Ducking the Dunning–Kruger Effect (Part 1)

Dunning-Kruger Effect describes a lot of activists on the right and left. The only cures are hindsight, skepticism, humility, and listening. Duck.

We slowly learn that "e-waste dynasty" is really not that special.   It has been a good ride. It brought something new for career recyclers like myself to get excited about, after the goals of universal curbside recycling, recycled content, household hazardous waste collections, and landfill capping and closure became yawn-ho-hum.

And it is indeed important not to squander the carbon embedded in the manufacture of gadgets.  Vital to respect the enormous burden of mining on Earth's habitats. Our demand for copper, silver, gold, zinc, palladium, rhodium, tantalum, and other minerals and metals to make our chips, capacitors and circuits is crushingly important.  

But the "impact" of discarded electronics on landfills and foreign beaches has been overplayed.   The associated toxics are far less newsworthy than "a-waste" (automobiles), original mining of the metals, original manufacture, or even the use and disuse of the electronics during its life.

What "the great e-waste crisis" offered was illusory superiority.  In a vacuum of data and definition, we became our own titles.  We announced ourselves as "non-exporters", or "professionals", or "stewards", or "certified".   We became "Good guys".  Our companies were "Creative", and "Synergistic" and "International" and "Solutions", all competing (for attention and investment) in "solving the e-waste problem".

A new cause is an opportunity to claim expertise as the journalists come looking.  But what were we "experts" in, really, except the "topic" of a new category of scrap?

What do you know, really, about the oldest Texas Instruments calculator in your house?   You've owned it 30 years.  Are you an expert about its end-of-life?  Does the fact that you own it, and the prospective buyer (in China) does not (yet), make you the expert on e-waste?
"The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude.[1] Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding."
"Where Unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority..."  How well does the Dunning-Kruger effect describe rallies to the cause of electronics recycling?

Everyone in the developed world, and billions of people in the emerging world, have something electronic which was worth a lot of money once and now isn't.  It's the "wealth" of "e-waste" haves.  You are a "have",  I'm a "have".  Six billion out of seven billion - the "non-OECD" - have been defined as the "have-nots".   Yet 80% of them are actually "haves" as well.  But if you are looking for a 30 year old "waste" item, like a TI calculator, you better look first among the "haves" of Christmas Past.

We have evolved to save things which we procured at cost.  Our ancestors survived on the reuse of spear-heads, and scavenging biproduct bones.  We are programmed to get value back out of things we have invested in.   But if there's nothing economic to do with it, it just manifests itself as guilt.

Feeling guilty creates a demand for morality... But that's not "expertise".   We didn't know, exactly, how the Texas Instruments calculator worked in middle school, and we have a certain "ju-ju" feeling about it.  It was expensive.  It allowed us to do complicated math.  We could get "As" on tests we would have failed without the gizmo.  And so we saved it in a drawer.   Thirty years later, we find it in a box in the attic.

Nations which have been richer for longer have bigger attics, and more boxes of stuff.   True.  It makes us more aware of the amount of stuff out there than people in nations which were, until recently, agrarian.  Our awareness gives us a lead in the Dunning-Kruger effect.  We were the first to have the "Ah-hah" moment, that we've accumulated too much junk.

So we (rich nations, generators) brand ourselves "e-waste experts".   To get people to respect our new authority, we emphasize risk.  Toxics.   Ghoulish practices.  Ju-ju.  Like an ancient Catholic Priest giving schoolchildren a tour of the cemetery, we can't resist the raised eyebrows of fear.  Like some kind of ethical pervert, we feed on others doubts and moral fears as a form of respect.

As more people add to their moral titles, we see more modifiers, leveraging others fear and doubt.   Like "foremost" and "leading".  Pontificating and writing about the boxes of dusty printers and calculators makes us appear more knowledgeable, and it has been easier to get a story published on "#ewaste" than it is on laundromats or oil change and radiator repair shops (even though both have more toxics involved).

We present, we protest, we blog.  We issue press releases about the importance of the box of dusty objects in others garages.  We issue statements, and place images of small children on websites, to stir doubt and guilt.   If you took your box of stuff to a recycling center, and finally dealt with it, perhaps ... perhaps you did something very, very bad.  You  buried your mother in a secular cemetery, without a priest present, and perhaps she is burning in hell.

Meanwhile, what is the used CRT monitor or TI calculator really doing after you disposed of it?  Turns out, perhaps it is not to the hellish right of Hieronimus Bosch.  Despite what journalist bishops told you....

Real expertise is coming.   Duck.  Duck the hoax.

"They do not know what they are talking about, and are making it up as they go along."  (Best post ever on Slashdot)/., where I first heard reference to the Dunning-Kruger Effect.  Again from wikipedia (date of this post)
David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University conclude, "the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others".[2] - wikipedia 2014-1-5
Dunning and Kruger proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:
  1. tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
  2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
  3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
  4. recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill.[4]
Dunning has since drawn an analogy ("the anosognosia of everyday life")[1][5] with a condition in which a person who suffers a physical disability but because of a brain injury seems unaware of or denies the existence of the disability, even for dramatic impairments such as blindness or paralysis. 

Tomorrow, part 2, photos of the "mighty ducks"... ignorance posing as expertise, with a liberal vengence, crushing black mens fingers in the shredding of dignity with reuse.

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