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05-25-12, 12:10 PM
http://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/chalkboard-bad-math.png Aurich Lawson


In 1999 a pair of researchers published a paper called "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments (PDF)." (http://people.psych.cornell.edu/~dunning/publications/pdf/unskilledandunaware.pdf)¬*David Dunning (http://www.psych.cornell.edu/people/Faculty/dad6.html) and Justin Kruger (http://www.stern.nyu.edu/faculty/bio/justin-kruger) (both at Cornell University's Department of Psychology at the time) conducted¬*a series of four studies¬*showing that, in certain cases, people who are very bad at something think they are actually pretty good. They showed that to assess your own expertise at something, you need to have a certain amount of expertise already.

Remember the 2008 election campaign? The financial markets were going crazy, and banks that were "too big to fail" were bailed out by the government. Smug EU officials proclaimed that all was well within the EU‚??even while they were bailing out a number of financial institutions. Fast forward to 2012, and the EU is looking at hard times. Greece can't pay its debt. Italy can, but the markets don't trust it to be able to. Spain and Portugal are teetering around like toddlers just waiting for the market to give them one good push. Members of the public are behaving like teenagers, screaming "F**k you," while flipping the bird. The markets are reacting like drunk parents, and the resulting bruises are going to take a while to heal.

In all of this, uninformed idiots blame the Greeks for being lazy, the Germans for being too strict, and everyone but themselves. Newspapers, blogs, and television are filled with wise commentary hailing the return of the gold standard, the breakup of the Euro, or any number of sensible and not-so-sensible ideas. How are we to parse all this information? Do any of these people know what they are talking about? And if anyone does, how can we know which ones to listen to? The research of Dunning and Kruger may well tell us there is no way to figure out the answers to any of these questions. That is kind of scary.

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