Lessons In Eve: Dunning-Kruger


Header art by Major Sniper

We can learn many lessons from EVE Online. I do not mean we can learn about what a module does what under specific circumstances or such like “learnings.” I mean that EVE Online can teach us about ourselves and others. So, as a little detour from the stories of New Eden, let’s venture to the more academic. Today we will learn about the “Dunning-Kruger effect,” with New Eden-based examples.

Dunning-Kruger defined

Let’s establish some common ground first. The “Dunning-Kruger effect” is a term used to describe a cognitive bias in which an individual greatly over estimates their knowledge and/or ability in some domain of life. This may seem a little familiar to some of you, as it is a condition that is rife.

How this over-estimation comes about does make sense. People do stuff and they think they’re great at it. Note: You only get to really spot the “Dunning-Kruger effect” when people are doing things, especially those things which require confidence and desire. Now I would say that people doing things is actually a good thing. But I would question following someone who had already displayed their proclivity to the Dunning-Kruger effect, especially if they are not inclined to learn lessons of the past.

Examples from New Eden

Imagine stating that for many months, during the largest online gaming war to date, you are the most experienced bloc FC in the game. You then light the worst-placed cyno in the history of EVE Online that leads to the largest defeat ever in New Eden. Dunning-Kruger.

Or imagine yourself an S-Tier theory crafter. You could devise the next “big thing” in spaceship meta. With this you introduce the “prop-less Abbadon” which saw some action in the recent Beeitnam War. However, the great new thing proved less than great, even when compared with some of the other disasters fielded by PAPI. Dunning-Kruger.

Perhaps the best example can be seen when someone predicted the outcome of certain complex systems. One could, say, I’ll fix the economy that has had a number of pre-existing problematic issues. But with total confidence they buff the Rorqual into the mightiest of mining ships and also introduce skill injectors. With that “fix” you declare the job done and put aside the concerns of your customers. Dunning-Kruger.

These are only a few to give you a feel for what to look out for. To find more you don’t need to look far, either in New Eden or real life.

Spotting the Difference

It is easy to be misled if you rely too heavily on the “Dunning-Kruger effect” as being the cause of all foolishness you may see. At times it is simply dishonesty wrapped in incompetence.

For instance, imagine that someone knew the plan that they were executing was bad, and were simply deflecting blame for the sake of time. Perhaps they had a business model that they had seen before that they liked, but knew their current player base would not like it as much. Then you could simply bumble about a bit and get the players used to a certain state of the economy. Once that state had normalized, at least in your opinion, then you could throw the player base a carrot or two. The carrots are not carrots but players are told that they are. You could actually tell the player base they are stupid for not recognizing a carrot when they see one.

Luckily for the community of New Eden, we are not completely stupid. So, when we see some state that Jita cannot have more than 4000 players in the system while the in-game chat shows more than 6700, we know something is up. Especially when we, the consumers, are being told that nothing is wrong with the product except that the players are being stupid and irrational. Dunning-Kruger? NO! Plain dishonesty. Either the claims of ‘only 4000’ are false, or there is something wrong with the product.

Just a Bad Day?

Sometimes it can just be a bad day that leads you to making a statement that seems to counter the general consensus. For instance you could read this: “prices will continue to go down as inventories shrink, and supply and demand start catching up.” Upon reading that, you might get the impression that the author knew something about economics. In reality, they got some words mixed up or did not quite present the concept in the right way. Shrinking inventory causes prices to go down? Don’t tell Adam Smith!

But then you may see someone write something like this: “anyone going down to the Jita thing should be fucking ashamed of themselves; its fucking stupid and playing directly into bad changes.” You may well wonder why a player representative would be so scathing and still so cryptic. No reason given for why going to Jita would be stupid. Dunning-Kruger? Decide for yourself.

The key to Dunning-Kruger doesn’t lie in self-confidence, but in misplaced self-confidence. This is something I have seen many times over the years with FCs. There have been many entertaining FCs that lack ability once they get to a certain level. They reach the limits of their experience and/or ability. The trouble is that the scale can become so large that foolhardy action actually becomes damaging.

People need to do some risk assessment and risk mitigation. To take no risks means to do nothing and that is never the right way. So, even if you do think you are inclined to the Dunning-Kruger effect, just plan a bit better and maybe get some decent advice before you speak. Make sure that the steps and objectives you make are well defined. Even better, do things you have practiced and know you can do.

