I know I’ve mentioned this before, but recent events have convinced me to mention the Dunning–Kruger effect again.

Kruger and Dunning proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:

  1. tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
  2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
  3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
  4. recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they can be trained to substantially improve.

While the Dunning–Kruger effect is a common cognitive bias, the local culture of “Sirs” and “Masters” seems to have amplified it. In the past few weeks, I’ve been in online discussions related to business and application security where the people I’m talking to aren’t even aware of their lack of (basic) knowledge on the topic. The real problem here wasn’t that they could be debunked easily by any serious book on their respective topics; the problem here was that only a few (or no one in the latter case) stepped in to point out the flaws in their arguments – flaws that only newbies should make.

The “Sir/Master” mentality’s influence is twofold:

  • First, people who are called “masters” are content with their skill set and fail to look for gaps in them (classic Dunning–Kruger). Hence, they are not aware if someone is wrong or not.
  • Second, people are not willing to call out the “masters” when the former sees the latter say something wrong. It’s your post count automatically makes you a senior person who shouldn’t be questioned.

In other words, “Sir/Master” indirectly leads to “pwede na” (it’s good enough).

Note that this “pwede na” attitude isn’t limited to local communities. One recent article proposes that PHP’s problem doesn’t solely lie on the language itself, but that its ease of use produced a lot of incompetent developers who provide wrong advice to newbies which in turn become even worse developers. A few days later, a group of people made PHP: The Right Way as a means to promote good coding practices for the language.

Unfortunately, I feel that it will take a while for this movement catches on in the PHP community. The Dunning–Kruger effect has a pretty strong hold on PHP developer groups, and even locally it took 2 days before someone posted it to the forum.

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One Response to You are not as good as you think you are

  1. i hope web designers has this kinds of practices too.

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