#40 – Why smart people defend bad ideas

[First published April 2005]

We all know someone who’s intelligent, but who occasionally defends obviously bad ideas. Why does this happen? How can smart people take up positions that defy any reasonable logic? Having spent many years working with smart people I’ve cataloged many of the ways this happens, and I have advice on what to do about it. I feel qualified to write this essay as I’m a recovering smart person myself and I’ve defended several very bad ideas. So if nothing else this essay serves as a kind of personal therapy session. However, I fully suspect you’ll get more than just entertainment value (“Look, Scott is more stupid than we thought!”) out of what I have to say on this topic.

Success at defending bad ideas

The monty python argument sketchI’m not proud to admit that I have a degree in Logic and Computation from Carnegie Mellon University. Majoring in logic is not the kind of thing that makes people want to talk to you at parties, or read your essays. But one thing I did learn after years of studying advanced logic theory is that proficiency in argument can easily be used to overpower others, even when you are dead wrong. If you learn a few tricks of logic and debate, you can refute the obvious, and defend the ridiculous. If the people you’re arguing with aren’t as comfortable in the tactics of argument, or aren’t as arrogant as you are, they may even give in and agree with you.

The problem with smart people is that they like to be right and sometimes will defend ideas to the death rather than admit they’re wrong. This is bad. Worse, if they got away with it when they were young (say, because they were smarter than their parents, their friends, and their parent’s friends) they’ve probably built an ego around being right, and will therefore defend their perfect record of invented righteousness to the death. Smart people often fall into the trap of preferring to be right even if it’s based in delusion, or results in them, or their loved ones, becoming miserable. (Somewhere in your town there is a row of graves at the cemetery, called smartypants lane, filled with people who were buried at poorly attended funerals, whose headstones say “Well, at least I was right.”)

Until they come face to face with someone who is tenacious enough to dissect their logic, and resilient enough to endure the thinly veiled intellectual abuse they dish out during debate (e.g. “You don’t really think that do you?”or “Well if you knew the <insert obscure reference here> rule/law/corollary you wouldn’t say such things”), they’re never forced to question their ability to defend bad ideas. Opportunities for this are rare: a new boss, a new co-worker, a new spouse. But if their obsessiveness about being right is strong enough, they’ll reject those people out of hand before they question their own biases and self-manipulations. It can be easier for smart people who have a habit of defending bad ideas to change jobs, spouses, or cities rather than honestly examine what is at the core of their psyche (and often, their misery).

Short of obtaining a degree in logic, or studying the nuances of debate, remember this one simple rule for defusing those who are skilled at defending bad ideas: Simply because they cannot be proven wrong, does not make them right. Most of the tricks of logic and debate refute questions and attacks, but fail to establish any true justification for a given idea.

For example, just because you can’t prove that I’m not the king of France reincarnated doesn’t make it so. So when someone tells you “My plan A is the best because no one has explained how it will fail” know that there is a logical gap in this argument. Simply because no one has described how it will fail, doesn’t necessarily make it the best plan. It’s possible than plans B, C, D and E all have the same quality, or that the reason no one has described how A will fail is that no one has had more than 30 seconds to scrutinize the plan. As we’ll discuss later, diffusing bad thinking requires someone (probably you) to construct a healthier framework around the bad thinking that shows it for what it is.

Death by homogeny

shelf of boxesThe second stop on our tour of commonly defended bad ideas is the seemingly friendly notion of communal thinking. Just because everyone in the room is smart doesn’t mean that collectively they will arrive at smart ideas. The power of peer pressure is that it works on our psychology, not our intellect. As social animals we are heavily influenced by how the people around us behave, and the quality of our own internal decision making varies widely depending on the environment we currently are in. (e.g. Try to write a haiku poem while standing in an elevator with 15 opera singers screaming 15 different operas, in 15 different languages, in falsetto, directly at you vs. sitting on a bench in a quiet stretch of open woods).

That said, the more homogeneous a group of people are in their thinking, the narrower the range of ideas that the group will openly consider. The more open minded, creative, and courageous a group is, the wider the pool of ideas they’ll be capable of exploring.

Some teams of people look to focus groups, consultancies, and research methods to bring in outside ideas, but this rarely improves the quality of thinking in the group itself. Those outside ideas, however bold or original, are at the mercy of the diversity of thought within the group itself. If the group, as a collective, is only capable of approving B level work, it doesn’t matter how many A level ideas you bring to it. Focus groups or other outside sources of information can not give a team, or its leaders, a soul. A bland homogeneous team of people has no real opinions, because it consists of people with same backgrounds, outlooks, and experiences who will only feel comfortable discussing the safe ideas that fit into those constraints.

If you want your smart people to be as smart as possible, seek a diversity of ideas. Find people with different experiences, opinions, backgrounds, weights, heights, races, facial hair styles, colors, past-times, favorite items of clothing, philosophies, and beliefs. Unify them around the results you want, not the means or approaches they are expected to use. It’s the only way to guarantee that the best ideas from your smartest people will be received openly by the people around them. On your own, avoid homogenous books, films, music, food, sex, media and people. Actually experience life by going to places you don’t usually go, spending time with people you don’t usually spend time with. Be in the moment and be open to it. Until recently in human history, life was much less predictable and we were forced to encounter things not always of our own choosing. We are capable of more interesting and creative lives than our modern cultures often provide for us. If you go out of your way to find diverse experiences it will become impossible for you to miss ideas simply because your homogenous outlook filtered them out.

Thinking at the wrong level

Several story tall buildingAt any moment on any project there are an infinite number of levels of problem solving. Part of being a truly smart person is to know which level is the right one at a given time. For example, if you are skidding out of control at 95mph in your broken down Winnebago on an ice covered interstate, when a semi-truck filled with both poorly packaged fireworks and loosely bundled spark plugs slams on its brakes, it’s not the right time to discuss with your passengers where y’all would like to stop for dinner. But as ridiculous as this scenario sounds, it happens all the time. People worry about the wrong thing at the wrong time and apply their intelligence in ways that doesn’t serve the greater good of whatever they’re trying to achieve. Some call this difference in skill wisdom, in that the wise know what to be thinking about, where as the merely intelligent only know how to think. (The de-emphasis of wisdom is an east vs. west dichotomy: eastern philosophy heavily emphasizes deeper wisdom, where as the post enlightenment west, and perhaps particularly America, heavily emphasizes the intellectual flourishes of intelligence).

In the software industry, the common example of thinking at the wrong level is a team of rock star programmers who can make anything, but don’t really know what to make: so they tend to build whatever things come to mind, never stopping to find someone who might not be adept at writing code, but can see where the value of their programming skills would be best applied. Other examples include people that always worry about money despite how much they have, people who struggle with relationships but invest their energy only in improving their appearance (instead of in therapy or other emotional exploration), or anyone that wants to solve problem X but only ever seems to do things that solve problem Y.

The primary point is that no amount of intelligence can help an individual who is diligently working at the wrong level of the problem. Someone with wisdom has to tap them on the shoulder and say, “Um, hey. The hole you’re digging is very nice, and it is the right size. But you’re in the wrong yard.”

Killed in the long term by short term thinking

Tasty foodFrom what we know of evolution it’s clear that we are alive because of our inherited ability to think quickly and respond to change. The survival of living creatures, for most of the history of our planet, has been a short term game. Only if you can out-run your predators, and catch your prey, do you have the luxury of worrying about tomorrow.

It follows then that we tend to be better at worrying about and solving short term issues than long term issues. Even when we recognize an important long term issue that we need to plan for, say protecting natural resources or saving for retirement, we’re all too easily distracted away from those deep thoughts by immediate things like dinner or sex (important things no doubt, but the driving needs in these pursuits, at least for this half of the species, are short term in nature). Once distracted, we rarely return to the long term issues we were drawn away from.

A common justification for abuse of short term thinking is the fake perspective defense. The wise, but less confident guy says “hey are you sure we should be doing this?” And the smart, confident, but less wise guy says “of course. We did this last time, and the time before that, so why shouldn’t we do this again?” This is the fake perspective defense because there’s no reason to believe that 2 points of data (e.g. last time plus the time before that) is sufficient to make claims about the future. People say similar things all the time in defense of the free market economy, democracy, and mating strategies. “Well, it’s gotten us this far, and it’s the best system we have”. Well, maybe. But if you were in that broken down Winnebago up to your ankles in gasoline from a leaking tank, smoking a cigarette in each hand, you could say the same thing.

Put simply, the fact that you’re not dead yet doesn’t mean that the things you’ve done up until now shouldn’t have, by all that is fair in the universe, already killed you. You might just need a few more data points for the law of averages to catch up, and put a permanent end to your short term thinking.

How many data points you need to feel comfortable continuing a behavior is entirely a matter of personal philosophy. The wise and skeptical know that even an infinite number of data points in the past may only have limited bearing on the future. The tricky thing about the future is that it’s different than the past. Our data from the past, no matter how big a pile of data it is, may very well be entirely irrelevant. Some find this lack of predictive ability of the future quite frustrating, while others see it as the primary reason to stick around for a few more years.

Anyway, my point is not that Winnebagos or free market economies are bad. Instead I’m saying that short term bits of data are neither reliable nor a wise way to go about making important long term decisions. Intelligent people do this all the time, and since it’s so commonly accepted as a rule of thumb (last time + the time before that), it’s often accepted in place of actual thinking. Always remember that humans, given our evolution, are very bad at seeing the cumulative effects of behavior, and underestimate how things like compound interest or that one cigarette a day, can in the long term, have surprisingly large impacts despite clearly low short term effects.

How to prevent smart people from defending bad ideas

smart people defending bad ideasI spent my freshman year at a small college in NJ called Drew University. I had a fun time, ingested many tasty alcoholic beverages, and went to lots of great parties (the result of which of course was that I basically failed out and had to move back to Queens with my parents. You see, the truth is that this essay is really a public service announcement paid for by my parents – I was a smart person that did some stupid things). But the reason I mention all this is because I learned a great bit of philosophy from many hours of playing pool in the college student center. The lesson is this: Speed kills. I was never very good at pool, but this one guy there was, and whenever we’d play, he’d watch me miss easy shots because I tried to force them in with authority. I chose speed and power over control, and I usually lost. So like pool, when it comes to defusing smart people who are defending bad ideas, you have to find ways to slow things down.

The reason for this is simple. Smart people, or at least those whose brains have good first gears, use their speed in thought to overpower others. They’ll jump between assumptions quickly, throwing out jargon, bits of logic, or rules of thumb at a rate of fire fast enough to cause most people to become rattled, and give in. When that doesn’t work, the arrogant or the pompous will throw in some belittlement and use whatever snide or manipulative tactics they have at their disposal to further discourage you from dissecting their ideas.

So your best defense starts by breaking an argument down into pieces. When they say “it’s obvious we need to execute plan A now.” You say, “hold on. You’re way ahead of me. For me to follow I need to break this down into pieces.” And without waiting for permission, you should go ahead and do so.

