Gladwell, Journo-gurus, and Anecdotes as Science

You can guar­an­tee that whenev­er Mal­colm Glad­well brings out a book he’ll make head­lines. And with his latest book hav­ing recently been released, here are a num­ber of inter­est­ing and con­trast­ing views.

First (via Kot­tke, and in Glad­well­’s own words), what to expect from Out­liers: though the story of Sid­ney Wein­berg, from high-school dro­pout to seni­or part­ner at Gold­man Sachs, Glad­well asks wheth­er under­priv­iledged out­siders (out­liers?) have an advant­age.

Next, in an art­icle that is pos­sibly slightly too long, New York Magazine pro­files Glad­well and reviews Out­liers. After­wards I find myself agree­ing with the com­ments of Mind Hacks’ Vaughan: I found Glad­well­’s pre­vi­ous books intruiging but did­n’t quite “get the punch­line”. The Tip­ping Point was excel­lent as a col­lec­tion of psy­cho­logy and soci­ology anec­dotes, but I read it in record time as even my curs­ory know­ledge of these two fields equipped me with pri­or know­ledge of almost everything in the book.

Next, More Intel­li­gent Life coins the phrase “journo-gurus” in an art­icle look­ing at the rise of journlists as con­sult­ants.

These journo-gurus are not just sharp observ­ers of busi­ness, but sharp prac­ti­tion­ers too. They have mastered the dark arts of syn­ergy and glob­al brand­ing. They churn art­icles into books and books into lec­tures. […] Fried­man dreams up Madis­on Aven­ue phrases that stick in the mind, such as the “golden strait­jack­et” for for­eign invest­ment. Glad­well turns com­plex busi­ness ideas into enga­ging nar­rat­ive. Ander­son has broken with con­ven­tion by invit­ing read­ers of his blog to debate his argu­ments before they reach the presses.

Finally, Joel Spol­sky takes the reigns to cri­ti­cise these ‘journo-gurus’, say­ing some­thing I’ve been think­ing but in a much bet­ter way than I could ever have man­aged:

Anec­dotes dis­guised as sci­ence, self-pro­fessed experts writ­ing about things they actu­ally know noth­ing about, and amus­ing stor­ies dis­guised as meta­phors for how the world works.


This is not the way to move sci­ence for­ward. On Sunday Dave Winer [par­tially] defined “great blog­ging” as “people talk­ing about things they know about, not just express­ing opin­ions about things they are not experts in (noth­ing wrong with that, of course).” Can we get some more of that, please? Thanks.

A num­ber of these art­icles come as a refresh­ing change as Glad­well is becom­ing the Coen broth­ers of journ­al­is­m… everything he touches is gold, wheth­er it is or not.