You can probably speak at length on the law of inverse proportions – even though you might not realize it.

We are talking here about that incompetent friend who is always eager to show you how to do things.

On the coast of Maine we call them Lemme Show Ya Boys. We have often talked about Lemme Show Ya Boys. Let’s do it again – this time employing the language of science to discuss this all-too-common psychological malfunction.

You have read that time and speed are inversely proportional. The faster you go, the less time it takes to get there.

By the same token, you have certainly noticed that the more unqualified your friend is when it comes to a particular job, the more convinced he is that he can push you aside and do it better than you can.

Suppose you haven’t started your antique motorcycle for a year and the carburetor is full of hard, stinky stuff that looks and feels like varnish. How long does that carburetor have to be on your workbench before your friend, odoriferous from a can of malt, leans over your shoulder and wheezes in your ear, “Lemme show you how to do that, boy.”

He has never seen a carburetor. His great-grandfather didn’t even call contra dances for Henry Ford, but in his unskilled hands hope and mechanical disaster spring eternal.

Let us be clear here. There are many of us who realize that we are inept. Although we are not ashamed of it, we do find it downright annoying that we can no longer replace a transmission or even a simple generator on our automobile.

There are so many chores necessary in today’s world that we cannot even begin to do – Download TurboTax into an XP computer, wire up the inverter that connects our solar panels to the grid.

But we are a brave band of brothers who keep pretty much to ourselves. We do not inflict our incompetence on others. We do not wander about in the neighborhood showing our wood-chopping neighbors the best way to fell trees.

Now, with Facebook, it is possible to have dozens of Lemme Show Ya Boys watching your every keystroke. Beneath every post on your Facebook page, they feel obligated to “share” a bit of their wisdom, punctuated with OMG and lol.

It is the metacognitive inability of unskilled people to realize their ineptitude that keeps them from evaluating their own ability.

They invariably overestimate what they can do. This age-old phenomenon, first observed when a Neanderthal’s buddy elbowed him aside to make a scraping tool from a mastodon’s jaw bone, is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It is named for two Cornell University psychologists who were probably pushed aside by a math professor who insisted that the best way to evaluate any study was with a value-added statistical model.

Even as Lemme Show Ya Boys overestimate their competence, very capable people often tend to underestimate their abilities. They find tasks that would stump most of us to be easy and take it for granted that anyone can do what they can do.

In other words, the more these people know, the less likely they are to realize that they are exceptional people who can outperform others. They figure that others are just as smart as they are.

Experienced teachers will tell you that some little girls who score an A on an examination have to be convinced that they are not stupid.

Boys getting a B on the same test would celebrate, however, because of their self-perceived brilliance.

When they get to college, those who underestimate their abilities are deadly. Without even buying the assigned text, they can ace the course – which wreaks havoc with the bell curve.

They are not there to learn something because they are already fluent in Icelandic and can conjugate Old English verbs in their sleep. It is obvious that they are only rubbing elbows with you in the seminar for the three hours of credit that is necessary for a diploma.

To summarize – Dunning and Kruger discovered something you already knew: Some people unable to correctly assess their level of incompetence actually consider themselves much more competent than everyone else. It is this very low level of competence, this inability to critically analyze themselves, that causes them to overestimate their ability. In other words, the less you know, the more you are able to think you know.

For example, a popular dog groomer might believe that his success endowed him with insight into the esoteric realms of science, politics and literature. With no experience in government, he might even be able to convince people – with a similar inability to assess their own level of incompetence – that he is qualified to be president of the United States.

The humble Farmer can be seen on Community Television in and near Portland and visited at his website: