Dan Satterfield at AGU (whom I hadn’t read before: thanks Greg Laden) connects the epistemology of the Tea Party (or rather of Tea Partiers) with the Dunning-Kruger effect and authoritarian thinking.

Ed Maibach and Anthony Leiserowitz at GMU, and the Yale Center for Climate Change Communication have released a fascinating study of the opinions of different political party members on climate change. This is all the more fascinating because it defines the Tea Party as a separate group and asks some interesting questions about climate science. Take a look at the highlights from the survey below and see if you notice what stood out glaringly to me.

Yup; it jumped right out.

Tea Party members are much more likely to say that they are “very well informed” about global warming than the other groups. Likewise, they are also much more likely to say they “do not need any more information” about global warming to make up their mind.

Classic illustration of not knowing enough to realize you don’t know enough, in short, Dunning-Kruger.

According to Psychologist Bob Altemeyer this is classic authoritarian behavior…

When it comes to issues surrounding their world view, authoritarians show almost no critical thinking skills. You could say these people have a much stronger force field around their idea of reality than other people do and It’s nearly shatter proof. Authoritarians can easily dismiss and minimize the overwhelming evidence on climate and replace it with global conspiracy theories, involving thousands of researchers, that to most people are obviously downright silly…

The media is often frustrated by scientists who are reluctant to plainly state an opinion or make a concrete prediction about something. They are always qualifying their answers and for a reporter looking for a good solid sound bite, this can be maddening and puzzling. i.e. if the expert doesn’t know, who does! The Dunning-Kruger effect explains this as well, and in their original paper Dunning and Kruger ( you expected someone else??) quoted Thomas Jefferson in explaining it:

Thomas Jefferson once said, “he who knows best, knows how little he knows.”

It’s true – that’s one of the things you learn when you learn about anything – how little you know about it. You learn this because you find out how much other people know and how much there is to know.

It’s too bad so many people don’t know this.


  1. Egbert says

    I downloaded Bob Altermeyer’s book, and will hopefully read through (sceptically of course) it among the other pile of books awaiting a read.

    I did try Studies in the Authoritarian Personality by Theodore W. Adorno, but I found the tendency to promote Marxism a bit annoying. I’ve yet to finish it.

    I’m becoming more convinced that there is a psychological reason for why people follow/lead or there are strong trends within the authoritarian type of personality.

  2. says

    OT complaint about the ads: cheesy Bible lessons I can take — either ignore it, or click on it to part a fool from some of their money — but Scientology[spit] is beyond the pale. Do the FTB PTB have any control over this?

  3. says

    Wasn’t it Socrates (or at least Plato’s version of him) who said the reason the Delphi Oracle called him wisest in Greece is that he knew he didn’t know anything?

    Seems like a story with a lesson.

  4. says

    Regarding the stupid ads — I normally use Firefox plus Adblock, and rarely see an ad on a web page. I have disabled it on Freethought Blogs, because I read somewhere that every “view” (as if I would ever read one!) dings the looney advertiser and enriches the blogger (win-win!). But I do shrink the window to the width of the blog post text, and thus cut out the distracting clutter on the page.

  5. says

    “Wasn’t it Socrates?”

    Yes it was. (And scholars generally agree that Plato’s account of the Apology, in which he makes this claim, is probably pretty close to Socrates’ actual words.)

    As I just said on another blog a couple moments ago, Dunning-Kruger is just Socrates sexed up for the 21st century.

  6. Ophelia Benson says

    Well I was going to say Socrates, but decided it was too obvious. [flounces]

    Besides, it’s thought that he was being largely ironic.

    I on the other hand was being flat-footedly literal: I really mean that reading a decent book in just about any field is a lesson in how much one doesn’t know, not in some airy abstract sense but in a very concrete one.

  7. says

    I was about to tell Peter N to go ahead and leave AdBlock enabled, because who pays per impression these days instead of paying per click, but it turns out that a bunch of ad networks still do. I don’t think Google AdWords does, though, and it looks like that’s what’s in use here. If they are primarily using Google AdWords/AdSense, then they definitely can choose advertisers not to carry ads from. Good luck figuring out how to leave feedback for the FTB operators, though. There’s no contact information anywhere on the site, and I’ve never gotten a response when I emailed one of the folks I thought was in charge. (Makes me wonder what would happen if there were, say, a DMCA complaint. I guess they’d have to send it to’s contact, which would be more likely to result in the whole network being shut down temporarily, instead of the offending content being removed and everything else staying up. Gosh, that’s something I’d like to suggest to the FTB owners/operators. Too bad there’s no mechanism for doing that. *cough*)

  8. says

    Well I was going to say Socrates, but decided it was too obvious. [flounces]

    Sorry? At nineteen years old, I looked into Plato on the recommendation of a lady I was acquainted with, and fell in love with philosophy (though I have not generally studied who said what, being more interested in the ideas themselves). Hence, I tend to think back to him if something reminds me of him.

    I quite agree that reading a decent book in any field is a lesson in ignorance. I have had the same feeling just reading many of the blog posts, and comments to those posts, that I find online.

  9. Egbert says

    Another work (if anyone is interested) that may offer psychological insights is Moral Politics, How Liberals and Conservatives Think by George Lakoff.

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