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Brandt's Rants

Brandt's Rants

Dunning-Kruger, COVID-19, and Lemon Juice

Brandt, Robert MD

doi: 10.1097/01.EEM.0000722436.21724.a4
    Dunning-Kruger, COVID-19, masks

    Many people have chosen not to wear masks during the pandemic, even though they effectively help decrease the spread of the coronavirus. Are they perfect? Of course not, but they are inexpensive, low risk, and highly effective compared with doing nothing. Unfortunately, some people refuse to wear masks despite advice from experts. Why is this? Let me tell you a story about another person who didn't wear a mask.

    McArthur Wheeler, back in 1995, confidently robbed two banks during the day with no apparent effort to disguise himself. He actually smiled at the video cameras before leaving. That evening the police arrested him and showed him the video evidence. Mr. Wheeler stared at it dumbfounded and was recorded saying, “But I wore the juice!”

    You see, Mr. Wheeler thought that the surveillance cameras would not be able to identify his face if he slathered lemon juice on his face. He had no drugs or mental deficiencies, just a great misunderstanding about the effects of lemon juice on cameras and an inappropriate amount of confidence.

    This story inspired two psychologists, David Dunning and Justin Kruger, to investigate the relationship between confidence and understanding. They discovered that individuals with the least amount of knowledge about a subject will frequently have overwhelming confidence. If an individual reads a few posts online about a virus, for example, he may post passionate rants online explaining how experts in the field are idiots.

    Have you been on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any social media sites recently? Perhaps you have read zealous posts from nonexperts who seem to have overwhelming confidence. This illusion of competency has been deemed the Dunning-Kruger effect. The peak of confidence appears shortly after obtaining limited knowledge on a topic. The chart shows the relationship. So why do we care?

    Clicks, Likes, Views

    The individuals confidently screaming the loudest are those with the least understanding, according to Dunning and Kruger. This problem becomes amplified in an arena where all voices are considered equal. Can you think of any place where expert opinions are drowned out by the ignorant? Today it seems difficult to find a place where the opposite is true. Often experts receive less attention than screaming lunatics simply because experts are boring and often repeat the same messages while new screaming people get more clicks, likes, and views.

    We are all guilty of being at the top of Mount Stupid. The Dunning-Kruger effect pertains to nearly any field. We also live in a world where we can look up the basics about any topic in an instant. We live in a dangerous and changing world, and though we may be medical experts, our opinions (such as “please wear a mask”) seem to be becoming rapidly devalued. In public discourse, the line between facts and opinions seems to be ever blurring, and the loudest and most confident voice often wins, regardless of knowledge or understanding.

    Conspiracy theories abound, and whenever we try to quash one nonsensical rambling, four more seem to sprout up in its place. People on Facebook recently told me that 5G towers caused the pandemic and spray society with autism particles. Thousands still believe COVID-19 is a hoax. Others swear Bill Gates has been underhandedly manipulating the pandemic. I literally just watched a video where an unmasked Canadian yelled at people for wearing masks in a store, called those customers “sheeple,” and then proceeded to scream as she was gently and kindly (you know, because Canada) asked to leave.

    I have spoken with individuals I consider normal, rational humans who emphatically believe the pandemic will just completely come to an end after the Nov. 3 election. They confidently declare the pandemic will come to an abrupt stop—worldwide—after the U.S. election! I hope they are right; I hope everything magically disappears and life returns to normal on Nov. 4, but I will take the chance and write my prediction two months beforehand: I think COVID-19 will still be rampant on Nov. 4.

    Free Tacos!

    I have presented the problem, but you want solutions. I think I have figured out how to get the population to wear masks. I call it the Brandt Ultimate Taco Test. I will let you figure out the acronym.

    You see, everyone in the United States loves free tacos. I base this on me loving free tacos. Also, we are a competitive nation by nature. We must harness our competitiveness alongside our love of tacos.

    Here's how it will work: Residents in the top 20 states who wear masks most consistently get free tacos. This way, even if you hate wearing a mask, you have the secondary motivation of getting free tacos. No one likes wearing masks. Wearing it simply to protect others is no motivation for many, but free tacos? Now that's something we as a nation can get behind. OK, maybe it is not the best solution, but it is a start.

    If that doesn't work, we can all start lathering our faces with lemon juice.

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    Dr. Brandtis an emergency physician with the Grand River Emergency Medical Group in Grand Rapids, MI. He was the winner of the 2008 Writer's Digest Short Short Story Writing Competition ( Read his blog and other articles at, follow him on Twitter@brandtwriting, and read his past columns at

    Copyright © 2020 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.
    • [email protected]2:14:53 PMAll 33 people I diagnosed with Covid yesterday wore a mask everywhere they went for five months. That is reality, not an exercise in therapeutic thinking.
    • evanenglish10:31:54 AMBrilliant!