The Dunning-Kruger Effect

“Everywhere I go, I’m asked if the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”Flannery O'Connor cover art Occassional prose

-Flannery O’Connor,  Mystery and Manners

Those words are as true today (probably truer) as when Miss O’Connor first said them half a century ago. I am reminded of them whenever I pause to take stock of the publishing world: the proliferation of wildly successful pulp-fictions (or poorly disguised pornographies) due to undiscerning readers and financially motivated publishers, the hyper-proliferation of less successful pulp-fictions (and undisguised pornographies) due to the increasing ease of self-publication, etc. Surely some of the myriad of bad books are the result of greed, but I think you can see, especially in the crops of self-published work, that most of them are the result of something else, something that, for me, was not as easily definable…until now.

Dunning-KrugerO’Connor’s words came to mind again recently when I was introduced to the Dunning-Kruger Effect: “a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.” While some discussions of the “effect” can seem overly cynical, all-in-all the theory seems to represent a formulation of already-acknowledged classical and biblical wisdom that explains an awful lot. See the Wikipedia article, here, for more on the D-K Effect.

Like the Bard said:

“The fool doth think he is wise [or talented], but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

As You Like It

Keanu Reeves Retarded


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