In Conclusion

So there we have it. Now off you go into the wilds of New Eden and you can find your own examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Just try not to be the example. You can even tell us your Dunning-Kruger stories in the comments. Nothing like a good story of bravado coupled with ineptitude.

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  • Rammel Kas

    So how does this compare to the concept of clever fools?

    November 22, 2021 at 8:41 AM
    • Moomin Amatin Rammel Kas

      I think, depending on the definition used, that a “clever fool”/”wise fool” is one who is correct while displaying foolish characteristics as the norm. So I giuess your instance would be the antithesis to mine.

      There seems to be a bit of variance with the phase and use over the years has also morphed a bit. For the Imperium I would say that DaBigRedBoat is by far our greatest “wise fool”,

      November 22, 2021 at 6:10 PM
      • Rammel Kas Moomin Amatin

        I’d agree Boat is a lot more the wise fool than a clever fool. He has coup d’oiel abilities far beyond the normal. But even if he has replete knowledge of the subject matter he does ask questions and almost never directly lets on how much he actually mastered already. Almost like a facade of the jester.

        Clever fool would to my understanding be a very foolish individual who has at least read a thing somewhere and much like your examples fancy their take on things… leading to disasters or comedy when they try to show for the crowd.

        Don’t know if there are more modern interpretations on these. It’s been a while.

        November 23, 2021 at 12:41 PM
  • Guilford Australis

    Progodlegend is a case study in Dunning-Kruger. He truly believed his “theorycrafting prowess” would allow him to defeat the Imperium’s supercapital armada with frigates and destroyers during Beeitnam. He boldly predicted INIT and Bastion would leave the Imperium. He said Goonswarm was “kind of looking for the door” despite our promise to stay in Delve forever. He said every Legacy alliance would receive space in Delve, Querious, Period Basis, and Fountain after his glorious conquest resulting in Legacy controlling half of nullsec.

    None of that happened.

    This guy is an absolute nutso-bonkers moron who has no concept of his own ineptitude because he’s too stupid to see it for himself. That is the pure, distilled essence of Dunning-Kruger.

    I work with a lot of PGLs in real life. They’re absolutely insufferable.

    November 22, 2021 at 1:14 PM
    • Moomin Amatin Guilford Australis

      Yet Piggles is still not the one who lit the main cyno in M2-X. That honour goes to Vily.

      November 22, 2021 at 5:51 PM
    • PGL is an example of something I have run into quite often on the course of a varied career. He’s someone who thinks that because he’s good at one thing (he’s really quite a good subcap FC, and for all I know perfectly competent in his career as well) that he must necessarily be good at everything else.

      You run into this a lot with lawyers (even more so doctors and engineers). They are simply conditioned to believe that they’re the smartest person in the room, regardless of subject or environment.

      Then, when you try and explain to a doctor that no, his PC isn’t “defective”, he did actually enter his password incorrectly, or to an engineer that no, Libertarianism isn’t the perfect optimisation to societal issues, the shouting starts.

      November 24, 2021 at 9:17 PM
      • Susurrus Synaesthesia Malcanis

        As a physician, I am obliged to protest at the sweeping generalization (as much as I agree with it)! I think highly trained/educated individuals are much less likely to fall prey to the Dunning-Kruger effect and much more likely to just be arrogant or narcissistic for a variety of reasons. But that is a much longer conversation.

        November 27, 2021 at 5:47 PM
  • Elithiel en Gravonere

    “We only have to win once!” Those words have stuck in my brain as the worst possible Dunning Kruger effect. How many times did PAPI throw themselves onto the woodchipper and die in their hundreds against our last constellation in the failed stupid belief that if they sent one more wave of fools over the trenches, just one more time, the machine guns won’t mow them down and they’ll somehow break through?

    November 24, 2021 at 5:48 AM
    • Not to mention the mentality of “OK all those other systems they lost just made them more determined but THIS is the one that will break the Imperium’s morale!”

      November 25, 2021 at 10:11 AM
  • Intel Channel

    Speaking of the worst-placed cyno in the game, do we know if the cyno pilot (PGL himself?) had fighters on his overview or not? Either way, it was a poor decision, but I cannot see how anyone would allow hundreds of people to jump their most expensive assets into a wood chipper like that.

    December 20, 2021 at 7:36 PM