Originally I had planned this blog post to be about the Dunning-Kruger effect and how it manifests itself in woodworking forums and woodworking conversations in general. (Before you continue reading, check out the above link for a quick primer on the Dunning-Kruger effect). It’s not such a stretch to connect the D-K effect and woodworking, and I found it interesting that the effect is an actual thing, not just a perceived difference between the knowledgeable and, well, everyone else. But as it turns out, there’s some debate over whether the effect is actually what it seems, so I’m forced to adjust my rant slightly.
I was planning to point to the endless debates about woodworking tools and techniques that we engage in on forums, casting them in the light of the D-K effect. With the implications a little less exact, I’m forced to make broader points. Regardless of interpretation, the experiments show that people generally aren’t so good at recognizing their own ability, or lack thereof. The simple conclusion, and one I support, is that we shouldn’t buy into all the hype. When someone claims to be next big thing, well maybe they are and maybe they aren’t. Despite the significant growth of woodworking communities online, context is still lacking. Though many users browse multiple forums, there is still a significant “us vs. them” mentality preventing thorough exploration. The “local” forum champion, wherever he/she may actually live, is held in the highest regard, while the challengers are scorned for using too many power tools, or not enough, or using plywood, etc. In a field still struggling to transcribe all the secrets of the masters, misinformation spreads much more quickly and convincingly through forums. The overwhelming size and scope of websites prevent oversight, while the flurry of new topics buries older queries before a quality source can be found (much less verified). Consequently, the knowledge of the forum “hero” is disseminated and digested by users, while the insight of the truly experienced never makes it to the board.
I seem to have gone a bit away from my intended direction, but I kind of like it. In summary, this should read like a wordy caveat to those woodworkers scanning all the forums out there for “the answer.” When it comes to the selecting a “voice of authority” to listen to, choose wisely.
edited to add links, thanks rw