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The Duning-Kruger Fallacy

The Duning-Kruger effect evidently exists. This post is not an attempt to debunk it: rather, it’s a plea for DK not to be abused.

Anybody and everybody can use a variant of the following: “Since you are not an expert in the field, your skepticism about it is derived from you overestimating your own knowledge about it“. Such an argument “provides poor reasoning in support of its conclusion” and therefore can be classified as a (material) fallacy (in particular, as an example of “Affirming the Consequent“).

To understand the above, imagine that any “expert” in homeopathy, in UFOs, in chemtrails will of course be able to repeat the same argument against any skeptic, for the simple reason that few if any skeptic will have devoted their lives to the study of homeopathy, UFOs or chemtrails.

Why, if the DK argument were valid, we would all be forced to believe in all sorts of religions, since it would be impossible to know more about the Bible, the Qu’ran, the Mahabharata more than respective (believer) scholars!


There could be many reasons not to believe in something. The abuse of the DK effect as a DK argument is just a naive case of “pop psychology“.

  1. Scott
    2011/03/21 at 16:37

    Well… to put it frankly: No.

    To be “accused” of “Dunning-Kruger” simply suggests that the person putting this to you does not understand what the effect is. It has nothing to do with climate science!

    To accuse a person of overestimating their skill in a certain area (which seems to be a universal effect, not one localised to “educated liberals” or “ignorant conservatives”. I.e. it is not an effect which seems to be determined by political alignment) is, as stated above, a fallacy, unless the accuser is cognisant of facts and processes that directly contradict the position of the accusee. Basically, applying the Dunning-Kruger effect to climate science and its controversies (regardless of what we believe) is just lazy, if not ad hominen.

    The rest of the fallacies regarding climate are clearly represented here. I do not dispute them.

  2. Dubl
    2009/09/15 at 20:06

    I have a less fashionable but more accurate term for this. It’s called:

    People are too dumb to know how dumb they are.

    Abrasive I agree, but a common variant of Duning-Kruger. The climate as a whole is a vastly large, exceedingly complicated concept. The premier scientists in any discipline related to climate is lucky to grasp the whole of the principles of that discipline that relate to climate. Physicists understand the thermodynamic aspects, meteorologists the weather implications, and astronomers the extra-terrestrial factors. But clearly no one person or group knows EVERYTHING at the same time. So really the claim that “the science is settled” is itself a Duning-Kruger-esque fallacy, but one that embodies my specific version, in that the only justification for such a claim is that the claimant is so ignorant to climate science and science itself that they don’t even understand on the most basic level how such a statement is impossible. Science is NEVER settled, especially not a science that encompasses the broad scope of disciplines that climate science does. In this regard their skepticism about skepticism is the D-K Fallacy. Double DK (with cheese) if you will…

    Of course if nobody was this ignorant, how else could we dupe them out of their freedom and money?

  3. Ben
    2009/09/15 at 18:42

    As my favorite saying goes: “it doesn’t take a tailor to see that the emperor has no clothes”.

  4. Richard Percifield
    2009/09/15 at 18:20

    While there are very complex systems that require expert knowledge to find the causal agent I do not think that climate change is in that list. Here is an example a layman could not tell the difference between the various versions of “Atomic Clocks”. While the differences are significant, unless you are in Frequency Control, or other timing critical fields it would not matter. However, if the atomic clock said it was 12:00 noon CDT and it was 10:00pm, and dark, you would not need to know how the clock worked to know it was wrong.

    This describes well the issue with climate change. Many knowledgeable people who understand statistics, variation, physics, computer modeling, and a host of other disciplines, can see the inabilities of the models to forecast the future. Just a cursory review of the graph from an “Inconvenient Truth” shows that CO2 changes after temperature, thus it cannot be a causal agent. As an applied scientist, if you cannot falsify a theory, it ceases to be science and becomes a religion. You cannot blame everything on global warming, and expect to be trusted. If the observations do not match the theory, and the data is accurate the theory must change not the data.

    Everyone experiences the weather, and you can only go against that experience so long before you loose credibility. That time has come. Unfortunately it will take real science many years to recover from this fornication.

  5. 2009/09/15 at 01:43

    When I encounter the “you’re not qualified” argument, I usually ask my opponent whether he is more qualified to evaluate AGW than Richard Lindzen.

    As far as I can remember, I’ve never gotten a straight answer to that question. Instead, my opponents typically shift to the final fallback position of all warmists: the “consensus” argument.

    • gajnem
      2010/01/14 at 14:33

      I would personally reply that I’m more qualified to judge Richard Lindzen than you.
      But the argument of the consensus is actually not that bad…scientists are humans too, and you’ll always find individuals who just like to support the contested theory. To dismiss the result of a large group of people, you need stronger evidences to show that it’s dysfunctional. Still possible though…but a close look at the history of climatology don’t really support that.

      • 2010/01/14 at 14:37

        gajnem – would you mind elaborating on the following sentence when you have a minute please

        a close look at the history of climatology don’t really support [it being dysfunctional]

  6. geoff chambers
    2009/09/14 at 21:17

    Thanks for that. I’ve been accused of Dunning-Kruger myself on blogs. The confidence with which the accusers throw out the accusation comes no doubt from the fact that they know nothing about me ; )
    Like all such quasi-psychological or philosophical meta-arguments (accusations of denialism or conspiracy theory; the precautionary principle) it’s worthless, because it can be used equally well in both directions.
    Global Warmists are constantly trying to find meta-arguments to silence us sceptics because they can’t bear the intrinsic logical imbalance in the argument. As believers, they have to prove their case; as sceptics, we don’t have to prove anything. I don’t see what alternative they have to going ad hominem.

  7. 2009/09/14 at 08:52

    It seems to me that part of what is going on here is that there is a subtle assymetry.

    It takes far less expertise to know that a hypothesis is wrong than it does to know that a hypothesis is right. Personally, I am not a climatologist and I know very little about how different aspects of the Earth’s climate interract with eachother. But I do know enough about simulation and prediction of chaotic systems to know that the CAGW Hypothesis is extremely dubious.

    I also know a lot about human lies and self-deception. Enough to know that the CAGW hypothesis has all the red flags of a hoax.

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