The Dunning Kruger Effect and the Automotive Enthusiast

One of the most infuriating things about being a Motorsports professional and an Engineer in the performance domain, especially if you are also a media guy who does a lot of material intended to educate is the large amount of internet “experts” out there who attempt to publically shout you down and tell you how dumb you are.  These people want to arrogantly tell you just how wrong you are.  What is a nearly universal thing is that these people are arrogant and condescending, even if you have thoroughly explained it using scientific principles.   MotoIQ READERS are not bad at all, the theory is perhaps that people who bother to read are probably older and smarter.   However, the people who comment on our YouTube channel are often worthy of the triple facepalm.

I think a lot of people that are into cars, fall into the first quadrant of the Dunning-Kruger curve. The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias whereby people with low ability, expertise, or experience regarding a specific subject greatly overestimate their ability and/or capability and knowledge. Part of the Dunning Kruger study also shows the opposite effect for actual experts, that they tend to underestimate or downplay their skills. This is probably because true experts see learning as a lifelong process and they are always open to learning new things.

The Dunning-Kruger effect was first published by social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger in 1999. Their study focused on logical reasoning, grammar, and social skills. After that other studies have been conducted on other subjects like business, politics, medicine, driving, aviation, spatial memory, examinations in school, and literacy.  When you see the spelling and grammar of those who flame us you can understand the literacy part!

The Dunning–Kruger effect is often wrongly thought to be about the overconfidence of people with low intelligence instead of the overconfidence of people unskilled at a particular task.  The research done by Dunning and Kruger supported this but my opinion is different, unfortunately, although the car world attracts some pretty intelligent people, like your typical MotoIQ reader, it also attracts, probably a majority, of real meatheads.

I think that a lot of car people have a hard time differentiating between their opinion and actual fact.  This is super obvious when you see comments from some of our videos that attempt to dispel myths about building cars.

If you check out the comments here, you will see some real examples of facepalms.  If you attempt to show the naysayers that they are wrong, never mind that you can cite laws of physics, thermodynamics, and fluid dynamics, they will attempt to shout you down by saying things like “That’s theoretical bullshit”.  Like no this isn’t theory, it’s fact that has been proved via the scientific method over 100 years ago and is taught to any 2nd year engineering student around the world.


  1. Unfortunately many, many people never reach the point of realizing “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” One can pretty quickly spot these types from miles away (correction: MILES AWAY), both in person and in message boards/comment sections. They make it a point of pride to bring you down to their level and “outwit” you with inarguable logic.

    Time permitting, even more laughs are possible once you appear to inquisitively agree and test to see how deep the rabbit hole goes. “Yeah maybe you are onto something. I’ve thought maybe the exhaust valves can be made even smaller for more cushioning effect with high horsepower engines. Do you think if I just used a bigger crankshaft damper, engines could have even more combustion cushioning effect?”

    On second thought, you have an well deserved professional reputation (aka CREDABILITY) to uphold. As entertaining as engaging with armchair experts is, I’d rather MotoIQ continue creating interesting and fact (FACT!) based quality content rather than wasting time addressing trolls. In summary, there’s no helping those who don’t want to be helped, so keep on making awesome content instead!

  2. What an asshat!

    In my experience it’s really hard to explain science to anyone over a message board without knowing exactly what there level of understanding is. When I was in school 10 odd years ago I had to take a class called engineering communication to learn how to communicate with non engineering majors in industry. On its face seemed its seemed horrendously boring but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realize it has helped me tremendously. Most people don’t think like engineers and therefore can’t connect the dots between multiple facets of an engineering problem or do some from a completely different direction.

    I think it would have helped to make your point if you reiterated that when designing a cylinder head automakers have a fixed amount of space to work with to fit valves. This bit of context is obvious to you, but not likely a consideration of the asshat in his brain dead rant. When coupled with your info on the Otto cycle curve it provides a better picture of why you want a larger intake valve. Ie having the valves be the same size in the same head would make the intake valve smaller and exhaust valve larger than it needs to be.

    You can’t fix stupid with smart.

    Been a motoIQ reader for 10+ years and personally love that your content dives so deep. As always keep up the amazing work!

  3. Hey Mike and team,

    I’ve been an avid reader of your site for many years now

    Sorry that you’ve got a bad apple giving you shit; we love your content and let us know how we can continue to support you

    1. It’s just amazing how some people are since I don’t understand what you are saying, it’s not true. It is the fault of our education system and the self-esteem movement.

