It’s nice to belong. I used to feel like a wet blanket for dismissing Malcolm Gladwell over his facile, seemingly counterintuitive arguments based on flimsy evidence that excludes inconvenient facts. But now it feels like a party!
In his WSJ review/takedown of Gladwell’s new bestseller David and Goliath, social scientist Christopher Chabris’s closing reads like a clarion call to the Gladwell Skept-o-Sphere: “Mr. Gladwell should acknowledge when he is speculating or working with thin evidentiary soup. Yet far from abandoning his hand or even standing pat, Mr. Gladwell has doubled down. This will surely bring more success to a Goliath of nonfiction writing, but not to his readers.” BOOM!
Now Chabris goes long(er) in Slate. In The Trouble with Malcolm Gladwell, Chabris links to several reviews of David and Goliath that find fault with it for much the same reason he does (e.g., that Gladwell overplays weak evidence, ignores contrary evidence, and blithely casts his huge logical leaps as given scientific fact or law). Then he really gets down to business, arguing that some of Gladwell’s own statements reveal the cynicism behind his game.
Chabris finds that Gladwell at times claims he’s just a storyteller whose work is merely a gateway for readers to the true scientific research undergirding his arguments. Chabris suggests that Jason Kottke carries this water here. He also cites instances where Gladwell has argued the opposite, essentially saying, “The public at large is never gonna read that heavy scientific shit, so I’m summarizing the work and placing it in a context that my simpleton readers can relate to.” Both are true in Gladwell World. Let’s call it the Gladwellian Law of Whatever.
But more than anything, I’m glad I saw the Chabris piece because it links to the Guardian’s brilliant 600-word parody of Gladwell’s entire oeuvre. POW!
At any rate, those of us in the Gladwell Skept-o-Sphere can at least take some comfort from the very premise of David and Goliath itself: with all of us Davids throwing stones at Goliath Gladwell, his credibility is going to fall and he doesn’t stand a chance of being taken seriously. Right? Oh, wait.