Saturday, October 12, 2013
Should we stop believing Malcolm Gladwell?
That's the question Paul Raeburn asks in MIT's Tracker. The article itself sounds damning, but some commenters show up to defend the popular author. The most interesting quote for me was the following:
But it's Gladwell's own comments that are most disturbing. "If my books appear to a reader to be oversimplified, then you shouldn't read them: you're not the audience." This is an interesting twist on the more common authors' response that if the book is too complicated for you, try something else. What is Gladwell saying--that he's aiming for the lowest common denominator? Anyone who's read his work knows that is not the case. Excerpts from is books fit very nicely into the pages of The New Yorker, which publishes some of the most intelligent and literate writing in America. [format edits]There can be a big difference between writing about a specialized fields for a general audience vs. doing so for a specialized one. That said, expert and layman alike speak the same language, and there are ways to simplify a complex topic without cherry-picking or devolving into what amounts to making arbitrary pronouncements. Being less-than-familiar with Gladwell's work, I can see his reaction as either one of annoyance at an unjust attack by an "expert" who disagrees with him -- or a sneer aimed for his lay audience to deflect valid criticism.
The real lesson for any reader is that one should never take just one person's word, however glib or authoritative, for anything. One should seek out and weigh opposing views. And one should weigh whatever is said either way against the facts, increasing one's factual knowledge if necessary and possible. In the end, one may yet have to admit not having enough knowledge to form a definitive judgement.
"[I]n the name of 'transparency' ... industry-sponsored events, in which busy physicians are detailed on new products, devices, and services over dinner, are now being targeted under a provision of Obamacare." -- Amesh Adalja, in "Obamacare's Onerous Rules Include a Blacklist of America's Doctors" at Forbes
"Allison is that rare combination: a reality-oriented, intellectual businessman able to recognize the ethical and productive superiority of laissez-faire capitalism and its rule of law." -- Richard Salsman, in "To Understand the Financial Crisis - and Its Cure - You Must Read John Allison's Book" at Forbes
"Growing up occurs at the moment you stop caring about what others think." -- Michael Hurd, in "Tell Me What I Want to Hear" at The Delaware Coast Press
"On a moment's notice, we can dig up convincing reasons to do just about anything." -- Michael Hurd, in "Reality Is the Best Diet!" at The Delaware Wave
In More Detail
The Salsman article outlines John Allison's thesis as follows:
... Allison names six "fundamental themes," all of which he documents and proves in subsequent chapters: 1) "government policy [was] the primary cause of the financial crisis," 2) "government policy created a bubble in residential real estate," 3) "individual financial institutions (Wall Street participants) made very serious mistakes that contributed to the crises," 4) "almost every government action taken since the crisis started, even those that may help in the short term, will reduce our standard of living in the long term," and 5) "the deeper causes of our financial challenges are philosophic, not economic." In elaborating on this fifth theme, he insists that destructive government policies are typically based on "philosophic ideas taught in our elite universities to future elitist leaders," that such ideas "are inconsistent with the founding principles that made America great," and, furthermore, "are inconsistent with individual rights, especially property rights." At a deeper level, he adds, such ideas are "inconsistent with humans' fundamental nature as thinking beings who must make independent judgments that are based on the facts and that use their ability to reason." From this comes his final, predictive theme: 6) "If we do not change direction soon, the United States will be in very serious financial trouble in 20 to 25 years."I am glad to hear from the same piece that sales of the book have been quite healthy.
World class attacking midfielder Mesut Özil demonstrates an astounding degree of ball control. File under "neat, but kind of gross".