COVID’s Most Dangerous Co-Morbidity

How the Dunning-Kruger Effect Can Kill You.

By: BW Ellis
Originally Published: March, 7th 2021

“I have done my research, I know what I am talking about.”

How many times have we heard this, even said this ourselves? Usually the fallout from such self-delusion is contained to just the person uttering the words, but occasionally it spreads to others.

The phenomenon of having high confidence and low information has its benefits in society, it allows people to take chances that they otherwise wouldn’t, and those chances can turn into some impressive feats. 

Virtually every small business start-up, by definition, is an exercise in confidence. Confidence in your ability to complete a task, confidence in your view that what you are offering will be needed and/or wanted, confidence that you can see all of the variables and plan for them accordingly.

That all changes when the consequences are life or death.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect, simply stated, is the theory in psychology that attempts to explain why people with little or no knowledge express absolute confidence while people with moderate to expert knowledge are less confident.

We simply don’t know what we don’t know about COVID-19, even the experts admit this. The dangerous problem comes from the assumption of knowledge, the confidence in ignorance, that people choose to have due to emotional pressures and desires.

“I don’t want to wear a mask, and I have done my research and found that masks don’t work.” Not only is this perspective an insult to the millions of public health experts, virologists, immunologists, and other medical professionals the world over, but it can kill you.

If we all lived alone on our own separate islands were we could more easily guarantee that one person’s refusal to wear a mask wouldn’t infect untold others with the virus, then there would be a place for that thinking because the consequences would be limited to that one person or group.

With community spread still out of control, with the mutation of the virus happening all over the world, with the death toll rising beyond most predictions, it’s time for us to see the confidence in uneducated people as a severe risk to public health.

“I saw a video online and they said we shouldn’t be concerned.”

Think about what is happening when people trust an anonymous online video clip over the vast majority of medical professionals in the world. People who have devoted their lives to the study of this specific area of medical science, who have published papers that are peer reviewed and scrutinized to the letter being dismissed by someone who obviously failed high school biology.

More pervasive than a conspiracy theory, more deadly than yelling “fire” in a crowded theater this deliberate ignorance and unjustified arrogance presents a far greater threat to people than any of the usual co-morbidities. If only Dunning-Kruger was an option that prioritized the distribution of the vaccine.

Also imagine the insult this uninformed perspective offers up. Nurses who are working 12 and 14 hour shifts, losing patients daily, having to hold up the computer for a dying patient to give them the opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones. The healthcare professionals who are burning themselves out to the core trying to save just one more life.

Think about the excruciating pain the survivors must endure, the internal organ damage, the weakening of their lungs, the mental health fallout of being tortured by this virus for weeks or months.

While it’s easy to understand how this virulent form of delusion can occur, and the desire to let other people just believe what they want, the poor decisions being made by these over-confident and under informed people assaults others as much as a punch in the face or a stab in the heart.

For people with other ailments that make them susceptible to severe illness the Dunning-Kruger Effect threatens sickness and death more than a compromised immune system. For the elderly this unfounded confidence could make their final moments excruciatingly painful and rob them of both their remaining years and the peaceful death, surrounded by their families, that they deserve.

As a culture, as a society of people who support and care for one another we can do so many things to protect and provide for each other. We can wear masks. We can shelter in our homes. We can maintain social distance. We can help others as much as possible given the current restrictions.

Most importantly, we can defer to the expertise of the professionals who devote themselves to the sciences and the public health professionals who are working to save lives.

When you see someone trying to claim COVID is a hoax, or that masks don’t work, or that the vaccines are something to be feared please remember that pushing back against that false confidence, fighting against the Dunning-Kruger Effect also saves lives.