April 06, 2004

Language Log is #1 for stupid ideas

At this moment, Google lists 1,260,000 pages in response to a query about stupid ideas, and Geoff Nunberg's post about Samuel Huntington is the first of all of them.

The same post is #13 (of 7,880,000) in reponse to a query about smart people, just behind Robert J. Sternberg's book Why Smart People can be so Stupid, blurbed as follows by Yale University Press:

One need not look far to find breathtaking acts of stupidity committed by people who are smart, or even brilliant. The behavior of smart individuals--from presidents to prosecutors to professors--is at times so amazingly stupid as to seem inexplicable. Why do otherwise intelligent people think and behave in ways so stupid that they sometimes destroy their livelihoods or even their lives?
While many millions of dollars are spent each year on intelligence research and testing to determine who has the ability to succeed, next to nothing is spent to determine who will make use of their intelligence and not squander it by behaving stupidly. Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid focuses on the neglected side of this discussion, reviewing the full range of theory and research on stupid behavior and analyzing what it tells us about how people can avoid stupidity and its devastating consequences.

I particularly like the idea of supplementing intelligence tests with stupidity tests. ETS has been missing the boat on this one for some time.

I've also observed that sometimes it takes a really smart person to have a really spectacularly stupid idea. You have to be smart to be able to think of some of the really complicated dumb stuff that people come up with, but that's not what I mean. I'm talking about the simple idea that is so obviously wrong that any half-wit can see that it don't have a chance, except for someone who is brilliant enough to work out the reasons that it's nevertheless deeply true. If the originator is also persuasive enough to get others to go along, then you've really got trouble. I'd give examples, but professional courtesy forbids it.

Posted by Mark Liberman at April 6, 2004 08:56 PM