First, nothing is obvious. If it were obvious there would be no need to say so. So your first piece is to establish what isn’t so obvious. What are the assumptions the other guy is glossing over that are worth spending time on? There may be 3 or 4 different valid assumptions that need to be discussed one at a time before any kind of decision can be considered. Take each one in turn, and lay out the basic questions: what problem are we trying to solve? What alternatives to solving it are there? What are the tradeoffs in each alternative? By breaking it down and asking questions you expose more thinking to light, make it possible for others to ask questions, and make it more difficult for anyone to defend a bad idea.

No one can ever take away your right to think things over, especially if the decision at hand is important. If your mind works best in 3rd or 4th gear, find ways to give yourself the time needed to get there. If when you say ” need the afternoon to think this over”, they say
“tough. We’re deciding now”. Ask if the decision is an important one. If they say yes, then you should be completely justified in asking for more time to think it over and ask questions.

Find a sane person people listen to

Some situations require outside help. Instead of taking a person on directly, get a third party that you both respect, and continue the discussion in their presence. This can be a superior, or simply someone smart enough that the other person might possibly concede points to them.

It follows that if your team manager is wise and reasonable, smart people who might ordinarily defend bad ideas will have a hard time doing so. But sadly if your team manager is neither wise nor reasonable, smart, arrogant people may convince others to follow their misguided ways more often than not.

And yet more reasons

I’m sure you have stories of your own follies dealing with smart people defending bad ideas, or where you, yourself, as a smart person, have spent time arguing for things you regretted later. Given the wondrous multitude of ways the universe has granted humans to be smart and dumb at the same time, there are many more reasons why smart people behave in stupid ways. For fun, and as fodder, here’s a few more.

If you have some thoughts on this essay, or some more reasons to add, leave a comment:

  • Smart people can follow stupid leaders (seeking praise or promotion)
  • Smart people may follow their anger into stupid places
  • They may be trained or educated into stupidity
  • Smart people can inherit bad ideas from their parents under the guise of tradition
  • They may simply want something to be true, that can never be


249 Responses to “#40 – Why smart people defend bad ideas”

  1. George

    ok.so,if i have some of the previous “symtoms” what can i do to fix them?

    • Addison

      The author who wrote this, “thought-provoking essay,” clearly doesn’t know a single thing about, “smart people.”

      First point off-the-list: How are you qualified to write this essay?

      You say that you’ve spent many years categorizing the thought patterns and thinking habits of those whom you assume are, “smart people.” – (Where do you get off on writing an essay that was meant to be written by a licensed psychologist?!)

      So basically, conversing with seemingly random people on a regular basis suddenly makes me an anthropologist? Is that what you’re saying?

      Secondly: This is not an expository essay, and you can’t call it a persuasive essay either

      It’s not an expository essay because…

      You don’t explain WHY you’re right. You only, “explain,” to us that your way of thinking is the lay of the land because you knew a few idiots* in college.

      (Reasonable people have common sense, and the so-called intellectuals you were hanging with would have been studying rather than causing havoc at something so primitive such as a pool party.

      Reasonable people understand that studying is more important than ass and, “tasty alcoholic beverages.”

      P.S: Wtf? Are you trying to come off as sophisticated?! There’s absolutely NOTHING complex about your life in any way, shape, or form.

      You’re just some moron who took college as a joke and wasted your parents hard-earned money in the process.)

      And it’s not a persuasive essay because…

      None of your points are based on proven facts, only arrogance and simple-mindedness.

      Now you can reply back with some rediculous argument explaining why my itsy-witsy, teeny-weenly little brain just simply cannot fathom your deeply intricate and complex outlook on life.

      • Simply and truly, Addison.

  2. Rafa

    The problem with smart people is that they like to be right and sometimes will defend ideas to the death rather than admit they’re wrong. –> This is so my sister, stubborn.
    I grow up watching my parents scold her for always defending her ideas and reject all of of others, so I learn by that.
    Even If I didn’t agree with others (especially elders)I would avoid saying it by changing the topics or agree with them. This way is easier… Arguing with people who lack common sense is troublesome, most of the time I stuck with my ideas in my head,LOL

  3. Steve Thomas


    I seem to be one of the sole dissenting voices here. There is much irony embedded within your essay, for it leads me to ask “why smart people defend bad ideas?” In your case, here, this is just an absurd idea, and you end up double-backing on yourself a few paragraphs later. You note that smart people love to be right “until they come face to face with someone who is tenacious enough to dissect their logic, and resilient enough to endure the thinly veiled intellectual abuse they dish out during debate […].” Okay, let me get this straight; if another person proved a “smart person” wrong by using logic then the other person is a smart person, so how do we know that the other person isn’t simply defending another bad idea.

    Look, let’s level here. For a guy who claims to hold a degree in logic yours is beyond flawed. Firstly, you create a straw man argument by carefully crafting a purposefully vague notion of “bad idea” without first defining what this bad idea actually is. Secondly, reading through your essay I do not see a man who has been trained in logic, but rather an ideologue who has jumped on the anti-intellectual bandwagon. Moreover, you have it entirely backwards when you say “the wise, but less confident guy says “hey are you sure we should be doing this?” And the smart, confident, but less wise guy says “of course.” This is so dumb it actually pisses me off. You have created such a transparent straw man argument that it is laughable, and the fact that so many people have agreed with you confirms the anti-intellectual state of America. Sorry, but the smart person always understands what they don’t know and will almost always exercise caution in uncharted territory. Your post is tragic nonsense!

    • Scott Berkun

      Sorry you didn’t like the essay.

      It would have been more accurate to have titled the essay “Why *some* smart people defend bad ideas some of the time” or perhaps “Being smart vs. being wise” as clearly by definition being smart doesn’t guarantee you will defend bad ideas – instead my point was being smart doesn’t guarantee you’ll defend good ideas either, which often people assume to be true.

      The relevant quote would be:

      “The primary point is that no amount of intelligence can help an individual who is diligently working at the wrong level of the problem. Someone with wisdom has to tap them on the shoulder and say, ‘Um, hey. The hole you’re digging is very nice, and it is the right size. But you’re in the wrong yard.'”

      You might claim that person is not in fact smart, since a smart person would not work on the wrong problem. Ok. We perhaps have different definitions of smart. Isaac Newton spent much of his life studying alchemy, and seeking the Philosopher’s Stone. I’d say he was very smart, but yet also was interested in something improbable, which I’d call a bad idea. And I imagine he’d use his sizable intellect to defend his pursuit of something that is untrue, at least by today’s standards of science.

      As its 7 years from when the essay was written, if I wrote it again today, I’d talk about cognitive bias, and our well documented flaws in reasoning, but I didn’t know about them in a formal sense then.

      • Steve Thomas

        Hi Scott,

        Admittedly I can be brusque so please don’t take my comments personally, but we have a real social problem here in America. For some very strange reasons we’ve become, as a culture, anti-intellectual, and it is one that is beginning to cost us dearly. This is a dangerous state of affairs where our economic viability is beginning to wane. Have you ever traveled abroad? My wife is European and, while there, I am always astonished at the in-depth and mature conversations I am able to have with young people; particularly on topics such as economics, science, history, culture, etc. In America, I typically get “Hey, you socialists keep your government hands of my Social Security.” We have become a nation that embraces ignorance and glorifies the easy way out; my most sincere recommendation for you is to help reverse this ugly trend and not to add to it. I have watched one of your videos and you seem to have some good ideas.

        Nevertheless, I understand your point when you say “[…] that no amount of intelligence can help an individual who is diligently working at the wrong level of the problem.” Notice one thing about your sentence? There is a subtle change: it doesn’t single out smart people—and shouldn’t—because any person, including us, can work on the wrong level of a problem. My boss calls me the absent-minded professor for I can tell you innumerable things about history and politics, but ask me what I did yesterday… I think your point about Newton is a little flawed too because we are not talking about him being smart or not but rather what is know—this is called evidence. A smart person recognizes evidence and usually will cease working on the wrong level of a problem. Usually, dumb people just keep on digging and believing; despite, in many cases, overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

        In other words, don’t confuse a lack of evidence with stupidity, but it is stupid to ignore evidence. When the premises of an argument become a little more complex, say, global warming or evolution it is then incumbent on individual citizens to be able to understand the underlying science. My point is this: w can prove beyond any doubt that Newton was wrong about alchemy in as much as we can prove that evolution is a fact, and that the preponderance of the evidence suggests strongly that global warming is indeed caused by human activity. However, people in America are now so poorly educated that they believe things that just aren’t true, and when one provides evidence they still reject it. I have come to the conclusion that most people are now unable to distinguish what constitutes evidence. In America, it’s just too easy to be dumb. In the end, I suppose my overriding impression of reading your essay was that “wow, he’s actually describing what dumb people do; it’s too bad he didn’t state it as such.

        • Mark

          i like this guy, gotta look at things from any perspective. Another point would be something like keep an open mind about everything, most the time when you become fixated on being in the right that whatever your argument is has now been voided. Life is entangled in math, you see patterns in nature and thus the universe in natural.. so if there is a 1:1 chance that there is us that means (via patterns mentioned previously) there is probably more to it. another thing ive been watching is quantum mechanics and the work being done to that regards is changing the way we look at the universe all together. if alchemy or whatever he was considering to be it has been thought about imagined and envisioned then that is pretty much all ya need to say it really happened. no offense but take Jesus for an example. its absurd this line of thinking still continues today but try to tell them that lol. and tbh he could have been real and could have done all that but it would still be just another day. see it to believe it is a awful term when ya can see almost anything in the minds eye.

        • Katie


          I understand where you are coming from. It is rather frustrating that the average person you encounter in America might have something more banal or “unintelligent” to say in response to your “mature” subject matter. However, culture is heavily influenced by many factors and the culture that shaped a person varies for each individual person. Unfortunately, in America, I’m fairly certain a great deal of people you encounter on a daily basis are not “intellectual” because they have not had access to the resources nor the social upbringing to warrant such a mindset.

          I’d like for you to think, just for a moment, about the experiences and opportunities you’ve had in your life that got you to where you are today. I am not going to guess at the details of your life, but I feel confident enough to assert that you’ve had a pretty decent life financially, since you’ve been able to travel to Europe on your own time. Now, I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that, in almost every state, the most common occupation is truck driver.

          Now, I’m sure there are some people who would consider themselves intellectuals who are driving trucks, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say most of them don’t identify as such. And this is not necessarily their fault and it’s also not necessarily the fault of American culture. It is, unfortunately, the lack of proper funding for public services.

          As someone who somewhat recently graduated from a university with aspirations to teach America’s youth, I know and hear about this struggle for funding and live in it daily. Our current system of funding (or lack thereof) for things like public health services and educational services show a huge gap between wealthier communities who have the money and resources to invest in these systems and those communities who don’t. When you compare Europe to America, it seems you are not considering these fundamental differences. European youth have a lot more opportunity, regardless of their socioeconomic status, to attend university and well funded schools and have access to free/inexpensive health care because of the structure of these systems in those countries.

