM
To: seaint(--nospam--at)
Subject: You are not "Dumb old guys"

--- Glenn Otto <glenn(--nospam--at)> wrote:
> JK wrote: "I would not say civil or structural
> engineering has
> developed much in the past century."
> I've heard this charge before.  I think you need to
> look around.  There are
> different types of steels, alloys, fastening
> systems, structural shapes,
> buckling phenomena, concrete admixtures,
> lightweight, heavyweight, design
> methods, engineered wood &  treatment methods, use
> of computers for
> efficiency, cost savings as a result more accurate
> design analyses, new
> types of structural materials, cable stayed and
> other types of bridges,
> crossing the English Channel, etc. etc.

There is nothing much people like Roger Turk have
missed since they graduated.

> The universities still have to teach the basics.
> Nobody wants to go to
> school for 10 years.  That's why you get an EIT
> before PE.  Engineering is a
> lifetime of learning the old and new.
No disagreement here. People like Roger Turk should
not be calling himself a "dumb old guys".

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