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We are all confident idiots (2014)


Using the people picked for funny Jimmy Kimmel interviews is hardly representative, given that they’re literally hand-picked to be the most ridiculous responses.

The article acknowledges this somewhat, but it’s an example of another confidence fallacy: The idea that nobody knows what they’re talking about.

It’s a comforting fiction to tell ourselves when we find ourselves less educated on a topic than we might want to be. The disappointment of not knowing melts away when you can convince yourself that even the people who think they know what they’re talking about are just as uninformed as ourselves.

But it’s a trap. It’s the same line of reasoning that leads people to believing their own random guesses about the climate have equal footing to those of career climate scientists. Or that all political candidates are equally dumb and therefore we might as well pick the one with a personality we like the most. It’s a similar to the “death of expertise” phenomenon.

The truth is, many people do know what they’re talking about and aren’t idiots, but you won’t find them embarrassing themselves on a funny Jimmy Kimmel segment or a Trevor Noah show designed to make us laugh. For that, we need to zero in on the people who don’t know what they’re talking about and then pretend that everyone is just like them. It’s more comforting that way.


> The article acknowledges this somewhat, but it’s an example of another confidence fallacy: The idea that nobody knows what they’re talking about.

It was the opposite for me realization for . When I was young I was assuming if somebody was saying something, they were likely knowing what they were talking about.

After a bit of a ride in life, I know now that people that does do exist, but they are a rare bread, and usually about some very specific topic.

Competent people are the exception, not the rule, degraded mode is the default for humanity, and we are pretty good at going with it. At the beginning I though: what they are doing must be complicated, since it takes so much time and effort, or since there is so much debate about it. One day, you have to do it yourself, or you are behind the curtain, and you realize in 2 years anybody seriously working at it would be better that those life timers.

But still, because of the social pressure, playing pretend is the status quo for most.

Not just about jobs, not just about science, but about pretty basic things in life as well.

In fact, we are constructing a lot of our society around myths that are emerging because of this collecting behavior. It's quite fascinating to watch unfold, but it's such a waste of potential.


Reading what you wrote makes me think of the Murray-Gelman Amnesia Effect. Most people get their information from media and in my limited, anecdotal experience when media talk about an area I do have a great deal of knowledge in there are always mistakes. My belief is that most of us don’t know what we are talking about except in a few areas.


> Using the people picked for funny Jimmy Kimmel interviews is hardly representative, given that they’re literally hand-picked to be the most ridiculous responses.

This is my least favorite genre of lazy content, especially when accompanied by some kind of moral that society is getting dumber.


> their own random guesses about the climate have equal footing to those of career climate scientists.

Notwithstanding that climate models improve with time, is the percent of climate scientist guesses that have come true over the last 50 or so years - at least the "alarmist" ones, which are the ones that climate deniers take issue with - better than chance? It seems the consensus were calling for global cooling in the 70s and then warming disaster around the turn of the century, both of which didn't happen


"Global cooling" was never an expert consensus, so far as I can tell. It was a thing some people thought might happen and would probably be bad, but the idea that in the 1970s everyone was confidently predicting that the climate would cool and it would be a disaster appears to be a thing made up by the boo-to-climate-science lobby.

(In the 1970s some journalists were confidently predicting disastrous cooling. Journalists gonna journalist.)

Some people have in fact looked at the question "how do historical climate-science predictions match up with reality?" and the answer is "rather well". For instance:

"Our survey began with a literature review of every peer-reviewed reference we could find."

"The first result we found is that all of the 17 models correctly projected global warming (as opposed to either no warming or even cooling). While this is so unsurprising to climate scientists that it is not even mentioned in the paper, it may be surprising to non-experts. The second result is that most of the model projections (10 out of 17) published between 1970 and 2000 produced global average surface warming projections that were quantitatively consistent with the observed warming rate."

"To account for differences in emissions between the simulations and reality, we calculated the warming rates with respect to anthropogenic radiative forcing, the rate at which human emissions trap energy at Earth’s surface, instead of calculating them with respect to time. Using this novel metric of the warming rate, we found that the model projections were even more consistent with reality (14 out of 17 models captured this)."



You mean asking a question?




The "for profit" industry underwrites the entire scientific/academia industry. Most (all?) of basic science is paid for by the defence industry.

Science is just as political and conformist as any other industry. "career climate scientist" is just an appeal to authority, who actually would sign praise to anyone that would pay them enough.

An academic is just a person who wants someone to give them money so that they never have to face the vagarities of real life outside of the ivory tower.

Scientists that bring in funding are therefore particularly valuable and highly sought after. However, those that bring-in extramural funding, but do not act politically correct are often quickly dispensed with. Because other donors may dislike them.

Really weird that people still put them on pedestals, but I guess "More Doctors smoke Camels."

It's just another business.


Is this comment, which is riddled with spelling, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization mistakes, satire?


No. There are tons of people who sympathise with that viewpoint.

