True story. On a fine morning in 1995, McArthur Wheeler and an accomplice robbed two Pittsburgh (USA) banks in broad daylight. Neither man wore a mask or any sort of disguise and often smiled at surveillance cameras while robbing the banks. It didn’t take long before police arrested Wheeler. During interrogation, the police showed him the banks’ surveillance tapes. Wheeler couldn’t believe his eyes and muttered: “But we wore the juice.” Apparently, the robbers were convinced by an expert that rubbing lemon juice on their skin would render them invisible to videotape cameras. After all, lemon juice is used as invisible ink. Wheeler was not crazy or on drugs—just incredibly mistaken and was jailed for many years. How could this have happened?
Almost everyone holds favorable views of their abilities and often mistakenly assesses their abilities as being much higher than they actually are. Pay attention and you’ll notice that 90% of them consider themselves above-average car drivers. About the same percentage of people will tell you that they always show up earlier at their job and leave later than the average co-worker. In case you haven’t noticed, those claims are statistically impossible.
If this bragging was only a macho “snèk-talk”, I guess it wouldn’t be such a problem. Yet, too many people take their favorable views of their abilities a step further. Social media has empowered these idiots to showcase their ignorance to the world and even convince others to believe their nonsense. Someone may watch CNN’s Christiane Amanpour once, but enough to consider himself a geopolitical commentator. Others, without any kind of preparation, have become experts on COVID even going so far as to tell people not to take the life-saving vaccine. They are also convinced the earth is flat, aliens are living amongst us, and reptile people dominate the world. In many cases, these people claim to be experts on multiple fronts, a sort of modern da Vinci or Michelangelo.
What Mr. Wheeler and so many demonstrate is what’s called the “illusion of confidence”. This is different than fake news, but it is equally harmful to society. This dangerous trend leads people to elect those who are good at faking expertise and understanding. It’s for this reason we have put our country in hands of con artists, for which we are still paying a stiff price.
It seems we’ve completely abandoned science and the commitment to reason and facts. Unfortunately, we live in an era where ignorance more frequently begets confidence than knowledge does.