How the Dunning-Kruger effect explains anti-vaccine attitudes

There is a reason why anti-vaxx attitudes are hard to shake, explains a new study.

How the Dunning-Kruger effect explains anti-vaccine attitudes
University of Miami pediatrician Judith L. Schaechter, M.D. (L) gives an HPV vaccination to a 13-year-old girl in her office at the Miller School of Medicine on September 21, 2011 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

People who are against vaccination are a vocal if small group that doesn’t agree with the general scientific consensus that vaccines are safe and do not cause autism. It doesn’t matter to many in that camp more than a dozen studies failed to find a link between the two. How can this be? How can people flatly deny scientific consensus? Enter the Dunning-Kruger Effect, a cognitive bias that a new study uses to explain anti-vaccine policy attitudes. 


What the Dunning-Kruger Effect (DKE) describes is a situation where people who, in fact, know significantly little of a subject actually believe they know more than the experts. “The scope of people's ignorance is often invisible to them,” explained one of DKE’s originators - social psychologist David Dunning. 

A survey carried out by a team led by the postdoctoral researcher Dr. Matt Motta at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center, found that people “low in autism awareness,” who lacked knowledge about basic facts and were keen to believe misinformation, were more likely to believe they knew the topic better than the experts. This “overconfidence,” as the scientists called it, led to the people not supporting mandatory vaccinations policies and exhibiting skepticism about the role of medical professionals in political decision-making.  

By conducting the survey of 1,310 adults, the team led by Matt Mota discovered that 36% thought they knew more than the doctors and 34% claimed to know more than the scientists about the possible causes of autism. The highest degree of overconfidence was shown by those with the lowest knowledge and high levels of endorsing misinformation. They were also more likely to support non-experts (like celebrities) being involved in policymaking.  

If you think anti-vaccine attitudes are no big deal, science shows they have real-world consequences. There is a growing number of pockets of resistance to taking vaccines. Not coincidentally, those same population pockets are the most at risk for the diseases they refuse to prevent. For example, the growth of vaccine skeptics is linked to Minnesota's biggest outbreak of measles in decades during the last year. 

Dr. Peter Hotez, a pediatrician and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, and his colleagues who participated in a study on the subject, explained:

“A social movement of public health vaccine opposition has been growing in the United States in recent years; subsequently, measles outbreaks have also increased,” Hotez and colleagues wrote.

Of concerns are places like Idaho, which has 8 out of the top 10 counties with nonmedical vaccine exemptions, with the other two being in Wisconsin and Idaho. As these kinds of attitudes and exemptions grow, with the conversation hijacked by a small and vocal minority, vaccine resistance and outbreaks are sure to follow.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect was originally described by social psychologists Justin Kruger and David Dunning in 1999.

Check out this TED presentation on the DKE:

You can read the new study in Social Science and Medicine.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
She was walking down the forest path with a roll of white cloth in her hands. It was trailing behind her like a long veil.
Keep reading Show less

NASA finds water on sunlit moon surface for first time

Water may be far more abundant on the lunar surface than previously thought.

Lunar surface

Credit: Helen_f via AdobeStock
Surprising Science
  • Scientists have long thought that water exists on the lunar surface, but it wasn't until 2018 that ice was first discovered on the moon.
  • A study published Monday used NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy to confirm the presence of molecular water..
  • A second study suggests that shadowy regions on the lunar surface may also contain more ice than previously thought.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast