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Jack London

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Writers and the Dunning-Kruger Effect - Part 1

Mars isn't in retrograde, nor is it the full moon, so maybe this is just one of those incredibly bizarre weeks.

Why do I say this?

- Alter Ego was berated (again) for writing about married couples who have interesting and fun sex lives. According to this person, married people only have sex when (1) procreating or (2) the wife is satisfying her marital duties. (Um, sorry, sweetie, but there ARE married couples who love having sex with each other. I have too many readers who tell me their personal shit to think otherwise.)

- The Passive Voice posted a screed from a writer that essentially non-disabled people shouldn't write disabled characters because they aren't doing it right. (Damn, I guess I need to stop writing A Modicum of Truth right now! I can't see in the infrared range and I'm not missing a foot so I can't possible know what those conditions are like!)

- One of my books had a review where the reviewer claimed a certain type of firearm doesn't exist (it does) and another type of firearm can't hurt a person (it can, especially in point-blank proximity).

You'd think I'd get used to other people's peccadillos or lack of knowledge. Around a decade ago, one writing judge counted points off my entry, stating there was no such thing as constables in the U.S. (Um, I've received tickets by constables in the Justice Precinct in Texas to which they were duly appointed. I'm pretty the men and their guns were not figments of my imagination.)

Why do people assume their knowledge of a particular subject is superior to the writer's? Or the writer didn't do the appropriate research?

It all goes back to a bank robber.

In 1995, a bunch of Cornell scientists read about a guy named McArthur Wheel. Wheel had learned that lemon juice had been used by spies as invisible ink. He figured if he covered his face in lemon juice, then the security cameras wouldn't pick up his face, and he couldn't be blamed for the bank robberies.

Hell, Wheel even tested his theory by taking a selfie with Polaroid. (Either the film or the camera was defective because Wheel thought his idea had worked.)

Needless to say, the Pittsburgh police asked the local TV stations to run the very clear picture of the bank robber from the security cameras on the eleven o'clock news. By midnight, a tip had been called in and Wheel, to his utter amazement, was arrested.

Wheel's case triggered a series of studies at Cornell University, which resulted in the identification of a condition that is now called the Dunning-Kruger effect. However, this "effect" has been known for millennia. In fact, William Shakespeare said it best in As You Like It:

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.

So if you did your research, then you did your job as a writer. You just need to keep reminding yourself not to respond to criticisms that you know are invalid. Like the mantra, I've been repeating all week:

Don't respond to reviews! Don't respond to reviews!


For additional incentive, repeat the phrase to yourself in the same railroad car rhythm as Dr. Sheldon Cooper's "You forgot your flashdrive."

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