          If you have a doubt as to whether these things are correlated, or have evidence to the contrary, please inform me. But, I would just really appreciate hearing that you’ve considered that a good number of people in America have not had the same privileges as you have in life, therefore they have not had the potential to grow into “intellectuals”. I don’t appreciate your tone of superiority over these people though, as it tends to discourage people outside of this mentality from adopting it, as they associate intellectualism with derision.

          I don’t disagree with you, though. I definitely would like to see more people in this country become independent, critical thinkers who are constantly analyzing the world they live in and critiquing it. I applaud you for being willing to stand up and speak out about your (obviously) unpopular opinion on Scott’s article. You saw something that didn’t make sense and you called attention to it. That is a skill I hope to impart to my students. But, I do still think you are missing the point of this essay.

          At its core, this essay seems to just point out that we as humans are fallible and also are creatures of habit. Thus, we sometimes think that if something has worked in a particular situation previously, it will work in the future. While that can be a valid conclusion that produces the expected results, sometimes the solution will end in complete disaster. This is most problematic when those who implemented the solution see results that make it appear to be working, but they could be excluding marginalized groups in their data. Unless you’re directly affected by all of the circumstances that required a solution to be implemented, you’re not going to fully understand how well or poorly a solution is working out and if you haven’t tried multiple different approaches, the solution in place might be “working” but it is probably far from the best or most sustainable solution.

          You seem to like bringing up environmental issues, so sustainability should be something you’re quite familiar with. If we don’t come up with a sustainable plan for dealing with the global warming issue, none of our efforts are really going to amount to substantial change. Same goes for “smart” or “intellectual” thinking. Trying the same “solutions” over and over again will not be sustainable in the ever-changing world we live in. Yes, those who are “less intellectual” may get stuck in the rut of trying the same solution over and over because it’s worked once or twice in the past quite often, but those who are “intellectual” also get stuck in this rut sometimes and I think Scott is arguing that it’s more dangerous when someone “smart” does get stuck in this rut because these people tend to hold more power and authority over more than just their own lives, but the lives of others as well. I know that some “stupid” people also sometimes are in these positions of power and authority, but more often than not, the people in charge have more requirements for educational background in order to be in the position they are in.

          Overall, I guess I just wanted to ask you to try and see this from every possible angle, as you tend to come across as having a very narrow perspective on this issue.

          • Steve Thomas

            Hi Katie,

            Let me begin by saying thank you for a well written and very thoughtful post. However, neither do I believe I have missed the point of this essay, nor do I believe that I have a narrow perspective on this issue. Please, go back and reread Scott’s article. I understand perfectly well what he is saying, but logic alone is meaningless against empirical evidence. Using syllogisms to defeat one’s interlocutors is not the same as defending a bad idea; it is going on the offensive against objectivity and intellectual honesty. Someone may defend a bad idea because he believes it to be true, but to simply overpower someone with “logic” is not the same.

            With that said, I understand and concur with nearly everything you have written—particularly your point about socioeconomic status. However, please note, I never once stated that smart people cannot defend bad ideas (I have done it myself), but rather that this usually isn’t the case. Generally, educated and smart people will yield to evidence, and essentially the question Scott is asking is, why will people not yield to evidence? This is exactly why I mentioned evolution, anthropogenic climate change, etc. There isn’t any other way to put it: blinkered, provincial and poorly educated people tend to believe and defend things that simply aren’t true, and they are easily misled by powerful lobbying groups and political dark money. Aren’t these examples of “dumb” people defending dumb ideas?

            Let me state up front, however, that what may come across as self-puffery is really nothing more than my own frustration. I have battled ignorance for decades and have witnessed firsthand the ease with which people reject evidence, and how certain the average American is that Jesus is about to return at any given moment. As such, this is why I have mentioned the Dunning-Kruger Effect. In my own brusque way, I am trying to wake up the masses, for many of them have been and are voting against their own self interests. For example, only in America do we find people complaining about labour laws which actually exist to protect them. It is astonishing how people have unwittingly adopted the corporate mentality—greed is not good.

            Now, to your point about socioeconomic status, indeed, without question, this is exactly what I am stating and have been stating for years. Europe—the so-called “socialist” states have a social net—and in most EU nations people still matter. There indeed is a direct link between levels of obesity and income and education and income, etc. You stated that “when you compare Europe to America, it seems you are not considering these fundamental differences.” No, this is exactly what I am stating, exactly. Our American ideology (and that’s all it is) enables us to reject funding for important things such as the arts, education, libraries, theatre, universal healthcare and the like. All of these things are rejected as being communist, and instead we get a bloated military budget and imperialism. Yes, European youths have a lot more opportunity because they are not blinded by their self-defeating patriotism. In America, we have the wealth but not the will to be great. It is really tragic.

            My overarching point is that Scott referred to himself as a “recovering smart person” (is he now endorsing ignorance?) and this statement lends itself to American anti-intellectualism. I know that Scott isn’t really anti-intellectual, but it is statements such as this that fuel our unwarranted suspicion against public intellectuals and university professors. In the end, the problem that you are likely to encounter is that the very people you are defending will attack you for calling them poor. They will spit in your face and tell you to take your pity elsewhere. Perhaps this explains why I have turned into a grumpy old fart, so to speak…

        • Euhill

          What’s really astounding is that stupidity is more than easy. It’s encouraged, while being smart is discouraged via peer pressure. That is a scary thing to see.

      • Stone

        Darrnit i may b dumb_really hoped what i just wrote on this i could c so i kbew where, i left off.. stupidly smart I’ve known those that aren’t itteligent in the majoridy vote but have such Confidence wben those imaginative people go to prove thier words the confidence has more itelligenct would probly be un able to go roag and get off with something that will wow u!! Like camp fuel taken from walmart discreaty put her back pac. Illigall in so many ways however brilliant in how she managed this. Espec exciting when. later when about to the car with this idem fallsout the bag and rolls under ially on friday night n springfield. Wow evenafter. Brilliance howDarrnit i may b dumb_really hoped what i just wrote on this i could c so i kbew where, i left off.. stupidly smart I’ve known those that aren’t itteligent in the majoridy vote but have such Confidence wben those imaginative people go to prove thier words the confidence has more itelligenct would probly be un able to go roag and get off with something that will wow u!! Like camp fuel taken from walmart discreaty put her back pac. Illigall in so many ways however brilliant in how she managed this. Espec exciting when. later when about to the car with this idem fallsout the bag and rolls under ially on friday night n springfield. Wow evenafter. Brilliance how

    • Travis

      Steve, why are you so antagonistic? If you wanted to disagree, why couldn’t you simply refute what you needed to and then be done with it. Instead you go out of your way to demean the OP (calling his argument laughable) and say you how the article “pisses me[you) off”. The focus of your first paragraph is a refutation of the OPs rhetorical/theoretical situation. It seems your definition of the word “intelligent” is just different from the OPS, but you assume his is the same as yours, and you use that to berate his argument. He is saying that people will defend their previous views, even if they are wrong (not they necessarily are wrong) until someone confronts them about it and dissects their argument. He is just trying to make the point that people have a tendency (even people generally considered smart) to stick to their previous beliefs/ideas/viewpoints.

      I want to ask again my first question. Steve, why are you so antagonistic? The way you insert a tone of anger and frustration into your comment makes you seem like you are defending something close and personal to you, like a patriot defending their country. What are you defending? Why are you ‘pissed off’? Is there something behind this argument that you feel is being attacked, or do you just get angry as a response to someone questioning your previously-held views?

      Thank you and please try to answer me respectfully, without calling my argument laughable or dumb.

      • Randall Harms

        I don’t agree with your use of the word “antagonistic” to describe the style of Steve’s argument. It seems to me to be more a passionate expression of a thesis brewing in Steve’s mind that the author’s essay catalyzed into a clear and coherent logical structure, and that Steve believes dissemination of his identification and defining outline of the problem IS important to the viability of our republic. Your characterization of the bad faith use of smart in a different and “known to be different by Steve” is accurate and illuminating to both arguments and solves some muddiness in both perspectives. However, the remainder of your remarks after the “antagonistic:” label was introduced assumes that characterization is correct and fatal to Steve’s argument. I think you applied some instant karma there. Finally, your defensive closing is a wicked trap in that Steve is left with the threat of dismissal of his response if your subjective assessment of his level of respect is negative. Indeed, your response to Steve is an example of the very thing Steve finds troublesome.

        • Mark

          i like you too. You cant have hatred, emotions will often blind peoples critically thinking, when entering a debate. a perfect debate wont be loud…if everyone is polite and everyone gets there point across.. and will have a logical conclusion with perhaps an answer or maybe more questions to be resolved at a later date. But we all know how it really goes, that to me is the big disappointment.

    • bill

      The reason why this article “pisses” you off is because you are a clearly a narcissistic thinker. The author isn’t providing you a frame work of logic as proof of HIS knowledge for YOU to work to dispel with your all-knowing brilliance, he is merely providing value insight into the flawed minds of people like you, so that the rest of us don’t spend any time arguing with you because it would equate to wasting precious minutes of one’s life for no good reason.

      • Steve Thomas

        It is interesting in that you presume to know why this article pisses me off, yet, based upon your words, I suspect you didn’t even read my responses to it. Do you not see the ironic nature of Scott’s argument? If not then let me help: In the first paragraph, Scott asserts that “[he] feel[s] qualified to write this essay as [he’s] a recovering smart person [himself] and [he’s] defended several very bad ideas.” Firstly, although his self-deprecating manner is humorous it sets a rather strong air of anti-intellectualism. Indeed, as if only “smart” people defend bad ideas. The truth is we all, from time to time, defend bad ideas, so his self-deprecating comment makes me suspicious. The simple truth is that far more often than not it is poorly educated and dumb people who defend bad ideas; for example: global warming deniers, anti-evolutionists, conspiracy theorists, etc.

        So, I invite you, go back and reread Scott’s article and ask yourself: did he really convince me that only smart people do the things he asserts or do all people? We all like to be right; we all can be forceful; we all can defend bad ideas. Think about it. Great swaths of our population believe that anthropogenic climate change is merely an idea crafted by alarmists. So, are these people dumb or smart? Other than anecdotes, there isn’t anything which Scott wrote that convinced me that “smartness” is the culprit here. In fact, as I said before, it is rather ironic in that we can dismiss Scott’s entire argument as a smart person defending a bad idea. No, all along my point has been that we can all defend bad ideas but, for the most part, it is usually the dumb people you’ll find doing this. Don’t get me wrong, I think Scott is likely a very smart guy and he’s a good write, but I think this piece is not one of his better ideas.

        • Emy

          I think Scott is just informing us, the readers, to be aware of our own propensity to defend bad ideas due to our own arrogance and to realize that others will also defend bad ideas too.

          He is challenging us to take a step back so that we don’t become intimidated by someone who thinks they know it all, someone who might push their bad ideas onto us because they are better at arguing and defending their points. We can still say no even if we can’t prove someone wrong. We can still buy ourselves time. We can still think things over.

