By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
It's one of those sort of things where, once you know what it is, you'll see it everywhere. The Dunning-Kruger effect is the research-proven tendency for those who aren't very good at something to carry an inflated view of their own abilities, because they aren't quite capable enough to understand their own incapacity (Dunning & Kruger, 1999). In other words, we don't know what we don't know, and incompetence protects us from an awareness of that incompetence. Where do we see that? Well, take the 2016 Republican Presidential Primaries, now shaping up to be a battle among an unprecedented flood of serious candidates.
With as many as 16 either declared or expected to declare their quest for the Republican nomination, the mob scene can be read either as the positive sign of a deep bench, or as the negative sign of a voter- and funder-base that is nowhere near consensus. A few are doubtlessly running for other reasons: selling books, increasing their speaker's fees, or angling for a seat at the Fox pundit table. But others must be deeply mistaken about their true chances of winning. I won't risk offense by singling out individual candidates, but for some, their potential unawareness of their own unelectability might make this the "Dunning-Kruger Primary." But the effect is by no means unique to aspiring politicians. Consider attorneys on opposite sides in litigation: If both of them had a clear-eyed view of their chances at trial, then the case would probably settle. But when one side or both 'don't know what they don't know' about their case prospects, then that settlement is either delayed until the eve of trial, or it is denied. This post takes a look at the Dunning-Kruger effect, as well as how it can play out in litigation, affecting witnesses, jurors, adversaries, and ourselves.