Kind of Like Dunning-Kruger

I spotted this chart in an article on college graduates who wish they had been taught more life skills.

The disparity isn’t surprising – I am surprised at the agreement on teamwork and collaboration, and digital technology.  Still, I wonder if we’re not looking at the tyranny of low expectations. 

What are we actually looking at when employers evaluate Professionalism/Work Ethic?  Obviously, employers have a radically different idea than new graduates – yet I remember the song “What’s the matter with kids today?”  It was back in the early sixties, and the complaint “Why can’t they be like we were? Perfect in every way” is firmly recorded in my mind.

It may be more an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.  Probably the way of describing the Dunning-Kruger effect is to copy the abstract of the 1999 article: “People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. Across 4 studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.”  

Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. J. Kruger, D. Dunning 30 November 19, Journal of personality and social psychology

Frankly, the whole article is worth reading – when it first was published, I must have printed off a dozen copies that I shared with colleagues and students.  More recently, I ran across a guy spouting off about “midwits with advanced degrees in public health.”  He really grabbed my attention with the comment that “they should have to list their GRE scores alongside their degrees.”

Now that one got my attention.  First I had to find out what a midwit is – the urban dictionary gives me this description:

“Described by Vox Day as “individuals of above average intelligence, yet not too far from average”.

Generally found in the 105-120 IQ range. These are the people who are considered “gifted” in primary school and perhaps “honors” in high school. In the same vein, they either think of themselves as “smart but lazy” or perform well in school yet do poorly/mediocre on standardized testing. May attend a low-tier university or none at all. Almost always very online, with strong opinions that lack nuance.

Midwits are truly cursed to be neither blissfully dumb nor reap the benefit of being of superior intelligence or a genius. They can grasp general concepts, but are less capable of digging deeper, understanding nuance, or adapting quickly to complex problems, leading to an entire middle class of perpetually unhappy, often vaguely angry people.”

So we have Dunning-Kruger as a descriptor of people who are smack-dab in the middle of the lowest quartile, and midwit for yet another group that ranges between the top 37% and the top 10%.  Somehow, I think the idea that they are “very online” probably means that these folks find opportunities to build their reputations down.

The quickest, most useful article I’ve read on the topic is James Thompson’s The Seven Tribes of Intellect. He’s brief, has a way of describing things in layman’s terms, and cuts the actual differences down to 5 groups.  I may not agree with him on everything, but we’re looking at his specialty, not mine.

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