Ducking the Dunning–Kruger Effect (Part 2)

"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." - wikipedia (see date of blog post)

From EWaste Whiplash II:  calculator ju-ju
Does this mean that any observation of poor performance is mistaken, or incompetent?  Of course not.  If I'm truly an expert in the geography of central Cameroon, I may well know more about it than the average Mbawa tribesman who has not gone to school.  If you are the most knowledgeable mechanic in your town, you will recognize a "hack".

It just means hacks are bad judges. (you can quote me).

The USITC / MIT study on "ewaste" used surveys to leverage estimates, as predictors.  Respondents were asked to respond to questions with estimates on KNOWN statistics, and the higher the score of the respondent to the undisputed questions, the more weight their estimates of unknown statistics was given.  The best and highest scorer on the MIT survey, of the X00 respondents, based on answers to the known questions, was given an Amazon gift card.  (Ahem, cough-cough, I used it to buy a new camera for Eric Prempeh, our head technician, born in Accra).  The Dunning Kruger effect does not state that opinionated people tend to be ignorant.  Rather, it states that ignorant people tend to be opinionated.

The fact that nations which have been richer for longer have more boxes of stuff makes us more aware of the amount of stuff out there than people in nations which were, until recently, agrarian.  We do know what it's like to have accumulated a lot of "stuff".  That does not necessarily give us an informed opinion about fixing the stuff, or recycling it.

But when other people are more recently becoming aware of the "piles o' stuff", we can be quick to exercise our opinions.  And that can be profitable.
I said TI -45, nitwit!

Having a monolithic stone building in close proximity to a cemetery, for centuries, led to exquisite experience in holding funerals.   From there, it was a short toss to claims of expertise in the afterlife.  And like a mideval priest surrounded by headstones, gasping about the afterlife, we have modern day priestatollahs eager to leverage our cognitive dissonance to establish moral superiority.  Perceived or acknowledged, or merely claimed, superiority is currency.

That is the story of how recycling, scaleable recycling businesses, and regulations intersect.  And regulators, if ignorant of the goings on between circuits in a Texas Instrument calculator, tend to tax the transaction, and to feel increasingly comfortable setting rules about what supply and demand forces are allowed to do with it.

OMG.  The TI 35 has focus materials inside.
OMG.  The focus materials include leaded solder.
OMG.  There are pictures of leaded solder being improperly disposed of on the internet.
OMG.  The TI-35 sold for $56 on, and we don't know what happened to it!

The evolution of the term "#Wastecrime", and rules prohibiting exports of used good IN DEMAND (such as working shrieking hot demand, in 2004, for 17" CRT monitors, and none of those buyers interested one whit in a 1980s television).  Dunning-Kruger Effect?  California SB20 required 17" CRTs to be cracked, releasing the vacuum, prior to export.  Gee, that took care of demand, like requiring lemonade stand vendors to take a piss in every cup at point of sale.

That year, 2004, ten years ago, I co-published a paper with Basel Action Network, on the CRT Glass Test.   It gave us all confidence about exposing a liar who claimed to be recycling glass through an "Ecoglass" machine.  He wasn't, he was exporting most of the CRTs.
Back when TI-45 was Cooler than Ducks
But the people waving photos of children at dumps, allegedly pooling their money to buy junk CRT monitors from the liar, weren't telling the truth either.  And that's where Dunning-Kruger's effect is turned into white-hot certainty... when someone arguing against you is lying.

Two wrongs don't make a right, of course.  But when someone lies, by faking the date on an exported monitor, or lying that the monitor isn't exported, but recycled in "Ecoglass", the Priestatollah's are more certain than ever they are "holier than thou".  Thou, after all, is a liar.

Like learning a child killer has been burned to death as a witch, CBS shrugged.   Scott Pelley doesn't want to waste time admitting he was wrong if the CEO of Executive Recycling is convicted for fraud.  And why split hairs whether Discount Computers was convicted for fraudulent date codes on working monitors, even if none of them was burned as hazardous "e-waste"?  For the Dunning-Kruger Regulators, confirmation bias is a free ride.

You turned him into a newt?
And so CBS and EPA let the witch trials continue, satisfied that the convictions they played a part in were guilty of something or other, and, um, weighed as much as a duck.

In the end, the only experts were engineers at companies like Proview and BenQ and Wistron and Foxconn, who had been buying CRTs for three reasons.
  1. Americans were replacing the CRT monitors by the millions in order to buy flat LCD screens.
  2. The CRTs lasted 5 times longer than the Americans and Europeans used them.
  3. The used CRTs could replace brand new cathode ray tubes on the same assembly lines as contract manufacturing used.
  4. Electricity and television signals were reaching millions more people every month, as rapidly emerging markets created modern cities like Cairo and Lagos and Jakarta and Mumbai and Lima.
  5. The people living in, or migrating to, those cities, were likely to earn about $3,000 per year.  That was massively more than their parents generation earned, giving an impression of progress and affluence.
  6. The growing affluence created a demand for internet and television (sports!) in places that could not afford brand new televisions.

