Part 2 B- More on Dunning-Kruger

Ok so people are little confused about the Dunning-Kruger effect discussed in the original part 2 of this series so I wanted to explain some more. The idea behind the DK effect is that sometimes a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous as it can cause us to tunnel vision and ignore lots of other things that are going on. The end result of this is that we are “less good” at whatever task is being evaluated than we THINK we are because we aren’t considering the whole picture.


A simple illustration of this is people shouting at the TV when a sporting event is going on. The people at home shouting are

-not professional athletes

-not professional coaches


They aren’t these things because… wait for it… they aren’t as good as the people on TV. Why aren’t they as good? Because they don’t know things. Lot’s of casual sports fans love this ignorance- its easy to bloviate and have opinions, and there isn’t really a penalty for being wrong.


A figurative and literal representation of this is the way most TV channels film football. When the ball is snapped and the quarterback drops back to pass they zoom in on just him/the defensive line so that is all you see. The QB then holds the ball for 2-4 seconds and gets sacked, what happens? Everyone watching explodes “why didn’t you throw the ball!”. See, throw the ball- brilliant eh? I bet he didn’t think of that…


But, of course he did. The QB has a WIDER range of vision than the fan watching at home and crucially can see the “coverage”, ie whether or not any receivers are open and if throwing a pass risks an interception. So do you see what has happened here

-at home observers LITERALLY can’t see the whole game, and make conclusion A

-expert who can see the whole game decides conclusion B


So here you can see why the at home observer might make a mistake (or make it repeatedly) because they are operating on a limited perspective- they only see part of the game. In HS at football practice for a week we once watched a like 8 hour video of Vince Lombardi explaining the half back option. You wouldn’t think there would be 8 hours of material in something like that… The amount of minutia was mind blowing but at one key point he was discussing the guard pull ( I was a a guard) and talked for like 20 minutes on when to turn your head. The basic jist of it is that you wanted to time it to signal to the defense you were doing one thing, when in reality you were doing another thing. I did this perfectly in practice which impressed a coach and got me put into a varsity game. At this point I was quite pleased with myself and casually ignored everything else I had seen in the video. Unfortunately the other team had apparently also seen this video, and the end result of them being smarter and much bigger than me was basically this. As I laid on the ground wondering why on earth I was doing this, I realized this was not the first time I had found myself laying on the ground struggling to breathe in football. I went to a small HS so it was easy to make the team, I didn’t really pay attention to the coaches cause I generally considered them to be bing bongs, and our team kind of sucked. Where these things related?

A direct debate analogy to this could most closely be drawn I think to the “link turn”. Everyone learns early on in debate that there are two kinds of offense you can put on a disad- link or impact turns- and that link turns are… harder. I don’t mean this in the sense of “this card is more difficult to read” I mean that link turns are often very hard for novice debaters to conceptualize because of the uniqueness component. This is why so many debate instructors spend time drawing on the board images of people close to cliffs and what pushes them over- they know from experience the difficulty of grasping the link turn.

So imagine if you will that not knowing conceptually that you need a uniqueness card is the equivalent of constraining your vision to only the field immediately around the quarterback- there are important things going on elsewhere that you can’t see, and these affect the decisions you should be making.


What are some other examples of simple conceptual “holes” debaters often have

-not understanding theory offense vs defense

-not understanding how PICs change the way you have to answer a disad

-missing the way cps interact with certain arguments to be or not be a net benefit


These are all “big” misunderstandings in the sense of they could determine the outcome of the debate. They are also sort of “light bulb” moments in that once someone understands fully theory offense/defense they generally don’t make that mistake again.



These examples are the best I can think of in terms of clarity: there is a piece of information missing, that piece is important and affects who wins or loses, but you don’t really need examples. If you

-lose constantly

-never take responsibility/blame other things


then you are probably getting DKed pretty hard. The specifics don’t matter as much-what its about/how its happening- what is important is how we move forward and overcome this effect. I am going to start at the very, VERY basic fundamentals here of determining who wins or loses a debate so try not to skip ahead and rely on what you think you know already (because that is the problem).


So take a video of a debate where there is a judge (preferably a panel) and watch/flow it. This in and of itself is hard for many people. A big thing about becoming good at poker is forcing yourself to stay engaged, to always be paying attention with the same level of intensity to hands you are not involved in to hands you are involved in. Debaters have a lot of trouble with this- if they are debating they are 100% all in, but if they are watching you get like… 40 percent. While watching a debate you don’t get to flex your speaking skills, but you can practice just about everything else.


After each speech ask yourself a series of questions

-what were the strengths of this speech

-what were its weakenesses

-what were good/bad arguments

-how was time allocation

-how was the speaking- clarity, organization etc


Think about these questions and write down your answers. As each speech goes try and think about how they interact. So for example if your 1AC notes were


-adv 1 good

-adv 2 bad

-solvency evidence meh


How would you take advantage of that?

-attack solvency

-lots of answers on adv 1

-fewer on adv 2


Pretty straightforward. If the neg misses this/does something different, write it down. Why did they do this? Can you figure out a good reason or is it all bad? Keep going back and forth as the debate progresses trying to decide what is good/what is bad, but on a micro level. When the debate is over try and use this information to produce a good RFD and write an outline/even practice giving it. Then watch the judges decision.


Did you see things the same way? If all 3 saw it differently that indicates a problem with you/how you saw the round. If all 3 judges saw things differently then that indicates a problem with the DEBATERS and how they argued the round. Think about the interactions between choices the debaters made and how they turned out. They focused on X in the 1AR but then 2 judges were like “lol nope x is silly”-don’t just say oh they messed up. Think about the round- where there indications this was a bad move? Could they have done it better and won or was it a lost cause?


Its really hard at camp when students watch debates to get them to write a good ballot and think it through. I used to do an activity that IMO is one of the most helpful where we watched a debate and then spent hours walking through the process of how to make a decision generally and how it would work in this specific debate. Kids hate that. Kids like rebuttal redos. .Kids like rebuttal redos because they have been DKed into narrowing their vision to the point where they think the rebuttal is all that matters/is the most important. You can see this with a lot of things in debate- some instructors overemphasize something (impact calc) to the point of absurdity (impact calc tournament) and then are shocked when students get up and give an overview like


“1% risk of our disad means you vote negative because nuclear war turns dehumanization….”


Once this obsession with impacts is incepted into their minds it is pretty difficult to get them to stop. So what do we do? Stop teaching impact calculus? I’d be for it but I’m guessing I’m in the minority on this one. The impact calc tournament is a response strategy. Many students aren’t doing ANY impact calc, so you over correct and go the other direction and hope that they meet you in the middle. In essence, not giving impact calc is a form of… wait for it… DK.

It's A Trap! | Know Your Meme


The solution to the DK problem is: flexibility. I don’t mean “read disads and ks” which is usually what people in debate mean when they say be flexible. What I mean is that you should be open to changing things, the opposite of dogmatic. Sometimes you go in to coach a student before a round and they say “politics is the best strategy”. That is different from saying “politics is the only strategy”. The latter is dogmatic, the former is strategic. The key to overcoming DK is understanding when strategic has bled into dogmatic, when your rational/effective strategies have gone too far and become ineffective.


For me this was about speed. When I was young I lost debates because I was too slow. When I was older I lost because I went to fast. Those seem like opposite problems but they are really the same thing: having 1 speaking speed that you use in all instances rather than adapting. While our “mechanics” like rate/volume etc are all obviously “adjustable” so are (or should be) our strategies and the way we make strategic choices.
















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