SHAME-ing of Malcolm Gladwell

I recently came across an article portraying Malcolm Gladwell as a corporate shill, especially for the tobacco industry.

It’s here.

With a followup with response from Gladwell here.

Now, I happen to enjoy Malcolm Gladwell’s books, and I don’t care whether they meet academic research standards, as many others have criticized. I just enjoy reading them.

However, I have never detected any undertones of a broader agenda, as claimed in this article.

I don’t know anything about the Exiled web site, or any of the writers there.
I’m trying to determine if any of this should be taken seriously.
Is there some sinister plot that has escaped my detection, or what?

Anyone else familiar with any of this? Opinions?

God that’s terrible.

All the original article and the back and forth she’s having with him is someone who is SO hell bent on their original idea and thought that they refuse to hear any other side of it without being blinded by their own agenda.

I hate people like that. HAAAAATTTTEEEE them.

She’s an idiot.

I’m having trouble wading through his screeds, but I get the sense the author did not understand what Gladwell actually wrote. I also saw he used one obvious but dirty trick: he accused Gladwell of taking dirty, dirty tobacco industry money, and when he said he’d spoken at one tobacco company event and donated his speaker’s fee to charity, he writes that that’s even worse because it means Gladwell spoke to the bad tobacco company for free.

The author is so laughably wrong and obtuse in her assertions in the tobacco section that I can’t be bothered to read any further into her other claims.


It reads like a bad Pit thread.

I prefer to read stuff like Pinker’s dismissal of Gladwell’s writing - my iPhone-fu is weak, but I started a thread about it in cafe Society when one of his books came out. I don’t think Gladwell is a shill, just a guy who thinks he is asking interesting questions - when usually all he is doing is packaging longstanding questions for easy consumption while providing little/no insight on the answers.

It actually causes the readers to…gasp!..use critical thinking and come up with their own answers! Shocking!!

edit: Shit. Re-reading that it seems like I’m being negative towards you. Not at all. I’m agreeing with you, just commenting on how good Gladwell’s books are because it requires you to think and come up with you own decisions

The writing in that hatchet job is remarkably similar to the worst of the stuff that appeared in The American Spectator when that magazine was trying to link Bill Clinton to murders and drug-running in Arkansas. Interesting that Levine slams Gladwell for having been associated with TAS.

I enjoy reading Gladwell. He is something that makes Yasha Levine extremely jealous: he’s a highly skilled writer with an engaging voice. If he is simply packaging well-known ideas, most of them were unknown to me until I read about them in Gladwell’s writing.

I always look forward eagerly to his next book.

Here’s a review by Pinker of What The Dog Saw and Outliers.

edit: It’s a New York Times article. I seem to remember a thread in ATMB about people wanting a warning for those?

Oh Crotalus you drive me nuts! I mention Montaigne and his approach to philosophy and you come back with “yes, Pyrrhonian Skepticism - I read the original and so am not finding that modern overview of Montaigne particularly interesting” but you dig Gladwell?! Blink, in a phrase, is “experts know stuff” and Outliers is “Nurture matters”. Nothing more. Don’t get me wrong, I read all of his stuff when it comes out, but his stuff is, at best, interesting takes on well-known issues…he has a great writing style, to be sure, but he is packaging well-known stuff.

I guess for me it’s all about the writing. Reading Gladwell is a pleasure for me because of his style and voice. Reading the two translations of Montaigne that I’ve tried was a chore. I could tell that there was an interesting mind behind it all, but the prose itself was just aesthetically unpleasing. Maybe I’ve just become a lazy reader in my old age. Nice synopses of the Gladwell books, though. I’ll try one by a different author. Infinite Jest - “entertainment is addictive”. Who would want to read 1,000 pages of that? :wink:

And I did enjoy the book about Montaigne that you recommended; it was well-written and quite interesting. It definitely made me want to read the essays, and I tried, twice, two different translations. I just don’t have the mental muscles anymore.

Does Gladwell cop all this criticism as punishment for his popularity? I find his stuff fascinating and full of interesting ideas that stop me in my tracks. Perhaps I am ignorant and ill informed but if I want more accurate information on anything he raises I read scientists not more magazine writers. He is a magazine feature writer isn’t he?

The same thought has often occurred to me. I think he’s bright enough to get that. Most of the time when I see these diatribes against his success, my first thought is “jealous”.

When I started this thread, I was focused on the piece that questioned his motives, rather than his success. I agree with most of the posts that it is a crude hatchet job. I just wanted some broader perspective, because I like to be on guard against undetected blind spots in my own views.

I’ve tried to understand the overall motive/mission of that web site. The seem to portray themselves as protecting the interests of the public. However, I’m turned off by their bloviating, adjective-laden, sensationalist style. This leads me to think that what they really want is to develop a reputation as “hard-hitting journalists” in the Mike Wallace or Greg Palast mold. They seem to have convinced some of the people over at Salon, judging by the blurb in the header of their website. Me, I’m not impressed. Thanks to everyone who has responded for contributing to my sanity check.

Sure, jealousy can be part of it. But in Pinker’s case, he’s the scientist you’d read if you wanted to learn more - very well respected and also a prolific and successful author in his own right. He basically accuses Gladwell of shoddy mistakes and a lack of a grasp on some of the basic concepts. Gladwell counters that he gets his points across just fine.

There’s another pop-science journalist named Jonah Lehrer - just came out with a book called Imagine about the origins of creativity. Writes in the New Yorker, books become bestsellers and he is a TED darling - similar to Gladwell. But he is getting slammed due to getting his facts incorrect and also for not revealing deep insights as much as collecting a set of interesting anecdotes about creativity - similar accusations against Gladwell. But when we discuss these books, I know that Crotalus, as an example, hates Lehrer because of both his factual mistakes (Lehrer wrote about a famous forest fire in his previous book How We Decide, and got some basics incorrect as documented in a book focused on that fire) and his writing style.

Books like Gladwell’s are at best a way to stimulate thinking - a departure point for asking questions not a destination for answers…

I don’t have a problem with Gladwell really. I have a problem with people who characterize his trendy but trivial books as insightful and significant. His writing style is attractive, and he is welcome to his popularity.

You know it’s not difficult to understand why Pinker and Gladwell take shots at each other. Simply put, they are both popular writers who have VERY opposed views on human nature.

My take is that Outliers bored me, while the Blank State angered me (a book based on one big straw-man -I enjoyed the Language Instinct though-). And this is your old thread.

Hey, thanks! I hate being stuck on iPhone.

Not so sure about that. His latest book got very harshly reviewed in the New Yorker, and I’ve heard more than once (in the Podcast “In Our Time”) scientists, who are experts in some area Pinker has touched upon, being quite scornful on his understanding of their field.