But it’s so intuitive! The idea that the less people know, the more they have an unwarranted confidence that they know more than they do, seems to explain so much. There is now evidence that the Dunning-Kruger Effect is an artifact.
The two papers, by Dr. Ed Nuhfer and colleagues, argued that the Dunning-Kruger effect could be replicated by using random data. “We all then believed the  paper was valid,” Dr. Nuhfer told me via email. “The reasoning and argument just made so much sense. We never set out to disprove it; we were even fans of that paper.” In Dr. Nuhfer’s own papers, which used both computer-generated data and results from actual people undergoing a science literacy test, his team disproved the claim that most people that are unskilled are unaware of it (“a small number are: we saw about 5-6% that fit that in our data”) and instead showed that both experts and novices underestimate and overestimate their skills with the same frequency. “It’s just that experts do that over a narrower range,” he wrote to me.
Then I have to rethink who it applies to. We’re so used to pointing at stupid people doing stupid things and explaining it as Dunning-Kruger in action, and it’s not.
The most important mistake people make about the Dunning-Kruger effect, according to Dr. Dunning, has to do with who falls victim to it. “The effect is about us, not them,” he wrote to me. “The lesson of the effect was always about how we should be humble and cautious about ourselves.” The Dunning-Kruger effect is not about dumb people. It’s mostly about all of us when it comes to things we are not very competent at.
Wait wait wait. So I may have been a victim of the Dunning-Kruger Effect when I thought I knew what the Dunning-Kruger Effect was about? Dang. Well, that was a good solid punch in the balls to start my morning. But then, it’s always good to rethink your assumptions and reconsider your ideas, so thank you very much may I have another?
Are there dumb people who do not realize they are dumb? Sure, but that was never what the Dunning-Kruger effect was about. Are there people who are very confident and arrogant in their ignorance? Absolutely, but here too, Dunning and Kruger did not measure confidence or arrogance back in 1999. There are other effects known to psychologists, like the overconfidence bias and the better-than-average bias (where most car drivers believe themselves to be well above average, which makes no mathematical sense), so if the Dunning-Kruger effect is convincingly shown to be nothing but a mirage, it does not mean the human brain is spotless. And if researchers continue to believe in the effect in the face of weighty criticism, this is not a paradoxical example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. In the original classic experiments, students received no feedback when making their self-assessment. It is fair to say researchers are in a different position now.
Wait, what, so maybe I’m not afflicted with Dunning-Kruger? OK, I need to get out of the house and take a walk now.