100 days & the Dunning Kruger Effect

I had learned about the Dunning-Kruger Effect back in school strictly from an academic perspective. Time to time I would meet people or notice some behaviors and invoke this cognitive bias to see if I can actually spot it (fully aware of my own intellectual limitations). So let’s break this down. The basic definition of this cognitive bias, based on the work done by David Dunning and Justin Kruger at Cornell is as follows (LINK):

This effect occurs where people fail to adequately assess their level of competence — or specifically, their incompetence — at a task and thus consider themselves much more competent than everyone else. This lack of awareness is attributed to their lower level of competence robbing them of the ability to critically analyze their performance, leading to a significant overestimation of themselves. 

In simple words, it’s “people who are too stupid to know how stupid they are”.

As Charles Darwin said, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”.

I started to reflect more about the DK Effect over the past couple of days, especially since our newly minted Leader passed the important 100 days milestone.

Now having watched him in the primaries and seen him govern over the past 100 days I am convinced we have the first Dunning Kruger President elected by a mass of voters who gravitate to this bias and hence also suffer from it. Let’s look at a few examples:

During the Primaries: 

Example-1:“So we have to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare. It is — it is a huge problem. I have a son. He’s 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers, it’s unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it’s hardly doable.”


“That makes me smart”…wow! It is as if he is supremely confident that he is smarter than everyone else.

Quotes from the first 100 days (Reuters, Washington Examiner & AP Sources)

” The administration is running like a fine-tuned machine. Despite the fact that I can’t get my cabinet approved. And they’re outstanding people.

“I guess it was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.”

“I would say communication would be a little bit less than an A because I don’t think we’ve gotten the word out what we’ve done because I think we’re so busy getting it done that we’re not talking about it.”

“I think we’ve done more than perhaps any president in the first 100 days.”

“I’d give us an A.”

“I thought it would be easier.”

So what do you think? Classic case of Dunning-Kruger Effect right?. And by the way, this is not just the President but it extends to the people who STILL thinks he is doing a great job. He has an overwhelming majority of support amongst Republicans. He has given his audience every reason that he is supremely clueless – not knowing what is the nuclear triad; utterly confused about foreign policy; not understanding how the bond market works; consistently saying things that are misogynistic utterly clueless…..but for his supporters, the most important thing is – HE APPEARS CONFIDENT!.

The feedback in his rallies is always the same – he knows what he is doing and he is confident and he speaks for us. Even though facts directly contradict this AND he is directly saying things that are in direct contradiction with reality. How do you take him seriously when he proclaims to know more about our generals on ISIS?

So yes  – it is possible to be too clueless to realize that you ARE actually in fact clueless.

David Dunning penned an article in Politico (LINK): But why now? If voters can be so misinformed that they don’t know that they are misinformed, why only now has a candidate like Trump arisen? My take is that the conditions for the Trump phenomenon have been in place for a long time. At least as long as quantitative survey data have been collected, citizens have shown themselves to be relatively ill-informed and incoherent on political and historical matters. As way back as 1943, a survey revealed that only 25 percent of college freshmen knew that Abraham Lincoln was president during the Civil War.

All it took was a candidate to come along too inexperienced to avoid making policy gaffes, at least gaffes that violate received wisdom, with voters too uninformed to see the violations. Usually, those candidates make their mistakes off in some youthful election to their state legislature, or in small-town mayoral race or contest for class president. It’s not a surprise that someone trying out a brand new career at the presidential level would make gaffes that voters, in a rebellious mood, would forgive but more likely not even see.

We are now living in a DK Effect presidency spawned by hyper-partisanship, low information, and alternate facts. Buckle up folks…..going to be a fun ride and ….

and……………………………………………………………….thanks for nothing Fox News!


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