The first rule of the Dunning Kruger Club is that you do not know you are a member of the Dunning Kruger club.
If you have the confidence to say unequivocally that you are not a member of the club it probably means that you are.
Briefly, the Dunning Kruger effect is as follows. A person with low ability or knowledge in a certain area can tend to overestimate their ability or knowledge. Conversely, a person with high ability or knowledge in that area may tend to underestimate their competency.
We all know somebody who shouts their mouth off about how well they can do something and we cringe when they make a mess of it.
Equally, we probably know someone who fails to reach the heights of which they are capable because they underestimate their own ability.
What does this mean in practical terms? If someone brags about their ability as a snooker player but misses easy shots, apart from feelings, it is unlikely that anyone will get seriously hurt.
But what if we are talking about someone who is totally convinced that they are the greatest leader that the world has ever seen? Because he or she is totally convinced of their own talents, they will be unable to accept their own failures. They will rationalise them as flukes or someone else's fault.
Most people will see such a person for what they really are. Unfortunately, such a person could also generate a following of people with a similar inability to see their own failures and inadequacies. This person's desperate need to convince others of their superiority could lead to more and more extreme acts.
From Hitler to Jim Jones, we have seen many such leaders who have built up a fanatical following using a mythical reality based upon the need to be right even if it means rejecting logic and proof.
So, what has this to do with conservation?
Over the past two years of the Covid pandemic we have seen many fantastical ideas concerning causes and effects. We have heard that there is no disease; it is simply a ploy to control our minds.
We have heard that vaccines are simply a way for big pharma to make huge amounts of money. We have heard the then president of the United States advocating that people drink sheep drench to ward off Covid.
I am not going to take sides on any of these points. The Dunning Kruger effect tells us that often the people with the least knowledge of a subject can be the ones who are most convinced that they have the correct answers.
The ideas that some people have taken as truth, without asking for evidence, is evidence of this effect. But remember the first rule of the Dunning Kruger Club is that you do not know that you are a member. It is easy to be smug and reject ideas that disagree with your preconceived ideas. Smugness is evidence of membership. Smug people do not believe that they are members of the club.
As soon as we are sure that we know all the answers we join the club at least as a prospect.
We are fed many scientific "facts" about many things including conservation. Unless we do our best to understand these "facts" then we are still club members. We cannot all be professional cosmologists, but we can constantly look at possibly conflicting ideas to better our understanding.
We are on a journey without a destination. Stopping at a station is what club members do.
- Originally from Yorkshire, Frank Gibson has lived in the Whanganui region since 1989 and is a retired teacher of mathematics and physics. He has authored a couple of books for mathematics teaching and worked as an adviser in science education in Qatar.