Knowledge Overconfidence and Anti-Consensus Views

Taylor Nichols, MD
7 min readMay 31, 2023
The cover of the new book “We Want Them Infected” by Dr. Jonathan Howard
Credentialed COVID contrarians contributed to the creation, rise, and perpetuation of disinformation and misinformation throughout the pandemic

Caveat: I am not a psychiatrist nor am I the physician treating the individuals discussed here. I am not trying to make diagnoses from online behavior or activity. I am only noting here that these specific behaviors align with specific enumerated traits as listed in the DSM-V. I cannot make a statement about these people individually.

People who think of themselves as brilliant heterodox thinkers are overcompensating for a significant mismatch between their objective and subjective knowledge.

That is to say, people who hold anti-consensus views have both an inadequate fund of knowledge on these particular topics and an unearned inflated view of their own expertise. In fact, the larger the gap between their actual fund of objective knowledge and their subjective assessment of their knowledge, the more strongly they hold anti-consensus views — the most extreme opponents are most likely to believe that their actual knowledge ranks among the highest, yet actually ranks among the lowest.

The authors of this 2022 article in Science Advances found that “increasing opposition to the consensus is associated with higher levels of knowledge confidence for several scientific issues but lower levels of actual knowledge.”

Figure 1 demonstrates in three line graphs that as opposition to the scientific consensus increases, objective knowledge decreases, but subjective knowledge increases

“Although broadly consistent with the Dunning-Kruger effect and other research on knowledge miscalibration, our findings represent a pattern of relationships that goes beyond overconfidence among the least knowledgeable.”

Can we apply the findings of this research to the current slate of contrarians and grifters who hold anti-science views and anti-consensus perspectives of COVID and COVID vaccines? In fact, the authors lay it out directly in the article:

“As opposition to getting a COVID-19 vaccine increases, both general and COVID-specific objective knowledge decreases.”

This also tracks with public displays of narcissistic traits by this same cohort. More on that later…

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Taylor Nichols, MD

Humanist. Emergency Medicine and AddictiEmergency + Addiction Medicine | Health policy and advocacy | Health tech and innovation