Alternative health, Dunning Kruger and the Tuteur Corollary


I’ve spent the last few days wrangling with anti-vaxxers on the Skeptical OB Facebook page. I wasn’t arguing with them since a doctor can no more argue immunology with anti-vaxxers than a mathematician can argue calculus with a four year old. Neither knows enough to come to grips with the actual subject.

Most four year olds would be quick to tell you that they don’t understand calculus, but most anti-vaxxers aren’t nearly so self aware. As victims of the Dunning Kruger effect, they actually think they know what they are talking about.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The Tuteur Corollary: If they don’t understand it, it must be a plot to harm them.[/pullquote]

The Dunning Kruger effect explains why those who know the least about a particular topic — health, for example  —actually believe they know the most. They simply don’t know what they don’t know. According to Dr. Dunning:

What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.

But it seems to me that there is a corollary to Dunning Kruger — I’m going to call it the Tuteur Corollary — that applies to advocates of alternative health in general and anti-vaxxers in particular.

I’ve noticed that when bad things happen to people, they can be roughly sorted into two groups: those who look at the untoward event they don’t understand and ask, “How did this happen?” and those who look at the exact same event and ask, “Who did this to me?” In other words, those with a modicum of knowledge want to understand — and assume they will be able to understand — what happened; in contrast, those who lack basic relevant knowledge (and often basic logic as well) assume that if they don’t understand something bad, it must be because someone, generally a corporation or government entity, is trying to harm them.

Simply put, the Tuteur Corollary to Dunning Kruger as is this:

Those who lack relevant knowledge look at what they don’t understand and imagine nefarious deeds.

For example:

Those who don’t understand basic immunology obviously don’t understand how vaccines work. Dunning Kruger leads them to conclude that vaccines don’t work; the Tuteur Corollary impels them to explain the world-wide consensus of immunologists, pediatricians and epidemiologists on the efficacy of vaccines as a world-wide plot to boost the fortunes of Big Pharma.

Those who don’t understand basic statistics obviously don’t understand that the apparent increase in the incidence of autism can be attributed to better diagnosis and expanded classification. Dunning Kruger leads them to insist that autism is an epidemic; the Tuteur Corollary leads them to conclude that corporations, with the blessing of government, are deliberately causing autism.

Those who don’t understand basic chemistry obviously don’t understand that a chemical that is dangerous in its elemental form, like mercury, is not dangerous when a component of a chemical compound, thimerosal. Never mind that there are many examples in every day life: elemental sodium is exposive; sodium chloride (table salt) is beloved as a seasoning for food. That’s Dunning Kruger. The Tuteur Corollary is responsible for the nonsensical belief that Big Pharma once added an expensive chemical to its vaccine preparations for no therapeutic reason and intended to poison children.

Those who don’t understand the scientific method obviously don’t understand that a single scientific citation (or even a dozen) that they’ve never read is not an argument against vaccination, especially when compared with the literally tens of thousands of papers that demonstrate the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Dunning Kruger leads them to assume that they are more educated about vaccines that those with PhDs in immunology. The Tuteur Corollary forces them to conclude that the entire scientific, medical and public health communities are deliberately ignoring all the fascinating data on and NaturalNews that seems so compelling to them.

Dunning Kruger explains why those who know the least are most likely to fall prey to alternative health charlatans. The Tuteur Corollary explains why they abandon common sense to conclude that quacktress Suzanne Somers is more dedicated to curing their cancer than their own oncologists, that people peddling worthless miracle diets and cures and less interested in profit than doctors, and that the vaccine conspiracy is so massive and so dastardly that doctors, pharma execs and public health officials are willing to inject their own children with vaccines in order to maintain the deception.

It’s bad enough that we live in Dunning Kruger nation where variety of very loud “confident idiots” actually think they know more than the experts in their respective fields. What’s worse it that we appear to be living in a nation where such ignorance is enshrined in our values.

As Dr. Dunning explained:

Some of our most stubborn misbeliefs arise … from the very values and philosophies that define who we are as individuals. Each of us possesses certain foundational beliefs — narratives about the self, ideas about the social order—that essentially cannot be violated: To contradict them would call into question our very self-worth.

When it comes to healthcare, large groups of Americans now rest their self worth on the twin delusions that stupidity is knowledge and if you don’t understand it, it must be a plot to harm you.