The "death of expertise" phenomenon is given a grandiloquent title to cover up what it's really about: the death of trust in academia. Experts are a much larger category of people than academics and there's no generalized crisis of confidence in e.g. plumbers, electrical engineers, advertising executives, whatever. But those people are rarely interviewed as "experts" by the media and political classes. Instead, when these people push for new social policies on the back of "expertise" it's always academics.

And that's a problem because universities don't care about quality control at all and so academic expertise is absolutely overrun with fraud, stupidity, dishonesty and pervasively low standards. The average well read intelligent person not only can beat the career scientist in many fields, but often will, simply because the distorting effects of the academic system are so large.


posted 3am on a toilet in my third language I almost never speak.

Looking forward to your arguments about the substance at hand in fluent Swahili.


Yep. Completely agree. Software development is a great example of this. In my experience (25+ years) almost all problems in software development are created by the software developers themselves. Software developers will almost always pick the most complex solution to solve a problem if it makes things easier to get started. And when things go wrong, they will ”solve” it not by fixing the original problem (of their own making) but by adding another complex “solution” on top of it. Again because it is “easier” than having to think a bit and solve the real problem. An example is using technology X because famous company Y is using it. Just do what they do! What a relief! No need to think! Even though your company and business model is completely different from company Y. That’s why 10x developers exist. They don’t have to type faster or work longer hours. All they have to do is to create fewer problems for themselves and they will instantly be 10x more productive :)


100% agree on this. State of the industry is bad because we put on layers and layers of rubbish to cover up the mess we started with dom and js and later decided we can introduce this pile of junk to everybody by inventing node.


> Software developers will almost always pick the most complex solution ...

Any ideas why? I'd love to know.


Good question! I would love to know as well. Maybe insecurity? Following a “leader” (author of an article or whatever) might make them worry less?


As a regular viewer of Jimmy Kimmel's clips posted on YouTube: Many of the participants in Kimmel's Lie Witness News and similar segments know what the game is and are playing "yes, and", as improv performers call it. It isn't a source for assuming anything about human ignorance.


I once saw a crew filming the Jay Leno man on the street bit in Santa Monica, and they had cue cards for the participants to read.


everything is fake, even unscripted tv


Everything on tv is 'scripted'. 'Reality' tv shows. Even interviews, like 60 minutes, have writers.


When you are telling people that they are on Lie Witness News and ask them an absurd question, they know that their knowledge of current events is not being tested.


> know what the game is and are playing "yes, and"

Do you have a source for this?


Not that I can point to, but people have witnessed the filming of these segments (Kimmel usually films them on the most touristy part of Hollywood Boulevard near his studio) and reported that this happens.


But how do those people know? It's not like witnessing it in person gives them mind-reading ability. Are interviewees going around and telling others "I was playing the 'yes, and' game?" How do people know what they intend?


We were before too:

We Are All Confident Idiots (2014) - - Oct 2019 (130 comments)

We Are All Confident Idiots - - Oct 2014 (158 comments)


This is an American feature too. Most other people in the world keep their mouth shut and only make a few suggestions when they really know what they're doing. American in general seem to love spouting any piece of random information. Some times the honesty is great and more often the little bit of random information is helpful, but it takes a lot to getting used to.


I'm American, and I haven't experienced other cultures firsthand, but in my experience there's certain people in America that fit this description and certain people that don't.

> This is an American feature too.

How about it's a feature of certain individuals?

I love when people pick a few data points and then use that to generalize a broad swath of over 300 million individuals. I'm sure we could find Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Australian and British people that all have this "feature" too. It still doesn't imply that those entire countries fit that description :)


It is hard to argue against the cultural stereotypes of others. I have a German born friend with the same fault of being unusually sure about shit they are ignorant of, which is usually very annoying and just not funny.

The existence of the show almost self-validates that the stereotype has some truth within the US itself, although judging which individuals fit into a stereotype/group depends on oneself. You appear to be distancing yourself from that particular stereotype, which is understandable.

I personally admire cultures that laugh at themselves, as is presumably happening with that show. UK culture seems to take the piss out of itself relentlessly, often with deep cultural insight, and weirdly enough often with a perverse reverse pride. I believe wit is highly valued in the UK within all levels of their society, not just highfalutin intellectual pythonic comedy.


True, its a stereotype and Americans certainly are not all the same.


Completely agree, there's a strong cultural part in the confidence of the incompetent and it's especially one that I've noticed with Americans and their obsession with self-esteem regardless if it's based on competence.

In many parts of the world it's much more frowned upon for the less experienced to voice their opinion, and that forces them to really think if they want to say what they're thinking. It correlates a lot with respect to authority, and comes with the downside of missing out on the originality of youth at times.

Personally, I'd prefer a middle-ground, but one where experience and competence are weighed into considering any opinion.


See in the NYC subway when a tourist asks someone for directions. You'll get half the car chiming in, telling all their secret routes and spots to avoid. Tourist usually walks away more confused than before they asked.


If you think this is a feature of Americans, you should definitely visit Latin America then.


Lol that's interesting observation. I dont know enough to rate just yet.


