The Dunning Kruger Effect and my Paleo Journey
Has it ever seemed to you that less competent people rate their competence higher than it actually is, while more competent people humbly rate theirs lower? It’s not just your imagination. This is a genuine cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. And, it’s safe to say I was once living on the high beam of the Dunning Kruger Effect scale.
If you’ve ever poked around my Facebook feed and paid close attention, you’ll find some of my friends are actually in the anti-paleo crowd/ EBM-only crowd. And they aren’t just Facebook friends, I’m going to their conferences and our AHS/Paleofx conferences, too. I bet not many people ever considered why I would do that, someone like me, Founder and Executive Director of the Paleo Foundation FFS.
I can tell you why. Because in 2012, after learning more and more about the gut micro biome (circa FMT) I had come to discover that some grains— specifically oats— were beneficial for some specific types of bacteria like bifidobacterium. The more I realized the importance of the gut microbiota had on overall health, I began to question the Paleo paradigm entirely. During that time, I found myself arguing in favor of grains from a gut micro biome standpoint with the staunch Paleo people in the International Paleo Movement Group which I created, even siding with some of the trolls. This outraged people. I wasn’t toeing the line.
Unfortunately, Karen Pendergrass doesn’t care if you’re outraged. I’m on my own path to discovery.
I went down the path that my entire paradigm may be wrong and to be frank, I learned a lot more about nutrition than I had before. I used to say the same thing about species having specific diets, and not offering room for much nuance. But I realized that many of the arguments we made in this community were predicated on one huge Appeal to Nature Fallacy. This would not do.
But I also knew the Paleo side had merit. I had my own experiences and had seen papers published in support of using the Paleo Diet as an intervention for some illnesses with success. So I began developing theories to put it all into perspective and reconcile both sides, and wrote an article called “The Paleo Diet is Bullshit”. This article helped explains where I think we were both right, and both dead fucking wrong.
And, I nudged up just a smidgen from the bottom of the Dunning Kruger scale. But not far. Down here, I have a healthy respect for science, philosophy, evolution, and knowing that nobody knows jack shit for certain. Too much context makes that an impossible feat.
The Dunning Kruger Effect and Diet Gurus
What I find astonishing , however, is that there is a significant trend among efamous “diet gurus” who have never dipped below “Mount Stupid“, or the left uppermost point of the Dunning-Kruger scale. Steadfast and self-assured, their confidence is abundant, and this is likely a great asset to their success. Unfortunately, from atop Mount Stupid, they are also highly likely to be operating in the harshest conditions of subjective thinking and cognitive bias. From their Ivory Tower built on efame and a fanbase of subjugated onlookers, they may fall if they begin to waver in their self-righteousness in favor of objectivity. They fear becoming less rigid in their rules and thinking. They fear that the fanbase who they have convinced of their superiority may begin to question their authority, should they change their minds without waiting for public opinion to change first.
They wait for others to do the hard lifting. At this point it should be noted that it’s not just about nutrition anymore— it’s about politics. In this regard, these gurus can be damaging to the health and well-being of those individuals who follow the pomp blindly. In my community, I hear advice given to “Paleo harder”, and “Low-Carb Harder”, even to the detriment of the individual to validate and prove that the guru was right. My advice is to “Experiment Harder”… But nobody wants to hear that.
It should be noted that not all diet gurus are like this. Some will make strict rules, broad-stroke generalizations, and strong claims ignoring nuance while other diet gurus will make few claims, and readily admit that they don’t know everything. But rest assured that that which they do claim to know has been carefully, laboriously vetted. Those are the people I choose to follow. They are the real experts. So in order to move to the other side of the scale, you have to pass through the bottom pit.
Has your diet guru done that?