Beer and the Dunning-Kruger effect

This post is a response to fellow beer blogger Mark Johnson’s post ‘Won’t somebody please think of the children?‘ from February 23rd. In summary his message was ‘with beer becoming more popular, you become more accepting and guiding to those discovering good beer for the first time’.

I read the post and responded on Twitter as follows: ‘@MarkNJohnson I guess would be classified as a Kid. Found this a fascinating perspective. Haven’t really done beer chat on Facebook though’

Mark replied with a kind comment, which I appreciated – he basically said I wasn’t a tw*t – (maybe he’ll change his mind after this post) but there was something about this post that has stuck with me and left me pondering ever since. Perhaps it was because I would be considered a ‘kid’ but my journey felt different to the ‘kids’ he’d described in his post. As a result I thought I would write a post in response. Mark gets really personal in his posts which inspired me to be a bit braver in my subject matter as a blogger.

As outlined in the title, allow me introduce the Dunning-Kruger effect. As described in Wikipedia:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which relatively unskilled persons suffer illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than it really is. Dunning and Kruger attributed this bias to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their own ineptitude and evaluate their own ability accurately. Their research also suggests corollaries: highly skilled individuals may underestimate their relative competence and may erroneously assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.[1]

I think this is a fascinating study and outcome. It basically says that there is a spectrum of skilled to unskilled which has an inverse relation to that person’s recognition of their own aptitude.

For me this binary approach appears too basic given there is a huge array of factors that determine a person’s behaviour; personality (itself a huge three dimensional spectrum), intelligence, introversion / extraversion, parenting, education etc. However I think there is some application for the Dunning-Kruger effect in the beer debate at the moment.

For example, is the fact beers that are the strongest and most expensive rated the best on beer review sites because of Dunning-Kruger? That is people are rating this based on strength + cost = good, rather than appreciating the nuances of brewing all manner of beer styles and going it well?

(See @tabamatu blog www.graphedbeer.com for an interesting post on this – http://www.graphedbeer.com/2015/12/using-beer-ratings-as-market-research.html)

I can definitely say the Dunning-Kruger effect holds true for me in my beer journey. I felt I knew the basics to begin with; what the brewing process is, be able to name different styles and recognise different breweries. And based on this you think you understand it all.

But as I’ve become more interested I’ve wanted to know more. I’ve done this in a few ways; trying different styles of beers I’ve never heard of, reading beer books, attending beer festivals, visiting breweries and talking to the brewers, conversing on social media, listening to beer podcasts. This can be a humbling experience for there is an overwhelming amount to learn and understand.

But my view and reflection on Dunning-Kruger is slightly different to how’s it’s formally articulated above – the more I learn and discover the more I realised there is so much more to learn and discover. I’ve always been curious and a bit of a nerd when it comes to things I enjoy.

Some of the things Mark called out in his blog – everyday sexism in beer, rating beer and giving feedback, engaging in debate on Facebook about beer – are all part of understanding parts of the beer scene and debate in this country – one that I’m enjoying finding out more about.

Let me share a quick story. I was at a fascinating panel discussion last Wednesday night at the Bottle Shop in Bermondsey which followed a screening of Original Gravity – a 30 minute film about the London craft beer scene. Following the screening the panel assembled to discuss the future of brewing in London. The strength of views and emotion around the topic was insightful, especially around the question of money. Breweries will need money to fund the expansion required to meet demand for their beers. How important is the view of the drinkers in terms of where that money comes from? This is just one example of a question I don’t have the answer too, but I’m keen to explore.

This is a journey that is just commencing and I look forward to sharing more of it with you. I’ve started blogging and will soon be launching a podcast. And from there, who knows but more on that in future posts.

Author: Michael Lally

London-based Australian blogger, podcaster and wannabe photographer. Looking to tell great stories about the world of craft beer and the have conversations with the people behind the craft beer scene in the UK.

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