          People tend to self-justify. They defend their decisions to protect their ego even when those decisions have clearly harmed people. They look for excuses. They say that the ends justifies the means. They claim that the person wasn’t so hurt afterall. Some even convince themselves that those hurt arn’t worthy of respect. It is disgusting behaviour to protect the ego, the product of pride.

          Many ‘smart’ people never want to admit that they are wrong. Stupid people don’t want to admit their are wrong either. People do not like to admit that they are wrong.

          A truly wise person realizes that they don’t know everything. They listen. They reflect. They know that their worth is not tied to being right. It is better to do the right thing than to be right, while you do the wrong thing (ie: misdiagnosing someone and continuing with the wrong treatment because you can’t admit that you made a mistake).

          Scott writes, “No one can ever take away your right to think things over”. Be a thinker. Don’t be bullied by someone. Don’t bow down to them because they are good at arguing. But be open minded enough to listen to other views. Maybe someone has a better way of doing something.

          • Emy


            Many ‘smart’ people never want to admit that they are wrong. Stupid people don’t want to admit that they are wrong either. People do not like to admit that they are wrong.

            People often say that the ends justify the means.

            Some even convince themselves that those they hurt aren’t worthy of respect.

            The result of wanting to be right: (i.e.: misdiagnosing someone and continuing with the wrong treatment because you can’t admit that you made a mistake).

        • Shaun

          Twice in your posts you have referenced global warming as though the evidence for it is as definitive as gravity. While there is much evidence for it, there are now two separate scandals surrounding the ‘evidence’.
          We will know for certain that AGW is true when the IPCC drops the ‘s’ from their climate model(s) and begins calling it a Law.Until then, it is a theory.
          Given the discussion around Scott’s article, I believe you have failed to step back enough from complete buy-in until the idea of AGW is proven.

          • Steve Thomas

            Hi Shaun,

            I appreciate your point but scandals aside there is ample evidence to support this scientific claim. To which scandals do you refer? I hope it is not the so-called “Climate Gate” as that has been soundly refuted. I would encourage you to look up what is meant by “law” and “theory” as it relates to science. Laypeople often confuse these terms but I suspect that the word “law,” at least in this sense, does not mean what you seem to think it does. (I say “seem” because I can only take your words at face value).

            There is an overwhelming scientific consensus with regard to AGW and there is for gravity as well. I assume that you know that gravity is a theory as is evolution both of which have overwhelming evidence to support them. For our purposes here, AGW is as close to fact as we mortals can get. So I encourage you, take time to understand what science means by these two terms. There is little to no doubt that AGW is a fact—at least as close to fact as we can get.

        • Tyler

          This article is all about you Steve. You are Smart but not wise.

          • Garry

            Steve is an elitist pedant. It is he whom this article is referring to. Notice how he uses the term ‘laypeople’ to presumptuously describe the person he’s responding to.

          • Mark

            see you cant point at people steve is a person… people can be wrong…. steve can be wrong. but you only seek to accuse (overthow i guess) him and its that negitive mindset that steve fears and is trying to highlight. you do i fine job with an example but it doesnt drive the message home. ALSO i wanted comment on climate.. Manmade or not. we arent the first ones here. this place has been blown apart many times by volcanoes (yellowstone) and meteor’s sooooo theres that too… but thats if your serious about that debate. we have a long list of humankind hurdles and we will have to pioneer new planets if we want to prosper otherwise will will be doomed no matter what…. we out grow earth or never sprout from this seed. or whatever im sure there is more to it. :P im done for the night GL guys

        • Ryan

          Steve – “Indeed, as if only “smart” people defend bad ideas.” The entire basis of your argument is completely unfounded. Nowhere in the article do I see anything that would lead me to this conclusion. In fact, I see the overall tone being something akin to it being ‘ironic’ that smart people defend bad ideas, despite being so smart. There is nothing stated about whether dumb people do or do not defend bad ideas. I think we can all agree that this in fact DOES take place and I am sure the author would agree. So this is a straw man argument you have created in order to tear down a sound idea that does not concur somehow with your own thought patterns. You come to this conclusion through projection of your own cognitive dissonance. You do not address the actual subject matter at all that I can see. Your arguments are speculative, argumentative, and based on shaky ground at best. These ideas are not useful in the context of the conversation and no minimum word count, quotations out of context or extreme usage of commas will fix this. Perhaps it would be best for you to tell us what is really on your mind no?

          • Steve Thomas


            I have always said that irony, subtlety and innuendo are lost on the obtuse. Your quoting of me is neither my main argument nor is it its basis. It was a tongue-in-cheek response to Scott’s point. If you would have taken time to actually read my responses then you would understand my main point. All one needs to do is replace the word “smart” with the word “dumb” and this article will make sense. You then go on to state that “there is nothing stated about whether dumb people do or do not defend bad ideas.” You’re right Ryan, there wasn’t but then go back and reread my point about subtlety. You need to understand the logical consequences of an argument whether they are implicit or explicit. Therefore, if you had actually read my entire comments then you’d see that your claim that I have conjured a straw man is null.

            As I have stated repeatedly, this is nothing personal against Scott because I know that he isn’t a stupid person, but, ironically, he is nevertheless defending a really bad idea. America has become the land of make believe—an Orwellian future—where people believe that enhanced interrogation isn’t torture, where collateral damage isn’t state murder and “religious freedom” isn’t discrimination and, yes, that being dumb is actually smart. However, I have always known what Scott really means to say, but the issue (let me state it explicitly for you) is that he had unwittingly given a voice to many of the denizens of Idiot America.

          • Steve Thomas

            Lastly, what you seem to think is extreme usage of commas (whatever that is) is actually grammatically correct. I assume that you’re referring to this text: “It is interesting in that you presume to know why this article pisses me off, yet, based upon your words, I suspect you didn’t even read my responses to it.” It’s commonly referred to as a ribbon. The text “based upon your words” can be lifted like a ribbon out of the sentence and the sentence still makes sense. Yours is an interesting response because, like many others, you have only help to prove my point, but also attack hostility with hostility. It is rather ironic as well. Perhaps I’ve gone on too long as I that I live in the age of extremely short attention spans . . .

          • Steve Thomas

            D’oh “helped to prove my point.” I wish Scott’s website allowed edits.

  4. Sean Crawford

    Maybe it’s just me, and I know I’m only a bystander, but when someone comments disrespectfully to Scott, then I feel disrespected too.

  5. Steve Thomas


    I am not really pissed off although I can understand why you would say that. I am however exceedingly frustrated because everywhere I turn there are people who are deriding intelligent people or the intelligentsia, in general. I am fighting against this vein of anti-intellectualism that has permeated the United States. You say that “it seems your definition of the word “intelligent” is just different from the OPS, but you assume his is the same as yours, and you use that to berate his argument,” and I am going to challenge you on this point. Why shouldn’t I assume that it has the same definition? Last I checked there is really only one definition for this word. The fact that you seem to think that we can simply redefine words to suit or choosing is actually part of this problem. I admit to the frustration, yes, because everyone wants to jump on the internet to play the intelligent person, yet all the while many of you are berating intelligent people. It doesn’t make a lick of sense.

    To your last point as to whether “[…] I just get angry as a response to someone questioning your previously-held views?” The answer is a resounding “no” because I was the one doing the questioning. Keep in mind that logic dictates the soundness of our arguments, so perhaps you should look up and understand what constitutes a straw man argument. As I noted, I did not mean any disrespect but it is my prerogative to challenge what I see as nonsense. It is also Scott’s prerogative whether he posts it. He did, warts and all, and I think that shows a level of character and honesty on his part.

    • DCC

      Mr. Thomas wishes to inform us all that Americans are stupid.

      If I understand his argument, he is saying that he disagrees with the essay, because anyone defending a bad idea is by definition not a smart person. And that America is anti-intellectual.

      He further adds that Americans are anti-intellectual, and that apparantly is why the OP wrote this essay in the first place.

      Finally, Americans are dumb, and Mr. Thomas disapproves of this fact.

      • Steve


        I really don’t know why you took the time to write such drivel. If you are going to respond to something which another wrote then don’t you think you should take some time to make it cogent? You didn’t understand my point at all so I think you should go back and reread it again. Also, you can read my review on Amazon too. Perhaps that will clarify some points for you. Lastly, the word you seek is “apparently” not “apparently,” unless, of course, I am just another “smart” person defending a bad idea like proper spelling…

  6. Jordan Koepnick

    I have to say that for the past couple of hours i have been hooked by the impressive articles on this blog. Keep up the wonderful work.

  7. Elizabeth

    Thank-you Scott! I have been trying to understand my husband and his giftedness for years. I simply am searching for ways to help us live as peacefully as possible, which as you probably know and understand, can be a challenge. Your article gave me what I was looking for – more insight into understanding why he seems to like to argue and a new awareness about how slowing it down could help.

    Thank-you very much.


  8. Caitlin

    Thank you so much for writing this! Very thought-provoking.

  9. Joe Smarter than You

    Clearly your not a smar person, or you wouldn’t have written this garbage.

    • David M Linehan

      Joe, bro, I don’t want to be the guy that calls out spelling mistakes, but in a post where you are trying to call someone dumb, at least spell “smart” right, or get Google Chrome; it has spell check.

      That’s how you use commas.

      • Steve Thomas

        It’s funny how everyone here seems to have zeroed in on what is ostensibly a typo, but seemingly overlooked and obvious and, sadly, a common syntax error. Why do so many Americans have trouble distinguishing the word “your” from the word “you’re?” I think what Joe meant to say is this: “Clearly you’re not a smart person or you wouldn’t have written this garbage.” Perhaps he was trying to be ironic…

        • Mark

          Steve you seem like a good guy. i feel like i go through this all the time. often when someone has a good idea ill play devils advocate just to see if it stacks up. it isnt to make he or she look bad its just to make sure the idea is more or less sound when it leaves the circle. and the flood of worthless information vs what matters… the headaches of dealing with who are devout to ideas they dont even fully understand….. what i wish to be able to talk to someone again who can go the debate distance with out coming to blows lol :)

  10. Robert Barnes

    Thumps up for you David: (Linehan). That was awsome, and it was smart!

    • kenny greenwood

      Great essay, wonderful title! I to used to think I was smart as; I have finally realized I know just enough to know I don’t know enough !
      Keep up the great work!

      • Steve Thomas


        Your post reinforces my point exactly. This is indeed the hallmark of a smart person; one which Socrates himself made millennia ago when he uttered “I know that I know nothing.” That was my original point to Scott. Generally speaking, smart and educated people know what they don’t know, but it is also less educated people who tend to defend bad ideas. My position has not changed as I think Scott is a good writer but I think he got this one wrong. For anyone who is interested, I recommend looking up an interesting phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger effect, for it explains this behavior perfectly.

  11. Robert Barnes

    David Linehan,

    I forgot to mention that I would have said it this way:
    Joe, bro, I don’t want to be the guy that calls out spelling mistakes,
    but, in a post where you are trying to call someone dumb, at least
    spell “smart” right, or get Google Chrome; it has spell check.
    Notice the extra comma?

