No one was more surprised than McArthur Wheeler when he was arrested for bank robbery. After all, he’d smeared his face with lemon juice, you know, the stuff they use to make invisible ink? So how come it didn’t make him invisible too?
When this 1995 item from the Pittsburgh Police blotter caught the eye of Cornell Psychologist David Dunning he enlisted his graduate student Justin Kruger to figure out what was going on. They reasoned that, while many people have inflated views of their abilities and aptitudes in various endeavours, some mistakenly assess their abilities as being significantly higher than they actually are. And thus was born the “Dunning-Kruger Effect,” or the illusion of confidence leading to the cognitive bias to dramatically over-inflate one’s abilities.
When extreme ego is packaged with extreme ignorance, as is the case with the “President” of the United States, the result is too often a Dunning Kruger Effect exemplar – an inability to assess the extent of their own incompetence. Hence Donald Trump, a man not unlike McArthur Wheeler, who thinks invisibility is an actual thing, and that it applies to the United States Air Force’s stealth F-35, also believes that crime is on the rise and this rise in crime is directly linked to immigration.
There are two problems with this. The first is, crime in the United States, particularly violent crime, is actually on the decline. Second, it is a statistically provable fact that immigrants actually reduce the crime rate. Over the past thirty years the incarceration rates for Americans born in the United States are two to five times higher per capita than for immigrants.
So America is now in the midst of an unprecedented government shutdown, the longest in its history, over a border wall that is not needed to solve a problem that does not exist. The Dunning-Kruger Effect, where ignorance breeds confidence, yields tragic consequences when its patients wield power. Sometimes our greatest enemy isn’t just ignorance, sometimes it’s the illusion of knowledge.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.