Thursday, April 5, 2012

Top 5 Ways We Suck

We are amazing, aren't we?  Despite sending ships out of our solar system, and mapping the human brain and human genome, we believe in ghosts and Bigfoot (Bigfeet?), we think the head of our company is a moron, and we just know that we're the kitty's pajamas.  But why do these pseudoscientific and other beliefs exist despite of decades of investigation resulting in no good evidence and tons of known and admitted hoaxes?  Why don't we realize how much we suck?  And just why is that Gap manager always incompetent?  Here are some reasons:

5: We lie to ourselves (cognitive dissonance) - We try to make our beliefs mesh.  When they don't, something has to give.  People create and jump through an elaborate series of hoops to make the two mutually exclusive beliefs coexist in harmony.  Healthy, but a smoker?  No problem, you won't get cancer because you don't smoke much, are otherwise healthy, or it just won't happen to you.  Accept the universe's age as 13.75 billion years and your religion's literal belief in a 7 day creation?  Well a day for the deity must be billions of years.

Totally not full of shit.  Really talks to the dead.  Really.  Not lying.  I'm sure of it.  
4: We don't even realize we're wrong (confirmation bias) - This is our tendency to prefer and accept information confirming an already-held belief, but ignore info showing the belief is false.  This is why people think that psychics can tell the future, or that John Edward can speak to the dead--these people remember the good guesses, forget the misses, and interpret ambiguous facts as supporting their belief that the psychic has powers.  It's also why psychic powers suddenly vanish in the presence of non-believers.

3: We are incompetent (the Peter Principle) - This is the principle that in hierarchies, employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence--they receive promotions until they get too high to work competently, and stay stuck in a job that is just barely out of their range to perform well.  What follows is that every position in a hierarchy is filled by someone who is incompetent.  This is why your boss sucks, and why people below you think you suck.

She had to be nervous, but come on...
2: We don't know how dumb we are (the Dunning-Kruger Effect) - In everything, incompetent people overestimate their own skill level, don't recognize actual skill in other people, and don't realize how unskilled they are.  Studies using grammar, humor, and logical reasoning show people rating their own performance near the top, even if they're holding up the ass-end of the study.  Dumb people don't realize they're dumb, think they're really smart, and think you're an idiot.

1: We make bad connections (mistaking correlation for causation) - When two things happen one after the other, we think the earlier one caused the later one.  Sometimes it did, like shaking the table and knocking over the salt.  But often, we're way off.  There's an apocryphal tale of the mayor who fought to ban ice cream sales because his data showed a correlation between increased ice cream sales and deaths by drowning.  He assumed a causal relationship, and figured that banning ice cream would mean people wouldn't drown--that's what the data showed!  Of course, the data showed a correlation, not a causal link.  Both increases had a common cause--the summer (it's hard to drown in a frozen lake, and no one buys ice cream when it's cold out).  In the example, it's obvious to you the mayor is nuts, but trust me--you do this one all the time.

So the post is a little wordy today, but sometimes, we aim to educate--a bit.  Sort of.  Anyway, back to the usual b.s. tomorrow.  In the mean time, why not leave us a comment, share us with your friends, or like us on Facebook?

(You can also check out some earlier skeptically-minded posts here.)


  1. Seven short paragraphs is not wordy : P

  2. I still think we should ban ice cream. There have been way too many drownings because of it this year

  3. Wait... an elephant is SMALLER than the moon?  Seriously... I wonder how much of this stuff applies to me and I don't even know it...

  4. Best one yet...

  5. On Reddit, someone called me out that the picture I used from Who Wants to be a Millionaire was faked--oops!  It's still really funny...

  6. Brilliant is the word I use.  Brilliant.  

  7. Question everything!  Seriously, if you want your mind blown at how many mistakes you (and most of us) make every day, check out these logical fallacies:  And that's just the tip of the iceberg!

  8. You can feel free to do so in your house.  As for me, I'll be eating plenty of soft serve chocolate dipped this summer.  ...and getting fatter.

  9. Glad you could hang with it!  lol...  I think it seemed longer to me because my first draft was really wordy and required a lot of editing.