The Rise of the Incompetent Experts

Recently, the backlash against Apple has become relentless. Even the more mature, balanced sources for news from experts have begun to take potshots.

donglesOne reason for this is related to the growing number of “Incompetent Experts” online, also known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. As Wikipedia explains, the D-K effect is “a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is.” It has become so prevalent recently that ArsTechnica published an excellent post on it called, “Revisiting Why Incompetents Think They’re Awesome” based on the original APA paper “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments (PDF).

Of course, when it comes to technology, Reddit has the largest number of incompetent experts. The Verge article mentioned above was only five hours old when I wrote this and it already had almost 500 comments on Reddit. It’s hard to understand the haters. Apple transformed the personal computer first with the Apple II, then with the Graphical User Interface in the original Mac, the music industry with the iPod / iTunes, the mobile phone with the iPhone, the laptop with the MacBook Air, and tablets with the iPad. You would think by now people would give Apple the benefit of the doubt, but these so-called experts have proclaimed (again) that their newest products are flawed in a huge wide variety of ways.

One corollary of the effect is that it is hard to tell who is really an expert without a basic level of expertise. Also a true expert opinion might be “context sensitive,” i.e. an expert with an opinion that helps one person might be completely inappropriate for a slightly different person or situation. The article explains this in detail in sections entitled, “Context is everything,” “Culture complicates things,” and “Education and work.”

Of course, this effect not only applies to Apple: In the first paragraph of the ArsTechnica article, the author points out tongue-in-cheek, “Another election day in the US is rapidly approaching (Tuesday, Nov. 8—mark your calendars!). So for no reason in particular, we’re resurfacing our close examination of the Dunning-Kruger effect from May 25, 2012.”