  12. Fred

    Scott, the opening of your essay confused the crap out of me. I think I might get it, now. By talking about “smart” people, you must mean “sharp-witted, possibly educated dumb people”. I guess I usually understand “smart” to mean “quick-to-learn, wise people”.

    I’ve found over and over again that the correct response to genuinely smart people when they say something you think is stupid is to stop and understand what they mean by it. More likely it’s you (or me) who is failing to see what’s really being communicated.

    I’d guess this idea is what Steve had in mind as well, when he interpreted your post to be anti-intellectual. I do agree with him that your post’s flippancy is somewhat ironic, given your point. Though I also think that the advice you give is sound, if you’re truly being confronted by a dumb fast-talker (aka “smart” person), as opposed to an actual smart person.

  13. tammyruger

    I haven’t read all the comments so this question may have been addressed, but I’m wondering if Steve’s anti-intellectual rant translates into “low information voter.” Is this to assume that the special interests that voted Obama a second term are therefore anti-intellectual by choice? If true, this is indeed hideous and resolves the issue of whether this country is headed into a deep abyss never to emerge.

    • Steve Thomas


      As a person who has engaged in numerous online debates and such I have learned to be much more careful about misinterpreting what others are saying. In looking back, however, my initial response to Scott was overly aggressive and he certainly did not deserve my angry response, so my apologies to him. Actually, Fred hit the nail on the head when he stated that “More likely it’s you (or me) who is failing to see what’s really being communicated.” However, the point being is this: obtuse people are the ones who are more likely to defend bad ideas.

      I interpreted his words as being anti-intellectual simply because he wrote that “I’m not proud to admit that I have a degree in Logic and Computation from Carnegie Mellon University.” Indeed, this is rather peculiar as if it is somehow embarrassing to have been received higher education and to be taught how to think in a more structured way. Why shouldn’t he be proud to admit this? It is a great achievement on his part. I may be wrong but I interpreted Scott’s sentence as some sort of an appeal to so-called “common sense.” An appeal to common sense is often employed as a logical fallacy and it is often an appeal to right-wing populism; in other words, a rejection of the elites in universities, business and government.

      Tammy, in your post you inquired whether “is this to assume that the special interests that voted Obama a second term are therefore anti-intellectual by choice?” It is my opinion that special interests tend to be anti-intellectual by choice. This is why a great swath of the American population rejects evolution in favour of creationism; they claim that anthropogenic climate change is a myth; they maintain the belief that Obama was born in Kenya, etc, etc. I am not suggesting that this is you; however, whether one loves him or hates him is irrelevant, but to reject the overwhelming evidence that Obama is a US citizen is indeed anti-intellectual. However, special interests do not vote but they are, generally speaking, the ones who affect the opinions of those who do vote.

  14. Hughe

    Why most scientists and engineers are so stupid!?

    This situation is worse than smart people defend bad ideas. I did not know it has been happening all the time but I was honestly stupid. Then I slowly went through painful period of relearning how to think and how to look at reality with unbiased attitude.

    The reason I say this modern science except few fields went to backwards. Especially cosmology in astronomy. Any open-mind individuals who study alternative theories about universe, he/she will understand how the Big Bang theory is rubbish, absurd. Mean while virtually all astronomers stupidly support it like religious fanatics. Then it makes wonder “What’s real intelligence?”

    Most scientists hardly give second thought or serious question to basic assumptions, i.e. core definitions and terms that serve as foundation of hypothesis. For example, Issac Newton had implicit assumptions on gravity when he invented Newtonian Mechanics 300 years ago. His marvelous achievement has some serious flaws that began to fail some phenomena discovered by other scientists as time passed. But, these real scientists opinion hardly ever embraced in mainstream scientific community for 19th, 20th century.

    Issac Newton thought speed of gravity is instantaneous. Its range of force extends up to infinite distance in universe. These assumptions are absurd, non-realistic. So modern cosmology that uses Newton’s gravitational theory and theory of Relativity has been busy to patch, create pseudo entities for explaining observed phenomena.

    What a exciting time for us to live!

  15. Bill Riedel

    I think it is relatively simple why smart people defend bad ideas. I read two books fairly recently. Neither of these books made much sence alone; however together they led to the following conclusion:

    1. We are all brainwashed or have brainwashed ourselves and that is particularily true if one has been brainwashed into a profession. So the first question we must answer is: How brainwashed am I? (Reference – McGinn, Colin 2008, Mindfucking, A Critique of Mental Manipulation, Acumen).

    2. What and whose bullshit do I believe? (Reference – Law, Stephen, 2011, Believing Bullshit, How Not to Get Sucked into Intellectual Black Hole, Prometheus Books.

    Only after having answered these two questions can one look at issues objectively.

  16. Steve Thomas


    Your thinking is beyond confused, and your writing skills are even worse. Your understanding of science and how it works is as bad as your syntax. I don’t think Scott’s essay wasn’t an invitation to denigrate smart, educated people. Your post is nonsense unless you can prove examples to which you’re referring. What assumptions and what, pray tell, makes you think the big bang theory is rubbish? Your ideas are very poorly formed.

    • Hughe

      I don’t spend time to review my writings and fix errors on comments.

      It took almost entire life for me to gain power of independent thinking in true sense. Even though I hate conventional scientific theories nowadays, I love science and technologies. The problem is to have balanced idea or opinion about a fact one must have different explanations. The great tragic of collective stupidity in human society is educational system is designed to dumb down humans.

      If I give you serious scientific papers and books written by scientists and engineers, will you personally spend your spare time and energy to study alternative theory? For example all text books and journals that public can access on the net or buy in book stores only represent theories and information for mainstream science.

      Black Holes do exist. Why? As an average Joe like me believe in as truth because the scientists say so.
      Matter can not travel faster than the speed of light. Again asking why returns simple answer “Mr. Einstein say so.”
      Big Bang theory of universe is absurd and rubbish hypothesis to any individual who really study alternative theories of physics. For instance Big Bang theory assumes our universe is close system that has start and end. How they know our universe is close or open system? To ask this question one has to understand two fundamental approaches for attacking physical problem in sciences: close or open system. Looking at an engine as close system which is completely isolated from external environment probably reasonable. The engine burns fuel and convert part of its energy into mechanical force. Then applying same principal to unimaginably big entity, which is our universe, is simply stupid or intellectual masturbation of bad scientists.
      It became scientific fact that Sun’s weather change effects Earth’s local/global weather. I didn’t make this up.
      Then, it’s just beginning of bigger reality Earth belongs to. Our solar system travels extremely fast in space. Changing conditions of space also affect every thing in solar system. Then there is our galaxy, galaxy cluster, super galaxy cluster, on and on.

      All laws in physics built upon basic assumptions of its inventors. In mathematics it calls as Axiom. Public education do not offer any space to discuss possible or inherited flaws of these Axioms. Whether it’s a kid in a grade school or student in a college, challenging the teacher’ word comes with punishment.

      Why do we have to depend on fossil fuels? Because we’ve been taught energy does not exist in empty space. It only exists inside static matter. To extract energy matter – fossil fuel, oil or Uranium or whatever – has to be destroyed. Exact repetition of stupidity when people was believing in “Sun and all stars revolve around the Earth.”

      To exercise free will and make own decision one needs to have choices. In science different theories do exist. Do you know who Nicola Tesla was? Nearly seven billions still depend on Tesla’s electric power generation and distribution technologies over one hundred years. Nicola Tesla demonstrated how to extract energy in atmosphere even space, which gave a clue alternative perspective how our universe exists. Anyway good signs more and more people are beginning to embrace Tesla’s perspective.

      • Steve Thomas


        Your entire post smacks of typical anti-intellectual conspiracy nonsense. As I said, you do not seem to really understand how science works, and your words seem to confirm this. You stated that “For example all text books and journals that public can access on the net or buy in book stores only represent theories and information for mainstream science.” Mainstream science, are you serious here? What, there’s non-mainstream science? Let me get this straight; in other words, there’s a cover up occurring, right? This is such nonsensical thinking. Science is imperfect but it is the best we have, and it is self-correcting because of its peer-reviewed nature. I wholeheartedly reject your conspiracy position as it lacks any basis in reality.

        Next, what you appear to be doing is to confuse issues. Simply because someone cannot tell you why matter cannot accelerate past the speed of light does not mean that it is less true. You appear to be attempting to equate one’s faith in science as being the equivalent as one’s faith in religion. If so then you are committing the fallacy of equivocation. I do not doubt that there have been examples of certain scientific theories being initially rejected but proved later. Indeed, vindication for these scientists but it proves that science works. Theories and information are altered as new information arises. Most alternative theories are just that—alternative. Simply because something is alternative doesn’t mean that it’s true. I caution you to be careful as your thinking is bordering on conspiratorial and paranoid…

        • Jamal

          What is your purpose in life Steve?

          • Mark

            this what i and i guess steve are getting at. your to lazy to do the work yet you want to tell us how its done YET when we take the time to refute or rebuttal or debate the topic like an adult somewhat versed in that field yall throw your hands up and say “Whats the point!!!” and knock the metaphorical jenga tower over. if we pursue further (its hardly worth the effort) we look like assholes cause what you guys cant seem to understand is you are wrong and like the author states your stuck in your ways cause you think you are smart…. the cycle.

  17. Ivana

    This essay is describing typical OCD people when they are wrong ;)

  18. Tim

    I follow what is said here, but my friend tries to use rather large words and speak over me. When i argue back, he just gets mad and starts to call me names or say ” you mad bro”. How do i get out of this situation without creating a fight?

  19. Mike Mellor

    An excellent article. Scott Berkun gently points out in everyday language some of the most common logical errors. I was also reminded that although I think I’m smart I have bad ideas as often as, or maybe more often than, people of less intelligence, and because I think I’m smart, I tend to hang onto those bad ideas long after they should have been discarded.

  20. Jax Katz

    The Title of Scott’s essay is “Why Smart People Defend Bad Ideas”. Many here have attacked him for his information on how, not why, they do this. He is discussing ‘smart people’, and why they would defend, support, or propose, and idea or position, that the smart person already knows isn’t smart. I do not see this essay as anti-intellectual , but rather that the intellect needs to be combined with wisdom ( knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight). I think that the reference to Issac Newton was only to show that smart people, do in fact, defend bad ideas. The only reference to politics was the economy. The fact that some are debating the big bang, relativity, gravity, and science in general, or arguing that if a smart person supports a bad idea, he must not be smart…… only makes Scott’s point. I can not let this go without comment. Steve , theories are not proven. That does not mean that ALL science is theory and therefore , without proof. There is no alternative theory for proven science.

    • Steve Thomas

      From where I sit there are few things which are more irritating than someone entering into a discussion without fully grasping what’s been said hitherto; indeed, thus enters Jax. Like you, I cannot let your inane commentary go without . . . well . . . commenting. I think perhaps you need to grasp what has been said: we all can defend bad ideas—this I do not deny—but it is usually the ignorant ones who tend to do this. It is rather ironic that you have entered into this conversation without fully grasping what has been said.