This created opportunities for many people.  BJ Electronics in London.  PT Imtech in Indonesia.   Proview had 14 semiknockdown factories around the globe a decade ago.

So if it floats, it's made of wood... Convicted!

But environmentalists (myself included) weighed in on the "toxic e-waste" and made up a story about what was going on.  Jim Puckett made up a number about the percentage of CRTs that were "actually" "in fact" just dumped and burned for copper.  California believed Jim Puckett and wrote a law, SB20, which created a massive market for demanufacturing and shredding machines.

Because the images of "non-OECD" are as old as the Texas Instruments Calculator.  People who still use the words "Third World" have become the USA's "competent authorities" on the trade between electronics repairpeople.

I have photos of the Lamido in Ngaoundere, Cameroon, from when I lived in Africa in the 1980s.  And some of those photos look like this 1920s photo, below.  But I had to make a real effort to get outside of the city to take a photo like this.   The remote places still exist, but only to the degree they are remote, and that is NOT where the Texas Instruments E-waste calculator goes...

And brands like "E-Stewards" and "R2" were created to leverage the Dunning-Kruger Effect, and to make money from it.  And companies like mine, who paid their Vermont employees too little for years, were forced to pay more money for "certification" or to "qualify and investigate" buyers like Proview.   We then had to send our "proof of downstream diligence" to our clients, who in turn vetted the same downstream companies.

And in the end, who gets put out of business?

Net Peripheral and Good Point Recycling.  The best combination of actual experts in the CRT technology (Net Peripheral's Allen Liu was one of the best CRT engineers in the 1980s, who pioneered display of Chinese and Korean characters via cathode ray gun), and yours truly, a peace corps volunteer, international development major, and former recycling regulator.

We put together, here in Vermont, during the past ten years, the most affordable, highest reuse, most environmentally accountable recycling business I have seen in the USA.

Primum non nocere, or "do no harm", evolved from the study of medicine.  It was key to taking away authority of health from Big Church, from Priestatollahs who took money to say prayers over feverish loved ones.   The church, by surrounding itself with graveyards, and saying prayers for the greatest unknown and greatest cognitive dissonance any of us have - death - had allowed unskilled individuals (holy men) to practice medicine.

We pried the church away from the state after we pried it away from the Universities.  Churches were never too comfortable finding out information in real-time, through day to day discovery, and trying to make sense of past "policy".  So they had to let go, and to confine their prayers to an afterlife where scientists and experimenters could not follow, the way they learned to follow the trail of mercury, fed to the very wealthiest children as a laxative, through the digestive track.

I'm sure books have been written about the mistakes made in medicine, and in engineering, over the past centuries.  And I'm equally sure that little I've exposed via this blog hasn't been enacted in many other realms.  But environmentalism, which I grew up in, is as sacred to me as the truth, and no more sacred.  To the degree that lies are told, and engineers are called primitive children, it has gone too far.

The story in Guiyu, China, is about the Texas Instruments calculator...  Yes, the thirty year old calculator in your dusty box in the attic, the calculator which found its way into a warehouse that looks like a Viet Nam or Afghanistan of dusty obsolete objects...  Who buys it?

The people sorting high end chips in Guiyu China (to replace new chips in new gadgets) are the most likely to know why they paid money for the TI SR-51A.  Why does it sell for $16?  Why does someone in Guiyu, China, want to buy it?  And how do those people, in Guiyu, China, make MORE MONEY per person than they'd make at a manufacturing job in Shanghai?

The old chips have a special value. (FIREHOSE Blog) In part, their value is that they were made before Big Brothers, in Chinese intelligence and at the USA-NSA, knew how to build them with backdoors to track our every move.  Or they have "enough" computing capacity to do something important enough - like light up a digital neon sign, or serve a function in a new clock radio.

Here's a blogger, who gets a little information, and almost gets it... but then has to fit it into a box full of  BAN's lies.  Yes. What happens in Shenzhen is like they say in the first paragraph.  

And yes, even within the industry, I have to listen to people tell me about how they've been "stunt performers all their lives" because they used to get drunk and jump off roofs into swimming pools. Nope, you're just someone who let a need for attention override your self-preservation instincts. Stunt work means spending years developing skills that remove the risk. We're not showing off, we're doing a job, and we have to get ready to get up and do it day after day.

Read more:

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

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