The Emperor Gladwell is naked

By Razib Khan | September 27, 2013 10:03 pm

The food equivalent of a Malcolm Gladwell book, credit, Larry A. Moore

Several years ago I had an email exchange with Christopher Chabris, the author of The Invisible Gorilla. I half-joked that it should have been retitled “Why Malcolm Gladwell Is Wrong.” Chabris replied with a “no comment.” That was probably politic; Chabris is a serious academic, while Gladwell runs a vast pop-social science empire of sorts. But in a new piece in The Wall Street Journal reviewing Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Chabris pretty much goes for it in terms of saying what many academics think privately.

You can get an ungated version if you go through Google News.

MORE ABOUT: Social Science
  • Andrew Selvarasa

    I feel pretty badly for Malcolm Gladwell. Everyone from Steven Pinker to Steve Sailer criticizes his writings. He seems like a soft-spoken, genuinely kind man who is trying to encourage everyone to try their best in life, even if they don’t have the natural talent. (Not saying his detractors are saying otherwise. I understand why they do it, as the truth should matter more than good intentions.)

    • razibkhan

      one major thing you left out: he’s gotten very rich doing what he’s doing.

      • Andrew Selvarasa

        Oh yeah. He’s so frail and soft-spoken that I guess it blinded me to the mad coin he’s accrued.

    • stevesailer

      Here’s an interview with Malcolm where he makes a good case for himself.

      My suggestion has long been that he needs better research assistants who will challenge him more on the ideas he gets infatuated with.

  • M. Möhling

    the Google News link didn’t work for me, the google

  • lemmycaution

    Gladwell is a good writer. His books and essays go down easy and he has a good idea what his educated audience already knows. He doesn’t repeat himself. He doesn’t repeat stuff from other pop science books.

    He is often wrong. He also over sells the concepts that he introduces.

    But most pop science books are full of stuff that I already know.

    • andrew oh-willeke

      I agree. He gets you excited about the ideas and chooses big ideas to write about. He makes you remember them. He is brief and clear. He provides convincing anecdotal evidence. He taps into (generally annotated) research supporting his points that allows you to go to the source if you wish. Not all of the ideas he pushes are consensus ideas but if he wrote books awash with caveats and competing positions, instead of taking a position, they wouldn’t be readable.

      Academics, in contrast, tend to write incomprehensibly even about simply ideas, don’t emphasize enough what ideas are worth listening to and which are trivial, are not always clear and use far too many words to make their points – often without any emotionally convincing evidence to support their points. Not all emotionally convincing evidence is right, but if you can’t marshal any to support your point, it may very well be wrong in some important particular.

  • Sandgroper

    Am I the only one who didn’t know what those things are in the picture?


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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