      Jax, you stated that “[…] theories are not proven.” Oh, really, they’re not? I suppose you’re the type who states that “Evolution is just a theory.” If so then you are guilty of equivocation. You need to understand what science means when it uses the term “theory.” Here’s a little blurb form Wiki: “A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that is acquired through the scientific method and repeatedly tested and confirmed through observation and experimentation.” It seems to me that you’re using theory in the everyday sense and if so then you are exceptionally wrong. Your last statement is entirely meaningless. What did you mean when you wrote “There is no alternative theory for proven science.” Alternative theory, huh? It is clear to me that you, like most Americans, have little to no understanding of science or the scientific method. Reread the entire post and then get back to us.

      • Joey Baluga

        You are a perfect example of modern secular humanist thinking, which is 180° wrong.

        In 100 years, when our “laws” of physics are shown not at all to be “laws” but to be rules that apply here in earth, in the Milky Way, in this particular time period, but which fall completely apart as soon as we go “out there” (I’m pointing at the sky now) you secular humanists will say, “Well we didn’t have all the data.” But here in this time period, you declare the books pure, unadulterated, proven science. Never responsible for being wrong. Always being right. Nothing but fraud coming out of the intellecutals, scientists, university researchers.

        Theories fall well below the laws so no comment needed there.

        Someone else posted separating intelligence and wisdom. Yes, a “wise” person is smart. A 180 IQ person doesn’t necessarily have any smarts whatseover. Unfortunately the populace has this predudice against themselves as individuals and they always assume the high IQ and the PhD is smarter than they are, so they keep deferring to these idiots. The reality is the auto mechanic who sees the world knows knows infiintely more than these isolated intellectuals. The results of the “intellectuals” can be seen everywhere – the bankruptcy of the entire free world, graduates who can’t read and write despite the intellectuals taking over the school system from the top down, from the “best” schools in the world, downright idiots in the presidency who couldn’t solve their way out of a wet paper bag.

        The infiltration of this secular humanism everywhere has put us in a precarious dystopia. You think we’re advancing greatly but meanwhile the civilization, like many civilizations much greater before us, is flushing itself down the toilet at the lead of the intellectuals.

        I’m sure no one in the middle of a dying civilization, knew what they were seeing. Just like you: Completely fogged and spreading the fog to others as you go.

  21. Jax Katz

    Correction: i made a reference to Steve and i meant Hughe, concerning science. I was kind of responding to Steve Thomas with the rest of my comment. My point is that Steve and others are trying to turn this essay (a personally held view of the author) into an argument or debate. It is not about anti-intellectualism, ignorant people, dumb people, left or right, the dumbing down of america, or any of the nonsense posted here, and it all illustrates Scott’s point. Everyone is trying to be right by abandoning the original point and confounding the discussion with points of contention. This essay is about why people, who you know are intelligent, support bad (by any definition) ideas, often against their own best interest.

  22. Jax Katz

    Steve, i posted a correction to my first post. you have only responded to that part of my comments that was in reference to Hughe. I am not trying to pick a fight and i have read all of the posts here and i know what a theory is.
    : the analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another
    : abstract thought : speculation
    : the general or abstract principles of a body of fact, a science, or an art
    a : a belief, policy, or procedure proposed or followed as the basis of action
    b : an ideal or hypothetical set of facts, principles, or circumstances —often used in the phrase in theory
    : a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena
    a : a hypothesis assumed for the sake of argument or investigation
    b : an unproved assumption : conjecture
    c : a body of theorems presenting a concise systematic view of a subject
    i am interested in this discussion because i have often said that we believe much of what we do because of simply where we were born and raised, and yet smart people, born hemispheres apart, can be just as sure as each other (in their opposite opinions) that they are correct about something without proof. Did that make sense ? Also it bothers me that we use tradition to promote and accept , unacceptable positions. My only contention with you is that you are only illustrating Scott’s point and also that you seem to have made a judgement on my positions and i don’t think that i’ve taken any except with Hughe. i was simply trying to point out what the essay is about. All that nonsense about alternate theories was from Hughe and i was telling him that there is no alternative to the proven truth.

    • Steve Thomas


      I appreciate that much of what you wrote was directed toward Hughe. Yes, I suppose I did take issue with what you wrote. I have been clear: a smart and educated person knows what they don’t know. Given Scott’s hypothesis, how do you know that you’re not merely another person supporting a bad idea? I assure you that I am not in any way illustrating Scott’s point. Do you not see why? I am not making any claim but rather refuting Scott’s point, so it is impossible for me to be illustrating his point.

      Moreover, I feel uncertain as to why you felt the need to post all of those definitions about the word “theory.” I am well aware of its meaning but it seems that you are not. For all intent and purpose, scientific theories are facts—at least as close to fact as we can come. Look up the fallacy of equivocation. With that said, this is not meant as a condemnation of Scott; I think he is a great writer and makes a lot of great points, but I vehemently disagree with him on this point. Ergo, I recommend you read carefully what I wrote. I have spent my life debating and thinking carefully about issues and I can tell you unequivocally that it is almost always the loudest and proudest who are certain of their positions; these are usually loudmouthed, poorly educated ignoramuses who spout what they saw on Fox News. One merely needs to debate with a creationist in order to witness my point.

  23. Jax Katz

    Steve, i know that you’re “pissed off ” and find me “irritating” but check yourself. i have a ‘grasp’ on what has been said. you have not. it is partly my fault because i referenced you instead of Hughe, but if you were that smart you should have been able to figure that out. unless YOU have not read all of the posts, in which case the ‘no grasp’ moniker falls to you. this essay is not about who ‘tends’ to defend bad ideas , but a specific group of people and WHY they defend bad ideas when they should know better. on evolution, i did not offer an opinion and you reveal a lot about yourself in your assumptions. if you read Hughe’s posts you might understand my comments concerning theories. In science, a theory is a rigorously tested statement of general principles that explains observable and recorded aspects of the world. A scientific theory therefore describes a higher level of understanding that ties “facts” together. A scientific theory stands until proven wrong — it is never proven correct. Hughe’s assertion was that “a theory is a theory” and since it remains unproven, stands equal in probability with an alternate theory. Now have you got a grasp ? Tap, Tap, The hole you’re digging is very nice, and it is the right size. But you’ve got the wrong author.

    • Steve Thomas

      I wondered how long it would take for you to show your nasty side. Here’s what you miss: what I wrote and what Hughe wrote are at different ends of the spectrum.

  24. Jax Katz

    Steve, one last thing. If you’ve ever been tricked, misled, cheated on, lied to, pranked, suprised, discovered a secret (person,place,or thing), then you don’t know what you don’t know, but when you find out you’ll be wiser.

  25. Steve Thomas

    Yes, why are we arguing? I agree with you. Being smart does not mean one is omnipotent or flawless.

  26. Jax Katz

    Steve, i knew as soon as you used the term ‘anti-intellectual’ that we were alot closer on issues than you might think. i wanted to see how far this would go. i intentionally did not offer opinion on the issues that were brought up. yes i agree with most of what you have said but am troubled that you do not see how you have illustrated or exemplified Scott’s premise. this essay was not political or derogatory to any group, and only asked and tried to answer a question about a specific group of people. your argument, as i see it , is that everyone (or group) wants to be right and will or has defended bad ideas. maybe, but that is not what this essay is about. My mother is smart. she has a masters and was a teacher for 25 yrs. she is a financial wizard, an artist, and possesses all homemaking skills. when confronted with a new challange she is adapatable and innovative. she is retired now and receives a state teachers pension and SS and medicare. She is in the hospital as i write. She is anti-union, anti-government, pro-corporation. she lives on her Union Pension and SS, gets the best health care between her retirement heath care and medicare, and will probably never recover her stock loses from the bush years (she is 85). Why would she defend the policies from the right so ardently ? Scott nailed it ,
    Smart people can follow stupid leaders (seeking praise or promotion)
    Smart people may follow their anger into stupid places
    They may be trained or educated into stupidity
    Smart people can inherit bad ideas from their parents under the guise of tradition
    They may simply want something to be true, that can never be.
    This is not to say that only smart people do these things or that all smart people do them , but when they do, why ? and how do they defend them ? and how can i debunk them ? that is what this essay is about.

  27. Steve Thomas

    Interestingly enough, it sounds like you are describing my own mother—almost perfectly. Admittedly, I do not have much patience any more as I have been at the debating game too long, and I have made many of my own observations about people namely that it so refreshing to read words from someone who is cogent, cautious and thoughtful; these are hardly qualities one sees amongst the ignorant and poorly educated. As such, I do not suffer fools well and can get cranky.

    Here is the crux of where I think you and Scott are going wrong: you asked “Why would she defend the policies from the right so ardently ? Scott nailed it , Smart people can follow stupid leaders […].” What then does it mean to be stupid? Such a definition renders the word “smart” as being altogether meaningless. This is exactly why I called this anti-intellectual. We live in an age where people merely rebrand everything. During the Bush years “torture” became “enhanced interrogation” which is, of course, complete excrement. I am sorry but the things you describe are not the habits of a smart person. I do not mean any offense toward your mother or even mine for that matter.

    So, I reject your assertion that I am exemplifying Scott’s position because I am not defending a bad idea; I am rejecting one. It troubles me that you don’t see the difference. There is an interesting phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger Effect which, according to Wikipedia, is “[…] is a cognitive bias wherein unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude.” In short, ignorant people fail to see their ignorance. Indeed, this is a point upon which Socrates himself might have a lot to say.

    Here is a great article I recommend to a lot of people :

  28. Jax Katz

    Steve, i think you just called my mom stupid and me a fool. ok, for arguments sake let’s call smart and stupid, high mental capacity and low mental capacity, respectively. my mom is not stupid, but all of the reasons listed above , for smart people to defend bad ideas, pertain to her, as well as just wanting to be right. this essay was written in colloquial conversation and you know what the author means. you exemplify Scott’s premise by employing every tactic (including belittlement and use of whatever snide or manipulative tactics you have) discussed, trying to be right. it is you who have presented the straw man. this is not an essay defining ‘smart’, but is about a person, having been already defined as smart, defending a bad (stupid) idea (position, stance, law, whatever). you have made assumptions about the author and me that sparked an anger within you. it is unfounded.

    • Steve Thomas


      Neither did I call you nor your mother stupid; in fact, I used my own mother as an example. Even I would never be that rude. I was merely illustrating a point. On a level, I do not disagree that smart people defend bad ideas—it’s part of the human experience—but I do not think it is their “smartness” that has anything to do with the underlying cause. In fact, my overarching issue with Scott’s essay is that he, in my opinion, misuses the word “smart” thereby rendering it meaningless. I know full well what Scott is asserting for part of what he has written about is referred to as “the argument from ignorance.” I too am a university graduate with a philosophy degree, so I know exactly what he’s talking about.

