Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Social Scientists Say: "People Aren't Smart Enough for Democracy to Flourish"

One should be wary whenever one reads a headline with the phrase "Experts Say" or "Social Scientists Say."  Generally, they say whatever the writer would like them to say, because honestly any given social scientist will say just about anything, and it's really a matter of which social scientist the writer chooses to quote.

In any case, this is what David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University asserts: "That incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people's ideas."

Journalist Natalie Wolchover of extrapolates this to conclude that "a growing body of research has revealed an unfortunate aspect of the human psyche that would seem to disprove this notion, and imply instead that democratic elections produce mediocre leadership and policies."

Wolchover further opines... sorry, writes:
As a result, no amount of information or facts about political candidates can override the inherent inability of many voters to accurately evaluate them. On top of that, [Dunning said] "very smart ideas are going to be hard for people to adopt, because most people don’t have the sophistication to recognize how good an idea is."  He and colleague Justin Kruger, formerly of Cornell and now of New York University, have demonstrated again and again that people are self-delusional when it comes to their own intellectual skills. "To the extent that you are incompetent, you are a worse judge of incompetence in other people," Dunning said. In one study, the researchers asked students to grade quizzes that tested for grammar skill. "We found that students who had done worse on the test itself gave more inaccurate grades to other students." Essentially, they didn't recognize the correct answer even when they saw it.  The reason for this disconnect is simple: "If you have gaps in your knowledge in a given area, then you’re not in a position to assess your own gaps or the gaps of others," Dunning said. Strangely though, in these experiments, people tend to readily and accurately agree on who the worst performers are, while failing to recognize the best performers.

Very bad news, this, from the professor.

Meanwhile, this made me very curious about Professor Dunnings own choices for the best political candidates.  Here via are Professor David Dunnings contributions to political candidates:
ITHACA, NY 14850
08/03/2004    500.00    24991236389
08/31/2008    500.00    28933253652
09/14/2008    500.00    28933938393
09/28/2008    500.00    28933938394

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