Ignorance is bliss, but annoying

2010/12/18 § Leave a comment


Time and again I have been reporting of meeting people who did have strong opinions and little knowledge to go with it. This can be particularly irritating if the subject in question is not one of mere opinion but one that can be determined using facts and available information.

Of course this fact, that uniformed people may yet have strong opinions, has become widely known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, which states that dumb people suffer from a kind of illusory superiority. The authors explain: “the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self.” The effect being that incompetent people do not understand that others are in fact in a better position than they themselves to judge an issue, due to greater knowledge and intelligence. One could say, these individuals are too dumb to grasp their own stupidity.

I am repeatedly fascinated how such people have no shame in having opinions without ever making the effort to determine if what they think even stands the test of a quick google search. One such topic is global warming. There is very little to add to the answer: “yes, absolutely”. That is the answer more than 90% of climatologists give when asked if 1) global warming is real, and 2) if it is man made. Now one may argue that experts have been wrong previously. That certainly is correct. However, I would argue that laymen have been wrong even more frequently. As someone once stated, and I paraphrase: it is better to base an argument on shaky facts than no facts at all.

Being a scientist myself I know how hard it is to make scientists agree. To make more than 90% of them agree on something is almost unreal. It has not been like that in climatology all the time. In fact there were intense disputes in the 90s. At the end of the 2000s though the evidence got so dense and convincing that many became convinced. I suggest, that we at least take this into account. Personally I would trust in an expert if I need advice rather than just having “a feeling” or a “believe” in something.

Foremost though I would inform myself. The individuals that I meet who doubt that global warming has a strong human component at least do not only exhibit a tremendous lack of imagination but even worse, a complete lack of the understanding of climatology and the underlying sciences, such as physics, chemistry and biology, as well as the tool that models the results into a prediction, i.e. mathematics. However, amazingly the intensity with which such individuals will state their “believe” apparently is inversely proportional to the lack of information that resides in them.

How frustrating. Some things need no believing, some things need thinking and checking of the facts. But maybe I expect too much of my fellow human beings. Maybe we are just not cut to dissect information. Apparently most people that surround me do not have the faculties to reliably dissect scientific fact from a paranoid conspiracy statement. This does not usually concern me too much, however, when it comes to global warming a behavior is attached to someones “believes”.

This reminds me of this crazy idea that HIV does not exist and that AIDS is a mere invention to 1) supress black people, 2) eliminate gay people, poor people or some other “unwanted” social group, 3) earn the pharmaceutical industry money etc., etc. The paranoia of some people seems to be limitless. If people do not protect them because they buy into such baloney it is their own problem. But if politicians (elected by “believers” instead of “knowers”) take decisions that alter our ecosystem in such a way that living will at least become hard for humans, we are apparently all affected.

But what the heck, then so be it, let’s sink this ship together. After 20 years of arguing against ignorance regarding this topic I realize that the supply of ignorant beings is endless, contrary to my time on this little rock containing live, surrounding a sun in an otherwise relatively uneventful solar system. What I am saying is, my time is too precious to repeatedly and repeatedly having to state the obvious… 😉

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