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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Are you smarter than you think or dumber than others around you? HINT: The answer is yes.

I used to write a popular magazine column about nothing. It was just my musings of life and items that caught the general interests of my readers. One of it's best features was a section I called "Dumb Crooks." That section drew the most mail from all over the world. Seems people just love to hear and share true stories that are funny and hard to believe.

There was a story about a man who, without a mask or any disguise, robbed two banks. When quickly apprehended, he was incredulous as to how the police recognized him. He was under the belief that if he rubbed his face with lemon juice, it would make him invisible to surveillance cameras. It didn't.

Dumb crooks most often don't know they are dumb. But then, many times, neither do some of us. That condition--being not as smart as we think we are--is known scientifically as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

As Wikipedia simplifies it, "The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher that it
really is... Research also indicated high-ability individuals may underestimate their relative competence and may erroneously assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others."

The pattern of over-estimating (or underestimating) competence was seen in diverse skills such as reading comprehension, practicing medicine, strategic game playing and driving. In comprehensive tests with undergraduate students in psychology courses at Cornell University, Dunning and Kruger examined student self-assessment of logical reasoning skills, grammatical skills, and humor. After being shown their test scores, the students were asked to estimate their own rank in class. Most noted was that students who were about to get Ds and Fs thought they had turned in B or better work.

"Across four studies," the authors found that "participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performances and ability. Although test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd."

Also learned: students of high ability tended to underestimate their relative competence. Participants who found tasks to be easy, erroneously presumed that the tasks also must be easy for others thus assuming others were as competent, if not more competent, than themselves.

The conclusion: The smartest don't give themselves higher marks. The less learned don't know that they are and make statements they regard as just as profound. Belief of the listeners is whatever it is by who is listening.

Best news though,  a follow-up study suggests that grossly incompetent students improved their ability to estimate their rank after minimal tutoring in the skills they had previously lacked, regardless of the improvement gained in skills.

See, education is always good.

Isn't it sad that in the United States, we chose to prioritize more dollars to punish and incarcerate criminals, build walls and prioritize the wants of our congressmen who spend to get reelected than to educate youth at every level under all circumstances for the enrichment of our future.

NOTE: There are other writings such as THE STORY OF  STUPIDITY: A History of Western  Idiocy from the Days of Greece to the Moment You Saw this Book, by James F. Welles, Ph.D. that are interesting and/or fun to read as we learn why we are often so gullible, but that's today when all of us seem to be living in a stupider world and believing in most things we see in social media and hear elsewhere.

 Special Bonus section:
Dumb Crooks from my past

     In Chicago, a man brandished a gun as he held up a store. As he pulled the magazine out of his gun to show the store manager it was loaded, the gun discharged, shooting the crook’s finger completely off. The gunman regaining his composure, fled with a television set and five bucks
      Police used the finger to get a print that helped find and convict the robber.

     Of all the great dumb crook stories, the strangest is of Yugoslavian Siamese twins Ennio and Mario Borovac. The 35-year-old brothers were joined at the stomach and chest and shared vital organs. Unfortunately, they also shared breathing space, and Mario had bad breath.
     Ennio tried and tried to tell Mario to do something about his breath, but Mario simply wouldn’t brush his teeth! Mario finally got tired of the lectures and slapped Ennio in the face. Ennio plotted his revenge. He got a gun and shot his brother. Twenty minutes later, Ennio bled to death.
     The police belatedly charged Ennio with first-degree murder–although shooting his brother was technically a suicide.

     In a bumbling rampage that covered three square miles of southwest Houston, Texas, and lasted only an hour, a crook later nicknamed “Lucky,” robbed a McDonald’s, ran to a nearby auto parts store and took a hostage, shot at a police officer, released the hostage and grabbed a second hostage with a car, forced the him to drive to a condominium complex, kicked open a door, got into a gunfight with one resident, tried to steal another car but couldn’t get past the complex’s electronic security gate, ran to a nearby Dairy Queen, tried to commandeer a meat truck, was beaten and disarmed by the truck driver, escaped by running into a residential area and began jumping fences, landed in one backyard where he was attacked by a terrier, jumped another fence and landed in a yard where he was attacked by a pair of German shepherds, managed to get away from the German shepherds but was taken into custody by police and charged with six felonies.
     Still think you’re having a bad day?

     One dumb crook is the good driver who was leading police on a high-speed chase through suburbia. Skillfully, the police stayed on his tail despite the crook’s twists and turns and daring evasive action.
     How were police able to stay with him? Good driving? Luck? Maybe a combination of both— and the fact that the escapee, like every good driver, properly used his turning signals for each and every 100-mph turn.

     An East Coast burglar loves shiny shoes. Sometimes he polishes his shoes two or three times a day. He was convicted after evidence showed he paused during a burglary long enough to shine his shoes, leaving his can of shoe polish and a personalized rag behind.
When asked by his public defender, “You almost have a fetish about your shoes don’t you?” the man answered, “Yes, I do.”
    If the shoe fits…

     A prisoner spent two days “highlighting” his body (private parts and all) with yellow marker pens in an attempt to convince his warden that he had a severe case of jaundice. He wanted a transfer to a hospital where he could escape more easily.
     He almost got away with it until one night a guard caught him coloring his face.

     A man who robbed a liquor store with a shotgun told the clerk to give him the bottle of scotch he saw on the back counter. The clerk refused because he didn’t believe the crook was 21. The robber quickly whipped out his driver’s license to prove the fact. The clerk, satisfied, put the scotch in a bag, and the robber left happy–until the police showed up at the address listed on the driver’s license and arrested him.

     A Filipino man must have learned his crime skills by watching Wyle E. Coyote. On a flight to Manila, he donned a ski mask and swimming goggles, then pulled a gun and a hand grenade announcing he was hijacking the plane. When the pilot convinced him that the plane was low on fuel, the hijacker decided to simply rob the passengers. With $15,000 in loot, he ordered the pilot to lower the plane to 6,500 feet. He strapped on a homemade parachute and told the attendant to open the door. The hijacker had trouble getting through the door with his parachute on, so the attendant helped by pushing him out. Before leaping, he had pulled the grenade’s pin and mistakenly tossed it back into the plane. Clutching the live grenade to his chest, he blissfully sailed back to earth. Well, almost back, that is.

*Reprinted with permission.

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