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Cautionary Tales – The Dunning Kruger Hijack, and Other Criminally Stupid Acts

Summary:
The height of stupidity is being too stupid to know you are stupid… and it’s more common than you think. The hijackers of flight 961 wanted its pilot to fly them to Australia – and wouldn’t listen to his pleas that there simply wasn’t enough fuel for the mammoth trip. What would cause them to totally disregard the advice of an expert when the stakes were so very high? The Dunning Kruger effect. But being too stupid to recognise the limits of your knowledge isn’t confined to such prize idiots – it’s something we are all guilty of at times and has huge implications for society. Starring Jeffrey Wright (Hunger Games, Westworld, and the Bond films) as Ethiopian Airlines captain Leul Abate. Cautionary Tales is written by me, Tim Harford, with Andrew Wright. It is

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The height of stupidity is being too stupid to know you are stupid… and it’s more common than you think.

The hijackers of flight 961 wanted its pilot to fly them to Australia – and wouldn’t listen to his pleas that there simply wasn’t enough fuel for the mammoth trip. What would cause them to totally disregard the advice of an expert when the stakes were so very high? The Dunning Kruger effect.

But being too stupid to recognise the limits of your knowledge isn’t confined to such prize idiots – it’s something we are all guilty of at times and has huge implications for society.

Starring Jeffrey Wright (Hunger Games, Westworld, and the Bond films) as Ethiopian Airlines captain Leul Abate.

Cautionary Tales is written by me, Tim Harford, with Andrew Wright. It is produced by Ryan Dilley and Marilyn Rust.

The sound design and original music is the work of Pascal Wyse. Julia Barton edited the scripts.

Thanks to the team at Pushkin Industries, Mia Lobel, Jacob Weisberg, Heather Fain, Jon Schnaars, Carly Migliori, Eric Sandler, Emily Rostek, Maggie Taylor, Daniella Lakhan and Maya Koenig.

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Further reading and listening

The tale of McArthur Wheeler was reported by M.A Fuoco in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Trial and error: They had larceny in their hearts, but little in their heads” and by William Poundstone. Nigel Blundell’s The World’s Most Daring Vagabonds and Villains is the source of many of the criminal blunders reported in this episode.

Dunning and Kruger’s research is discussed in Brian Resnick “Intellectual Humility” and David Dunning is interviewed on the You Are Not So Smart podcast, episode 36. The original article by Dunning and Kruger is “Unskilled and Unaware of It“.

My description of the Ethiopian Airlines crash is based on numerous comtemporary media accounts, the report on AirDisaster.com, and the official accident report.

Tim Harford
Tim is an economist, journalist and broadcaster. He is author of “Messy” and the million-selling “The Undercover Economist”, a senior columnist at the Financial Times, and the presenter of Radio 4’s “More or Less” and the iTunes-topping series “Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy”. Tim has spoken at TED, PopTech and the Sydney Opera House and is a visiting fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford.

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