The perils of contrarianism: Gladwell and the Freakonomicists versus Pinker, Krugman and the entire scientific community



Malcolm Gladwell at TED

The New York Times currently carries two reviews of Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw, one by Janet Maslin and one by Stephen Pinker. Both offer back-handed criticism of this much-imitated writer and his occasional tendency to warp the reality he portrays in order to gain maximum narrative leverage. I think these reviews have something in common with the backlash against Superfreakonomics. They might even signal a change in critical sentiment about the modern style of non-fiction writing. Continue reading


Malcolm Gladwell reviews Chris Anderson’s Free

This blog tends to delve into the academic literature of cultural policy a fair bit, so it’s occassionally useful to zoom out and look at the big picture issues that are shaping our culture and lives.

Chris Anderson’s Long Tail theory continues to be one of the most influential descriptions of these issues and tredns, while Malcolm Gladwell continues to be one of the greatest communicators in non-fiction in any genre today. So Gladwell reviewing Anderson is something of a tech-trend-big issue detah match:

“Free” is essentially an extended elaboration of Stewart Brand’s famous declaration that “information wants to be free.” The digital age, Anderson argues, is exerting an inexorable downward pressure on the prices of all things “made of ideas.” Anderson does not consider this a passing trend. Rather, he seems to think of it as an iron law: “In the digital realm you can try to keep Free at bay with laws and locks, but eventually the force of economic gravity will win.” To musicians who believe that their music is being pirated, Anderson is blunt. They should stop complaining, and capitalize on the added exposure that piracy provides by making money through touring, merchandise sales, and “yes, the sale of some of [their] music to people who still want CDs or prefer to buy their music online.” To the Dallas Morning News, he would say the same thing. Newspapers need to accept that content is never again going to be worth what they want it to be worth, and reinvent their business. “Out of the bloodbath will come a new role for professional journalists,” he predicts.

You can read the rest of the review at The New Yorker.