      As for me, I take issue with the fact that I have dealt with a horde of stupid religious people who continually state: “Well, prove God doesn’t exist,” or “You can’t prove God doesn’t exist.” I don’t have to! These dolts overlook an obvious point that, before anything else, they can’t prove God does exist. Are these people smart or dumb? Or let’s take the average Fox News viewer—the very group who vote against their own self-interests—are these people smart or dumb? I assert that it’s likely the latter but certainly not always. We all can defend bad ideas—both smart and dumb alike—so, that being the case, we have not really answered the root cause of Scott’s query. In the end, generally speaking, we don’t find that it’s usually the educated or smart people defending bad ideas but rather the opposite. We can go on and on and I do not mean any disrespect to either Scott or you. I simply disagree with this position.

      P.S. Yes, I stand corrected on my use of the word “ignorance.” I was using it as a pejorative term. I do agree that Ignorant is not stupid.

  29. Jax Katz

    Steve, by definition ignorant people can not know of their ignorance. that does not make them stupid. what does that have to do with the price of tea in china ? this essay is still not about defining smart or stupid or ignorance, or the political direction of this country, or religion , or ethics, or any of the BS discussed here, except as they influence people with above average IQs to support and defend bad ideas. If i’ve been rude it is not because you are smart but wrong, but because you poked me first with the rude stick.

  30. jax katz

    Steve, you still don’t get what this essay is about and it makes me question….your reading skills. It is NOT about comparing people or groups of people, or labeling people as smart or stupid, or which group of people act stupid more often than another, or the religious right, or fox news. it is about people that have the intellect to come to correct conclusions about what is true or real, and solve problems, and why they would choose to initiate, support, and/or defend, ideas and positions, that they already know, through their intellect, are not beneficial, moral, ethical, fair, or reasonable. FYI, i googled Scott Berkun and although i may be wrong, he appears to be liberal, probably Dem., and is a regular commentator on MSNBC . You are angry (and i don’t really blame you) and coming across like Sean Hannity, trying to make this about something that it is not. i would rather argue with you than against you if we could stay on topic. i will admit that although i grew up thinking my mom was the smartest person in the world, i have been questioning just how smart she really is , for years. love you mom.

  31. J

    Whilst reading this, I was hoping to email you personally. Unfortunately however, a comments box just doesn’t have the same feel to it, and of course, I am much more reserved on the words I choose to place here – That’s the problem with being famous (by having one best selling book, I think you can deem yourself worthy of some length of fame) Scott, the ordinary person just cannot get hold of you personally.

    While already understanding and being knowledgeable about your topic of conversation, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and can clearly recall using these tactics during my youth (and I remember both winning and not (however, it’s not necessary to belittle (in my own opinion))). The sole purpose for my comment is to say thank you, for ending a mildly shitty ending to a day with some light reading that lifted my mood.

    Side note: I must say however, during the process of writing this, I became very lost in reading the comments, which were truly entertaining. Although while two individuals I read arguments from both sound of intelligence, a debate between each other is much less productive than developing a document of their own speculations and questions to consider.

  32. Steve Thomas


    You are tenacious if nothing else. Come on, Sean Hannity, really? I thought I was more like Rush Limbaugh. Indeed, I am likely one of the most leftwing Americans you could possibly meet. However, I know this was meant in the pejorative sense, but simply because I have edges that scratch doesn’t ipso facto make my arguments erroneous. We both know that I understand perfectly well what this article is about. Sadly, you have demonstrated what so many others before have done. You simply either don’t understand what I have written or you ignore what I have written. Did you look up the Dunning-Kruger Effect? My initial charge that this was an anti-intellectual rant is simply for the fact that Scott set the tone when he stated “I feel qualified to write this essay as I’m a recovering smart person myself and I’ve defended several very bad ideas.” And my point on this hasn’t changed: smart people usually recognize when they’ve erred and usually correct their mistakes. It is stupid people who don’t and it is also stupid people who are arrogant and refuse to change their opinion. To argue otherwise is idiotic; thus my reference to the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

    Moreover, Scott stated that “if you learn a few tricks of logic and debate, you can refute the obvious, and defend the ridiculous.” Strangely, I can think of a thousand instances wherein stupid people defend really bad ideas, and despite a plethora of evidence to the contrary they will remain steadfast in their position. Indeed, evidence bounces from them like water off of a duck (excuse the exhausted idiom). However, Scott then goes on to refute himself when he states that these “smart people” (who he asserts are really dumb) keep on fooling people “until they come face to face with someone who is tenacious enough to dissect their logic, and resilient enough to endure the thinly veiled intellectual abuse they dish out during debate.” Indeed, this sounds like he means someone who is erudite and has the requisite knowledge to dissect bad ideas. Bullshit is bullshit and no amount of intellectual sleight of hand will change this.

    He then goes on to sort of confirm what I am saying when he states that “the wise and skeptical know that even an infinite number of data points in the past may only have limited bearing on the future.” Yes, so true and it is the dumb people who fail to see this. In the end, I am not going to keep going round and round with every newcomer who jumps on this site and wants to take me on. I have said what I have needed to say. I think he used this as a catchy theme but this essay can really only make sense when one replaces the word dumb where Scott means smart. Be well!

    P.S. This is not meant as a condemnation of Scott but rather my general frustration with America’s perpetual fliritng with the anti-intellectual.

  33. Jax Katz

    Steve, if i had anything better to do i would be doing it. i live in the country with no close neighbors or people to talk to, and i find this topic very interesting. two things:
    what bad idea are you rejecting ? and… a smart guy is hiking in the woods and comes upon a rushing stream that he wants to cross. he evaluates the situation and deems it risky. he knows that there is a potential for death by drowning. he attempts to cross anyway. has this ever happened ? why ?
    none of your posts address this. you keep attacking Scott as being anti-intellectual. even if he is, it is not the subject of this essay. also as you say ” smart people usually recognize when they’ve erred and usually correct their mistakes.” i think that scott explained that , that was exactly what he was doing in writing the essay. another point, i don’t think we are talking about mistakes, but deliberately doing something that you know is a bad idea. i’m sorry but i do not agree with your assessment of this essay. your anger and frustration have lead you down the wrong path to the point that you are arguing politics and social issues with potential allies. probably not a good idea and again an example of what Scott is talking about.

  34. Jax Katz

    Steve, The Dunning–Kruger effect is a psychological effect in which people don’t realize their level of knowledge on a subject. People who know little about a subject think that they know more than they actually know. People who know a lot about a subject think that they know less than they do. The more you know about a subject, the less you think you know about it. But the more you know about a subject, the better you know how well you know the subject.
    you’ll have to tie this all together for me. what are you saying ? this is about specific subjects and doesn’t correlate with an overall IQ. it does explain why dumb or ignorant people might be arrogant and inflexible. it does not address why a smart person would behave this way (defending bad ideas), ignoring their intellect and common sense.

  35. Steve Thomas


    Good God you are frustrating! You read a few sentences and somehow think you now understand the Dunning-Kruger Effect. On Wiki, under the section titled “Historical Antecedents” why then do they quote the late, great Bertrand Russell who said “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision[?]” I mentioned the Dunning-Kruger Effect because smart people aren’t the issue but rather dumb people. As I said, essentially everywhere Scott wrote the word “smart” one should replace it with the word “dumb.”

    Religious people are a perfect example of this. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary people just keep on believin’ because Jesus is coming back, and those pesky scientists will soon see; how about the 911 conspiracy theorists; how about non-GMO foods, or people who reject immunizations? I suppose all of these people are really smart people. Read Russell’s quote, drink it in, think a moment, and ask yourself why Russell wrote what he wrote.

  36. Jax Katz

    oh snap ! i just realized (can you be smart but slow ? ) that Steve totally blew me off in his last post ! who do you think you are Wyatt Earp? i may be a newcomer but i came here looking for answers to a social question, not to take down the local quick draw. you’re funny dude, be well also and if your time is so precious, it is probably a bad idea to waste it here.

  37. Jax Katz

    Steve, first: you can stop responding any time you want.
    second: i told you that you would have to tie it all together for me as i didn’t and still don’t get your point (Dunning-Kruger Effect ) as it concerns this essay. i will not repeat this again, this essay is not about dumb (low mental capacity) or ignorant people. i know why they do what they do. and YES they do behave in the same manner. why do YOU do things that are bad ideas ? BTW you never answer questions but change the subject. your main weapon is “If You Can’t Dazzle Them With Brilliance, Baffel Them with Bull Shit” and is yet another tactic described in this essay. you see i know why people like my mom think the way they do, or i’m learning a lot in that direction. an interesting article is at http://mysite.du.edu/~jcalvert/hist/south.htm
    and explains the southern myth. it goes hand in hand with a couple of Scott’s answers. Tradition and Wanting to believe that something was different than it really was. Religion is a huge factor. these are people that are not dumb but choose to ignore their own best interest, logic, intellect, and common sense. Why? if i get you right, you are saying these cultured, educated, high IQ, individuals aren’t actually smart.

    • Steve Thomas

      You’d be an interesting person to have a face to face with. This is not the best way to communicate. We’re simply talking past one another.

  38. Steve Thomas


    No, as I have been saying you aren’t getting me at all. I am not saying as you think “if i get you right, you are saying these cultured, educated, high IQ, individuals aren’t actually smart.” No, I am saying they are smart. Do you now concede you’ve missed what I said?

  39. Jax Katz

    Steve, look i know you can write a long post. i may not be tenacious enough to stick with you. answers from you are hard to come by but you were pretty quick to point a finger. if they are smart, why do they do what they do ? i’m not very educated so you will have to speak plainly and state your position clearly and i promise i will read it with an open mind. and yes i must have missed something because i don’t have any idea what you are talking about. except that you feel that america is being dumbed down, religion is out of control, stupid people are running things and making bad decisions, and push one bad idea on top of another, and so on… i get that. i am not asking about those things.

  40. Jax Katz

    BTW we have to hammer this out before monday (or not) cause my new guitar is arriving then and i guaranty i won’t be here.

    • Steve Thomas


      You seem a nice guy. In truth, you have done me a great service. I don’t mean any disrespect but you have made my point much better than I have. Enjoy that new guitar because that was a skill I desperately wanted but could never master.

  41. Jax Katz

    now the condescension. what are you bailing out ? am i too stupid to bother with ? if you didn’t want to be understood, why did you post in the first place ? i’ll start over. you answer the question. why do smart people defend bad ideas ? if smart people are more aware of their deficient knowlegde on any given subject , why then would they defend an idea in which they knew their knowledge was deficient and had huge stakes at risk? i think that the answer is that there is a personal pay off of some kind. ego, money, social status, religion, tradition, conformism (if that is a word, everybody wants to be seen as the exemplary american and are even intimidated into line) , and what have you. if you read the article i posted you will see that a large part is just wanting things to as you want , not as they are. i think scott nailed it. so just answer one more question, the title of this essay.

