NYTimes: In Which Steven Pinker eviscerates Malcolm Gladwell

Have you read thisyet? (link to NYT online article - I believe everyone should be able to access it…).

It is a review of the collected essays of Malcolm Gladwell, What the Dog Saw, by Steven Pinker, noted Harvard academic and author of science-for-the-masses explorations in thought and how the brain functions.

Pinker basically chucks Gladwell under the chin and says "there, there little boy journalist; you are a vewy, vewy good little essayists, are you? Who’s a good essayist? Who’s a good essayist? But leave the actual science and exploration of the statistical structure (or lack of its presence) in the real world to people who actually know what they are talking about and have a shred of credibility.

Just ouch.

I enjoy Gladwell but, as I mentioned in a review I did of his book vs. one by a guy who worked in a neurology lab, I find his findings to be a bit too glib. But this review is far harsher…

ETA: Shoot. Misspelled *Steven *Pinker in Thread Title…

Fixed it for you.

Igon Values. That’s a classic.

I liked the review of Gladwell’s Blink, which summarized the book as saying that making an instant intuitive decision is a very, very good thing except when it is a very, very bad thing.


Thanks for posting that; it was interesting! It was also tough, but fair.

I’ve already bought What the Dog Saw because I enjoyed Gladwell’s other books so much, but I definitely understand where the review is coming from. I like the books because they are fun reads and provide a lot of interesting information, but it’s virtually impossible to make some of the statements implied (sometimes carefully danced around!) without deep knowledge in an individual field.
I still enjoy them, though, because they encourage me to think about other things I’m doing and reading in a different way.

A New Republic review by Richard Posner of “Blink.”

Good article, thanks.

Since we’re posting links that dump on Gladwell

I enjoy his articles, and even though the generalizations he tries to draw out of other peoples research is often over-the-top, I like reading about the research itself.

Thank you for that link. Better than I could have, it explains why Gladwell’s books and articles always delight me at first, but always end up disappointing.

These two lines say it all: *“The example is actually a bad one for Gladwell’s point, though it is a good illustration of the weakness of this book, which is a series of loosely connected anecdotes, rich in “human interest” particulars but poor in analysis… These are typical examples of Gladwell’s style, which is bland and padded with cliches.” *

I didn’t notice a whole lot of evisceration though this at the end was pointed:

There seemed to be a lot of ad hoc attacks in the review. This, for example::

"It is simply not true… that above a minimum I.Q. of 120, higher intelligence does not bring greater intellectual achievements. "

I believed the proper response to this claim in the article (among many others) is “Citation needed”. Of course, it’s not even a reference to the current book allegedly being reviewed.

Indeed, it seems Steven Pinker has a beef with the main points of Outlier. Has he ever addressed them? He fails in this review to go beyond the level of “, post-hoc sophistry and false dichotomies” that he attributes to Outliers.

Is it reasonable to expect a fact based review of a non fiction book to include citations to facts?

I suspect the point of having Pinker review Gladwell’s book (I’m not aware that he does regular book reviews) is that he himself is an expert in human cognition.

Book reviews, even academic book reviews (of which this is not one) do not usually include citations.

I understand where Pinker is coming from, but I’ve heard him make some highly uniformed, cringe-worthy comments about race and Africa in professional presentations.

The fact that he may speak out of turn when he shouldn’t is orthogonal to his quite correct belief that Gladwell’s social science is not even wrong.

Stephen Pinker is pretty contemptuous of social science as a whole. In his book, “How the Mind Works”, he spends like pages 48-51 talking about how the Standard Social Science Model isn’t even science because it’s version of peer review is determined by academic opinion, rather than by rigorous analysis.

There are two issues here worth considering.

First, my sample is clearly not representative, but as a professional social scientist, I do not know a single colleague in any discipline who gives a wet fart about the Standard Social Science Model. A few psychologists might, but this subject simply never comes up anywhere else.

Second, “social science” is a bit of a misnomer, insofar as it includes disciplines and methodologies that have very little in common with even the basics of scientific epistemology. It is entirely possible to argue that the squishiest social science is not a “science”, but not only does no one really care, it also does not undermine the basis of its more analytically rigorous cousins.

I suppose it takes one to know one, seeing that Pinker is a psychologist. People tell me that psychology is a social science.

I’d just like to say that ‘What The Dog Saw’ is a superb book and everyone should buy it. The main reason is that Gladwell mentions me in it. I trust we can all agree this is a sufficiently compelling reason.

This Pinker chap can go and stick his head in a bucket for all I care.

What is the context?