The Way of the Fool: Pope Francis on Climate Denial Post Irma

September 12, 2017

The way of fools seems right to them,
    but the wise listen to advice.” – Proverbs 12

Apparently there is, indeed, nothing new under the sun, as the writer of Proverbs seems to have been familiar with the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Vox:

As Hurricane Irma, a tempest exacerbated by climate change, ravaged the Florida coast on Monday as a tropical storm, Pope Francis doubled down on his condemnations of those who choose to ignore the mounting evidence of the impacts of global warming.

Responding to questions from an Italian journalist on board his flight home from Colombia, Francis said that the halting response to climate change reminded him of a “phrase from the Old Testament — man is a fool, a stubborn man who will not see”: an apparent reference to Proverbs 12, a section of the Bible that condemns those who resist correction in matters of knowledge.

Later, he added in a more pointed jab at climate deniers: “Anyone who denies [climate change] should go to the scientists and ask them. They speak very clearly … climate change is having an effect, and scientists are telling us which path to follow. And we have a responsibility — all of us. Everyone, great or small, has a moral responsibility … we must take it seriously … history will judge our decision.”

His words were direct, but hardly new. Earlier this month, Francis released a joint statement with Eastern Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew condemning apathy toward environmental issues, criticizing “[our current] morally decaying scenario where our attitude and behavior toward creation obscures our calling as God’s co-operators.”

In that statement, Francis echoed several themes of his papacy, including his deep suspicion of unbridled capitalism and its role in harming the environment, saying: “Our propensity to interrupt the world’s delicate and balanced ecosystems, our insatiable desire to manipulate and control the planet’s limited resources, and our greed for limitless profit in markets — all these have alienated us from the original purpose of creation. We no longer respect nature as a shared gift; instead, we regard it as a private possession. We no longer associate with nature in order to sustain it; instead, we lord over it to support our own constructs.”

Psychology Today:

Try Googling “The Dunning-Kruger President.” New York magazine, Salon, and Politico have recently published articles on that theme. They’re referring to Donald Trump and to the Dunning-Kruger effect, a psychological principle that is becoming a lot better known than it once was.

Named for Cornell psychologist David Dunning and his then-grad student Justin Kruger, this is the observation that people who are ignorant or unskilled in a given domain tend to believe they are much more competent than they are. Thus bad drivers believe they’re good drivers, the humorless think they know what’s funny, and people who’ve never held public office think they’re make a terrific president. How hard can it be?

Dunning and Kruger documented this effect in a number of quantitative contexts. Its first publication, in 1999, bore the memorable title, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.” The authors observed that you need skill and knowledge to judge how skilled and knowledgeable you are. A tone-deaf singer may be unable to distinguish her talent from that of the greatest stars. Why then shouldn’t she believe she’s their equal?

Dunning and Kruger are responsible for one of my favorite charts. They chart competence versus confidence. When you have no expertise whatsoever (far lower left), all rational souls recognize that. As Dunning and Kruger put it, “most people have no trouble identifying their inability to translate Slovenian proverbs, reconstruct a V-8 engine, or diagnose acute disseminated encephalomyelitis.”

dunningkruger

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Those who have the slightest bit of experience think they know it all. That’s the peak at upper left. Then, with increasing experience, people realize how little they do know, how modest their skills are. Perceptions reach a minimum (center of chart), then slant upward again. Those at the level of genius recognize their talent, though tend to lack the supreme confidence of the ignoramus.

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