  42. Jax Katz

    Steve, Scott, and anyone who has been following this : I found this site doing a google search using precisely the same question as the title of this essay. I found it to agree with what i have been thinking, and thought it might be useful in practice during conversation at family gatherings. i consider my family to be smart and don’t understand why they think the way they do. we were raised together by the same parents, same schools, same church, many of the same friends, and so on. why am i so different ? and it is troubling because i don’t want to be different. i want to fit in but can not accept biased, bigoted, illogical, superior , holier than thou, attitude of my family. of particular trouble is the fact that i was raised in the deep south.in researching southern antebellum times, is where i started to figure out what was going on. i should say that my saving grace is that i MOVED, to an area with tremendous ethnic and cultural diversity. the confederate ” Lost Cause” and the myth of the old south is a perfect example of how my family thinks. it also fits perfectly with Scott’s premise. so i agree with Scott and thank him for the info on how to deal with them.
    I jumped into this thread when i read Steve Thomas’s posts. Although i probably agree with him on most political and social issues, i thought he was doing exactly what Scott was talking about. he started his post with “I seem to be one of the sole dissenting voices here”. that is not a typo. he went directly to belittlement, and superiority . next came an accusation of straw man tactics and he presented his own straw man.next came preaching from authority and name calling. then came anger and dismissal . next came a left field comment about america and a hint at the H-G effect (that i believe to be irrelevant to this discussion) which he refers to later many times. this is all in his first post (or at least one post). somehow he has interpreted this essay as a shot at intellectuals. i decided to try an experiment and try to use scott’s tactics. i’m afraid i did poorly but i don’t think i am wrong. that brings us to what i learned. i have a need to be right, but more than being right , i need to keep the conversation going. i am lonely and bored and think i have an intuitive sense that lets me see through BS and know what is right. i also think that i know what i don’t know, but also realize that unknown is unknown and therefore i am ignorant on many topics and i can and i do, stupid things. However for me, i always try to default to the least risk, when considering any direction. i already knew i had a short temper. so thanks scott, i think having read this , it will help me. Steve we are simpatico on almost everything but this essay, and any who has read these posts, i would really be interested in reading what you might think about it all.

  43. Steve Thomas

    Yes, indeed, you are arguing the typical “Sarah Palinesque” folksy, whimsical, appealing to the “smart” common man. The common sense argument which is more often than not employed as a logical fallacy. Once again, I hold up your post as perfect evidence to my previous points.

  44. HongChi

    Interesting article.
    What you describe as a smart person actually is considered an ignorant where I come from.
    Unfortunately ignorance is spreading.
    Did you realize how fashionable zombie shows have become recently, you see the connection?

  45. Kate

    Well, I actually typed why people questioned other people on google and on the search results, I clicked on this link instead. And I must say this is a very interesting read.

  46. jax katz

    hey steve, couldn’t stay away i see. it seems that you’ve been at this comment page for three years. talk about tenacious. was that palin remark because i compared your arguing to sean hannity ? the newness of my guitar has worn off so i checked in. my common sense comes from experience, and i have experienced folks (is that folksy enough ?) like you all too often. It doesn’t hurt that i like to read. i have admitted that i have a need to be correct. it makes me feel superior, and while that might be vain, it feels good. i think your need stems from your education. it probably cost a lot, time and money, and you would have been stupid to have obtained it if it wasn’t worth the cost. your experience in debate does not translate to common sense in real situations. that is presumptuous of me, but is my guess. in your first paragraph, in your first post you say..” Okay, let me get this straight; if another person proved a “smart person” wrong by using logic then the other person is a smart person, so how do we know that the other person isn’t simply defending another bad idea. “… we don’t , they might both be wrong, using flawed logic, but that is not the question. i think that to understand each other we should start over. how would you answer the question posed by this essay. without attacking the author or changing the question ? BTW, if anyone is Palinesque, it is you. avoid the question, attack, declare everyone unable to comprehend, change the subject, and patronize. this might be the pot calling the kettle black, but you definitely have a superiority complex.

    • Steve Thomas


      It is a rather curious rhetorical device when we accuse our interlocutors of what we ourselves are guilty. Touché my friend, indeed, I see that you could not stay away either. This is akin to when Fox News refers to other media organizations as being “main stream.” Right-o . . . and the Christian Right is a persecuted minority. You seem to think that we’re talking past one another but it is clear to me that you’re simply not listening.

      I have stated and restated my main point. I have simply asserted that in most instances where Scott has written the word “smart” one could replace it with the word “dumb.” In fact, even HongChi noted that “What you describe as a smart person actually is considered an ignorant where I come from.” It seems he is asserting the same thing I have been. I don’t know why this is so difficult to accept, but the beating I have taken over this is interesting. I have admitted that I can be brusque and even apologized to Scott, but this hero worshipping is, in itself, reminiscent of the mentality of the Jesus-camp fodder.

      Lastly, the very fact that you, like Sarah Palin and so many of her ilk, like to evoke common sense tells me a lot. Let me be unequivocal here: evoking common sense in an argument is a sure sign of bovine excrement. As I have noted repeatedly, this appeal to common sense is uniquely American and almost always wrong. 800 years ago it was common sense that the sun orbited the earth—even our senses are fooled by this astronomical mirage—but science has since proved common sense wrong. If you want a great example of a smart person defending a bad idea then one need not look any further than Francis Collins who is the director at NIH.

      P.S. Here is a good website for you to examine:


      P.P.S. Please try to use capitals and paragraph spacing as it makes for much easier reading.

      • jax katz

        steve, you first invoked “common sense argument”. The term common sense , based on a strict deconstruction of the term, refers to what people in common would agree on: that which they intuit (“sense”) as their common natural understanding. The term is also used to refer to beliefs or propositions that, in the user’s opinion, would in most people’s experience be prudent and of sound judgment, without dependence upon esoteric knowledge, study, or research, but based upon knowledge believed, by the person using the term, to be held by people “in common.” common sense IS sometimes wrong, that is why i read opposing opinions, but i know that the tree in the forest made a sound when it fell even though i wasn’t there. i was simply stating that i do not need to show my credentials ((i.e., I have been at the debating game too long & I have spent my life debating and thinking carefully about issues and I can tell you unequivocally that it is almost always the loudest and proudest who are certain of their positions(could this be you ?); these are usually loudmouthed, poorly educated ignoramuses who spout what they saw on Fox News. & I too am a university graduate with a philosophy degree, so I know exactly what he’s talking about)) to make a point. you can not read about BS and know how it smells. then you throw out the Dunning-Kruger Effect , told me to read about it, and when i did , you said i couldn’t possibly understand it. well aren’t you special. i realize that we are both evidently liberal, and my reference to hannity was only about your style, not content. the palin thing was uncalled for so i felt compelled to send it back to you. yes, i AM back. i have admitted that i enjoy this, but i will not linger for three years on this. i was , and am still , looking for conversation, as i am starved where i live. i get that you reject scott’s premise. i just wanted to hear your explanation, in your own words, as succinctly as possible , as in your version of the essay. if you really want to be understood, that might do it. i don’t type and am obviously poor at sentence construction, but i use spell check and you should be able to read my posts fine. my last question is, if you ” Admittedly, I do not have much patience any more as I have been at the debating game too long,” why are you here ?

      • Quentin Kieser


        I have read this entire thread, and I must say your argumentative skills are astounding. I think I’m similar to you, but I don’t posses the in-depth communication skills you have. I need to study those logical fallacies, though I know some. You seem like a guy with whom I could really converse.

  47. jax katz

    steve, the antonym for “smart” is stupid … not intelligent : having or showing a lack of ability to learn and understand things
    the antonym for “ignorant” is… informed
    both “smart” and “stupid” people can be ignorant, scratch HongChi’s post.
    now i’m done with this discussion, unless you actually ask me a question.
    however, to change the subject alittle, i would like to say…. you say you are a liberal, yet you are bitter, biased, bigoted, narcissistic, elitist (in your own way), condescending, patronizing, blinded by your own light, and spoiling for a fight (my assumption based on your posts). you blend right in with the picture people like coulter, hannity, and limbaugh, paint of liberals. knock it off ! if you don’t have something constructive to say, shut the hell up. yes you have free speech but i am asking for your co-operation. don’t be like them (radical right). everything is not about left or right, like this essay, so why do you drag all the political BS into it. i am sure smart people on both sides have supported bad ideas. in today’s political environment, can liberals afford all the infighting of the kind going on in the GOP ? if you want to discuss something that does not pertain to this essay, say like, manufacturing in america, i will tell you how to contact me via facebook. i would also like to take this opportunity to apologize for my part in this. i started it with comments intended for hughe but i apologized right away and we should have been able to put that behind us. we are potential allies in the political arena, and it probably not a good idea to piss off your allies. i don’t intend this comment to be mean, or sarcastic, and i will not comment farther unless asked (i’m getting another new guitar so i’ll be away for awhile anyway). peace and no worries brother, jax

  48. Boykie

    Really powerful piece. I’ll definitely be referring to this one multiple times till I’ve extracted all it’s inherent value. LOL, the part on playing pool reminds me of myself as that’s the way I played …

  49. Magnus Wootton

    Im definitely of the greater fool variety of person, doing silly things, hating my own writing, disagreeing with myself CONSTANTLY!

    But! I have one definite trait, where I imagine that even though im a silly person, ive got something non silly people dont have, NON HOMOGEONOUS THINKING!

  50. Bill Redeel

    “Why smart people defend bad ideas” – one word MOKITA. If you look at professor Culbert’s book Beyond Bullsh*t: Straight-Talk at Work on page 126 he notes that mokita is a New Guinean word meaning “the truth everyone knows but no one speaks.”

  51. Carole

    Hate me or like me u r all arguing just to be right when perhaps u r all looking at this from the wrong angle thank God u r all smart and be helpful and understanding when people aren’t smart and listen to their ideas with an open mind to better urself from the time u started being arrogant for being humble will open ur mind to a whole new world

  52. jacob Eagleshield

    The reason highly educated people defend bad ideas(highly educated does not always equate to ‘smart’) is because with all their PHD’s and Masters they tend to complicate the crap out of everything. Seeking of complicated solutions to simple problems,or creating a problem where none existed previously. Educated idiots who can’t pick out a neck tie without ‘mommy’. Astronomers,engineers,College professors,scientists,Protestant preachers.



  1. […] I know, right!? Posted in Suggestions of the week by onlinemarius on February 9, 2010 Book o’ the week: Stephen Covey – The 7 habits of highly effective people (amazon)(ro) I really recommend that you get it in English. Movie o’ the week: Full Metal Jacket (imdb 8.4) Audio program o’ the week: Maxwell Maltz – The New Psycho Cybernetics (nightingale.com) Song o’ the week – Gnarls Barkley – Going On (youtube) Article o’ the week: Why smart people defend bad ideas (link) […]

  2. […] “The problem with smart people is that they like to be right and sometimes will defend ideas to the death rather than admit they’re wrong. This is bad. Worse, if they got away with it when they were young (say, because they were smarter than their parents, their friends, and their parent’s friends) they’ve probably built an ego around being right, and will therefore defend their perfect record of invented righteousness to the death. Smart people often fall into the trap of preferring to be right even if it’s based in delusion, or results in them, or their loved ones, becoming miserable…(continue)” […]

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