  4. Ahh yes, the “Thats just engineering and math, not real proof” argument.

    Hard part is these people also scream loudest spreading their misunderstandings of fundamental principles.

  5. Mike, that was absolutely entertaining. thank you for sharing. I learned many years ago from you, Jim, Clark, and Mike S. that I learned only enough to be dangerous. And the more I learned and understood, The more I realized what I do NOT know. I feel I am somewhere still climbing that slope on enlightenment with steadiness and balance for cars and life in general! thank you for MotoIQ!

  6. I’m not sure about the contribution from what you’re calling the self esteem movement – simply because I see this same sort of magical thinking from boomers and Xers just as much as folks my age and younger. But definitely people get too much ego wrapped up in being “right” vs trying to actually figure out what makes sense.

    1. My wife is a teacher and they were told to improve students’ self-esteem, it’s been a thing in education, everyone’s opinion is important, everyone gets a trophy, and we are all winners, it’s a thing. My wife says it’s a problem in American education, that’s her opinion.

      1. I wasn’t trying to say anything about that education trend existing or not; I’m an engineer, not a teacher, and while my wife teaches, she hasn’t really been in long enough to have the same perspective on changes over the years. I was only trying to say, I see a lot of the same failure to think things through from folks who weren’t in school at any time in the last few decades… and for that matter, some pretty sharp younger-20s folks.

  7. Reminds me of the time a guy tried to argue that my NACA duct for my S2000 wasn’t used correctly, that NACA ducts only worked to extract air.

  8. Man Mike, you hit the nail on the head.
    I’ve seen this for decades in different field, so it isn’t just an automotive thing.
    LoL, the bible addresses this in Proverbs 9:8, and again in Proverbs 23.9.
    “Don’t try to teach an idiot, they will hate you for it”.

  9. Never argue with a dumbass. They’ll just drag you down to their level and beat you at being stupid! You really found the Mt Everest of stupid with that one. Back pressure is a fight I pick every time. I’ll keep this article in mind next time that comes around.

  10. Just wow… I’ve always said the difference between your average parts swapper and a technician is being able to actually diagnose a problem. You do this by using various tools and in my case a multimeter (commercial kitchen equipment repair). An engineer can actually use math and physics to explain why. I work as a technician and have never claimed to actually understand how the science works. Some people just want to think because they read an article on it once that they know how the world works. Ignorance combined with arrogance are my least favorite kind of people. Keep up the good work Mike!

  11. It has been said opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one!

    But opinions are not facts or they would be called facts!

    Facts are established truths.

    Conversationally, it’s the difference between saying “I know for a fact” or I have an opinion or a belief something may be true!

    One is factual because it is scientifically proved. The other is unproved!

    In short, facts and evidence are really the only reasons for anyone to believe anything is true!

    Thank you, Mike!

  12. Some people you just can’t argue with. When it reaches a certain point I just agree and walk away. I’m usually in the mindset that I know less than a good amount of people in a room so usually go into a conversation very open minded. Not one of this guy’s arguments made any sense whatsoever.

    It’s funny, I just learned about the Dunning Kruger Effect last week talking about certain places selling horribly designed parts and people buying them in large numbers.

    1. It’s pretty interesting. I was wondering if just car and gun guys were like this, then I discovered this study and was ah ha!

  13. Hey Mike,

    Long time no speak. This isn’t really a generational thing, as is it as much of thing of intelligence: It runs out with most people and they get convinced they’re right.

    I I remember correctly we talked about netscape (getting old) and that in beginning of the internet only educated people where on there. Nowadays with smartphones everybody on there whether you like it on not.

    As a tip that you honestly need in your life: Try watching “Idiocracy”. It’s a 2006 movie made by Mike Judge of Beavis & Butthead fame. It will explain a lot.

    And fear not: It’s the same everywhere: It’s over here in Europe as well. Gone are the days of netscape and forums….

    1. Most of these types of personalities never make it past the peak of mt stupid. Then they develop a cult of personality and get followers and start conspiracy theories about why they are being held back for not towing to convention.

  14. You have the patience of a saint. The fact that you could even go back and forth for that long without punching a wall, while giving detailed responses is astonishing.

  15. Not an engine engineer here, but I guess you could have
    tried another reason to explain why the valves are not bigger is because of diminishing return and added weight for bigger valves. At some point the increase in volumetric efficiency by having a bigger valve would be overweighted by the added mass of the bigger valves increasing valvetrain power consumption. And probably many other factors, including cost of manufacturing bigger valves which is a big factor for manufacturers.

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