Tuesday, December 9, 2014

We're all guilty when it comes to bad thinking

When we read about bias and critical thinking there is always the temptation to think of them in terms of other people. Straw men arguments are made by the people we disagree with because their real arguments are too weak. Our intellectual opponents are unable to consider evidence that challenge their world view. It's the wrong people who are blinded by their emotions.

That is completely missing the point. Bias and illogical thinking are the natural state for human beings, all human beings, and that includes you, yes you.

Ahem. That is to say, it includes me. Not merely you the reader, but me. I accept that I can never completely overcome my own biases, but I can chip away at them and catch myself when I slip into comforting thought processes.

Steve Novella perfectly sums this up when he reminds us that the Dunning-Kruger effect isn't just for other people. If you're unfamiliar, the Dunning-Kruger effect shows that most people with low skills overestimate their ability in those specific realms, while people with the highest skills tend to underestimate their ability.

Think about some area in which you have a great deal of knowledge, in the expert to mastery level (or maybe just a special interest with above average knowledge). Now, think about how much the average person knows about your area of specialty. Not only do they know comparatively very little, they likely have no idea how little they know, and how much specialized knowledge even exists. 
Here comes the critical part – now realize that you are as ignorant as the average person is every other area of knowledge in which you are not expert... The Dunning-Kruger effect is not just about dumb people not realizing how dumb they are. It is about basic human psychology and cognitive biases. Dunning-Kruger applies to everyone.

Ponder that one and while you do, try to think of what subjects you have very little training in. How would you really score on a test on that general knowledge in that subject? For me, I can think of a few social sciences that I've commented on but have never really studied.

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