The Paradox of Competence and Incompetence

A great post from @pevaquark:

If you never doubt yourself and your conclusions, then you could never change your mind. And geez, I have changed my mind on various topics more times than I’d care to admit. The type of thinking that is actually dangerous is the opposite of what you do. That is, well how most people stop at the first peak of the Dunning-Kreuger effect:

Dunning-Kreuger is a cognitive bias that seems to be rampant in these conversations, often expressed as anti-establishment thinking.

Over-Optimistic Self-Assesments

I think this a really important phenomenon for us to understand, and learn how to navigate. It leads to very difficult challenge. Those most incompetent have the most difficult time seeing their own lack of competence.

How Do We Respond?

Two questions:

  1. How do we recognize in ourselves when we are far more incompetent that we think we are? We would not have the competence to accuracy self-assess, so how could we find out?

  2. How do we engage with others with wildly inflated confidence in their own competence, that is really just evidence of their incompetence?

Is there a way out of this puzzle or not?


Forgot to mention where that was: Do i think critically? - #7 by pevaquark - Faith & Science Conversation - The BioLogos Forum

The problem in academia especially is often the reverse: Imposter Syndrome. Being around very smart people easily makes you doubt your own competence a lot. Even when faced with a seemingly incompetent person, you want to be charitable. Perhaps they aren’t wrong, perhaps they’re really just saying something in a very different way!

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I find it interesting that while competent scientists, especially physicists, don’t stop at the first peak of Dunning-Krueger when learning science, they often do that when learning about other fields, such as politics or (in the case of Coyne) theology.

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One way we are trying to manage this here is by treating those with credential and/or contributions (e.g. @kirk, @Agauger, @Art, @evograd, @bjmiller, @Joel_Duff, @deuteroKJ, @jongarvey etc.) different than those who are anonymous, without credentials, and/or without contributions. I’m going to take, for example, a disagreement with @Kirk differently, giving him the benefit of the doubt (as much as I can). A random anonymous poster on the forum with no evidence of comprehensions, not so much.

Of course, in some cases random people on the internet can demonstrate that they do have real competence, even outside their field. See for example (@PdotdQ and @structureoftruth here: The Pilot Wave Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics). However, at base line, random people have to earn the right to have their ideas engaged at the same level as @Winston_Ewert, @glipsnort, or @John_Harshman.

Of course, even those with knowledge here can be wrong, and in disagreement. At least that way the disagreements can be informative to everyone.

Is that a good strategy? Is this a good rule to guide @moderators?

Is this good enough basis to kill interminable back and forth exchanges that sometimes plague forums like ours? What do you think?


Incompetence can be on both sides and be due to vincible ignorance. The problem arises when one point of view controls the space and has a basic stance that certain points of view are evidence of incompetence. I have seen ID called pseudoscience too many times.
But on the other hand both sides have enthusiastic amateurs who don’t know that they don’t know. I hesitate to call them incompetent, just stubborn. (Though some are!)
It’s just it would be sad if this became a”show me your badge” site.
On the other other hand I get frustrated when amateurs exceed their competence in arguing for ID and get labeled as the ID side. Let’s just say it doesn’t help.
My solution—if a conversation bogs down with three or four back and forths and no movement, or hostility breaks out, give a warning, then call a halt after another round or two without change.
You can’t change people and a lot of people care about this topic, some of them are ignorant, some of them can learn and some of them are cranks.


These are the exchanges I’m trying to limit.


I like that. I wonder if the other @moderators think it is workable, and what others here think?

@Agauger, do you ever ask them to stop? Do they respect you enough to listen?

There is no way I can police this site, let alone the internet. I just discovered the information argument thread and another that was over 300 posts long. I don’t know how you cope.

Ask them to stop? If it’s private I may try. But I have not been anointed queen of ID. I have no authority outside of my own area, and even there not always. Something to do with being female, maybe.


Queen Gauger. Has a nice ring to it.


I’m curious about this as a sociological experiment, not as a long term solution.

Who has the wherewithal to hear from an ID leader that an amateur argument for ID is hurting the overall effort? That seems like a basic test of coherence. Some seem like they would pass. Others seem like they would struggle.

Queen Gauger, I wonder how such an experiment would proceed.

Lol make it say queen under her name

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How should the public view supposed science-supporting sites which constantly publish articles attacking evolutionary theory yet allow no comments or corrections to their sometimes blatant scientific errors? AIG among others comes to mind.


Thou dost jest, kind sir. Plus it will surely offend my companions. They will mistake it for usurpation or mockery.


First ID must be formalized in some way. Right now we are a loose conglomeration of figures with different emphases and arguments.


Isn’t that what Darwin on Trial was supposed to do? And then Dembski’s work in CSI? Why do you think those efforts were ineffective?

Whew! I thought you were talking about Evolution News! :slightly_smiling_face: I can’t do anything about AIG. But you can always write to the editor of EN or, I hesitate to say, me. Private message and if I can I will respond.


…and Darwin’s Doubt, and Undeniable. If ID proponents spent half as much time in the lab as they do on popular press attacks of actual scientific findings maybe they’d make a little progress.

I’d settle for Dr.


I was making a general comment. How are we to view “science” sites which allow no comments or corrections? I personally tend to view such sites as pseudo-science propaganda.