Terrorists? We ain’t afraid of no stinkin’ terrorists!

As Paul Waldman writes, it is almost inevitable that some person who is angered by what is happening in the middle east will be inspired by ISIS/ISIL or whatever the terror group du jour is, to get a gun and shoot up a crowd somewhere in the US. Then instead of treating it as just another mass shooting of the kind that has become routine, the terrorist connection will cause everyone to flip out and hide under their beds and demand that the government do something so that they can come out.

Fox News viewers are among those already primed to react hysterically. They believe that terrorists already have sleeper cells in the US that are at this very moment planning to murder us in our beds, and they are already taking steps to protect themselves from the coming showdown.

How can people be so stupid? John Cleese provides a succinct explanation.

For those not familiar with the research Cleese refers to, here is a link to the original paper that led to what is now called the Dunning-Kruger effect, and an additional article that explains it.

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias in which people perform poorly on a task, but lack the meta-cognitive capacity to properly evaluate their performance. As a result, such people remain unaware of their incompetence and accordingly fail to take any self-improvement measures that might rid them of their incompetence.

Dunning and Kruger often refer to a “double curse” when interpreting their findings: People fail to grasp their own incompetence, precisely because they are so incompetent. And since overcoming their incompetence would first require the ability to distinguish competence from incompetence, people get stuck in a vicious cycle.

I don’t really care if people hide in their basements surrounded by guns and with a three-month supply of food and water. What worries me is that in order to pacify these panic-stricken people the government will over-react and do something even more stupid or use the event as an excuse to entrench the national security apparatus even deeper.


  1. moarscienceplz says

    I just bought 3 month’s worth of food.

    LOL! Is that person preparing for ISIL, or for World War Z? Does she think they will park in front of her house for 3 months and wait for her to come out?

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    … the government will over-react and do something even more stupid or use the event as an excuse to entrench the national security apparatus even deeper.

    Those are not mutually exclusive options: in fact, they would overlap completely except that the first includes much more probability-space than does the second.

  3. Ed says

    I think it’s bizarre when something bad happens and there is speculation “was it terrorism?” followed by great public relief that it wasn’t. As if horrible things aren’t really so bad if they aren’t called terrorism.

    News--Ten people shot in a downtown restaurant today! It might be terrorism!
    The Public--Oh my god--TERRORISM!!!
    News--This just in; it wasn’t terrorism. Just a man with a gun who likes to shoot people.
    The Public--We feel so much better now!
    Me--But the people were actually shot right? I mean, whatever it’s called, they’re still dead.

  4. Holms says

    One of the respendents even stated that they were being overvigilant; do these people even understand the words they are using? Also, your Cleese clip reminded me of this.

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