In Latin America, at least in mine and my wife's countries, people not only have very strong opinions about all that is happening in the world (Putin? Ukraine? Monkeypox? Homeschooling? Bitcoin? yes) but also everything that is happening in the lives of everyone in their social circle. It gets pretty exhausting if you are not into discussing your shit or everybody else's.


Perhaps a feature of Americas.


I resent that headline. I’m an idiot with a crippling lack of self-confidence


Dunning sets a rather high bar for human discourse here, which comes across as gatekeeping snobbery.

People can't have opinions on what they think nanotech will bring, without becoming experts in it first?

As if that would even help? Knowing everything about nanotech won't give you a crystal ball which informs you about how the future will pan out with regard for how much it's used for good or evil.

Can't some pessimist just voice his or her pessimistic concern about nanotech without reading several texts about it and taking two semesters? At least, if he or she knows it's just an opinion of concern and not presented as an informed fact?

Over a pint of beer, I cannot posit that the purpose of an anus is the elimination of waste, because evolution isn't sentient and didn't articulate such a design intent for the orifice? Or at least, not without it then being assumed I'm a complete idiot who thinks evolution is creation?

Isn't that a rather narrow definition of "purpose"; can't there be a kind of purpose which is emergent, so that when we use the word, we don't mean something was designed by a sentient being? It just fell into place and happens to serve an identifiable role in a system. If it was removed from the system, then such and such a deleterious consequence would come about, and therefore it has a "purpose" (emergent sense) of preventing that calamity.


> An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that’s filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors, and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge. This clutter is an unfortunate by-product of one of our greatest strengths as a species. We are unbridled pattern recognizers and profligate theorizers. Often, our theories are good enough to get us through the day, or at least to an age when we can procreate. But our genius for creative storytelling, combined with our inability to detect our own ignorance, can sometimes lead to situations that are embarrassing, unfortunate, or downright dangerous—especially in a technologically advanced, complex democratic society that occasionally invests mistaken popular beliefs with immense destructive power (See: crisis, financial; war, Iraq)

> Very young children also carry misbeliefs that they will harbor, to some degree, for the rest of their lives. Their thinking, for example, is marked by a strong tendency to falsely ascribe intentions, functions, and purposes to organisms. In a child’s mind, the most important biological aspect of a living thing is the role it plays in the realm of all life. Asked why tigers exist, children will emphasize that they were “made for being in a zoo.” Asked why trees produce oxygen, children say they do so to allow animals to breathe.

Perhaps why this is why it is important to stay curious and open minded. Absorb and reflect from different angles, and stay humble.

Another thing is that some people get offended when you challenge / question them. They dig in deeper then with their beliefs. Makes it harder to debate and learn and come to potentially better conclusions from the start.

My neighbors are huge conspiracy theorists. It is hard for me to understand how they believe what they do because logically it doesn’t make sense (to me). I listen because I like different perspectives, but doing deeper dives doesn’t result in my confidence in what they’re saying. Now, I also take everything with a grain of salt, including the news (even from “great” sources as I’m not the politician in the room when the decision is made so what do I really know. And I try to keep that mindset, what do I really know?


Putting myself in that situation... I imagine if I was confronted at random and given a few seconds to give my opinion on a subject I know nothing about, but my social standing would gain more by my saying something than by saying I know nothing, I would absolutely say with confidence an opinion.

It would be wrong, probably, but I would flash a smile at the interviewer and make an effort to both appear genuine and be totally forgettable.


Says much about your self-confidence.

If you can't bring yourself to admit incompetence, well. You paint yourself as a person who is unable to learn.


That's a bit harsh maybe? I'm not sure it's all about self confidence per se. Your mind can play tricks on you. Do you go around assuming that people you meet are lying to make fun of you? Is that thing they're mentioning the same as that thing you were reading about a few days ago? Is it lacking in self confidence to assume that it was, or to assume that it wasn't?

Regardless, at some level, it points less to self-believed knowledge, as is the premise of the article, and more to socially pressured self-presentation.

Everyone on Jimmy Kimmel who went home and thought to themselves, or told their significant other "I didn't know what they were talking about but went along with it" is contradicting the premise of the piece.


These experiments / "experiments" tend to involve a significant factor that would invoke bs'ing. E.g. being interviewed on camera from a crowd - saying "uh" and "dunno" instead of answering is guaranteed to get your clip cut. Or in a scientific experiment: our society values knowledge. So if your amount of knowledge is being measured, a natural response would be to try to look extra good.

If they did am experiment like this, informing everyone a priori that some of the statements are bs, and that at the end, they're graded on identifying the bs as well as their knowledge, that could lead to a different outcome. At least it's one way to somewhat mitigate the desirability of appearing knowledgeable.


I didn't say it was the ideal approach, or that it was anything approaching the moral one.

It's just what I would probably do at this stage in my life.




I an idiot who isn't confident. Check mate!


the sad but unavoidable reality is that a lot people are not that smart.


At least half of all people are below average intelligence.


That would be fine if the average weren't so damn low to begin with.


It is ok to not be smart.


It really shouldn't be, though


That's not the sad part, the sad part is how many people who aren't that smart are convinced they really are very smart because they happen to work with computers.