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burger flipper

Just be comfortable with what you are and let it go.


When you make an edit to a blog post (here, changing 2009 to 2002), it's good practice to note that an edit was made.


Not sure why my initial post is gone. Also not sure what your point is here. The image you posted is clearly from a computer screen, and all it shows is that the New Yorker finally cleaned up after you. The original article used "Igon", as does the version of the article hosted on your own website. (Readers can check the cached version of the article, in case Gladwell edits the current version without fessing up.)

Ian Tindale

No, it's pronounced "Fronkensteen".

Norwegian Shooter

Four posts this year and 3 are on an average review you got? He did say nice things too, you know. Talk about thin (skin) slicing.


"Test": It is worth noting that the article is not available on the New Yorker's website, only an abstract is. The digital archive shows the correct spelling, but it isn't clear whether they would have gone through the trouble to reproduce the page for a simple spelling error. (The digital archive often appears scanned, not a PDF-type document with vectorized text.) Yes, the page on Gladwell's site has the spelling error, like the book, What the Dog Saw. Perhaps the point he is making is that the New Yorker has noted the spelling error caught by Pinker and done due diligence in fixing it--like any good paper or magazine should. Seeing your first post about changing the date and making the edit known, it's amazing he hasn't blocked or deleted your comments all together with such snarky antagonism.

Conor Friedersdorf

I, for one, like it when big shot writers respond to criticism, and take their good names seriously enough to push back when they think they've been criticized unfairly. The charge is always that they are thin-skinned -- an ultimately unprovable accusation -- but I say, who cares whether someone is thin-skinned or not. Public discourse benefits when writers engage their critics, rather than the conversation ending without any push back, and the very process of engaging rather than ignoring critics causes a writer to be introspective, which is healthy, I think.

Norwegian Shooter

Conor, agreed, I give Gladwell credit for responding. But, this is a picture-only post without explanation about a spelling/editing error! All I'm saying is let it go and address the points at the heart of Pinker's criticisms.

"The problem with Gladwell’s generalizations about prediction is that he never zeroes in on the essence of a statistical problem and instead overinterprets some of its trappings." Seems like a good place to push back on. Instead, he dives even deeper into one of the trappings, the quarterback thing.

What was unfair about Pinker's criticisms? Besides ad hominem, what kind of criticism would be unfair? Igon was snarky, but unfair?

PS Glad to get a response from a big shot writer, I'll see if I can create some more introspection for you soon!


igons bygones! funny!
how weird is it being on Colbert, huh? (no singing this time!)
Jonah Lehrer wrote that it was a bit like going down the rabbit hole!


(apologies if this is a duplicate - my internet connection broke at an inopportune time).

I enjoyed two of your books and am on a third, but to play devil's advocate, I think the original point is that it is difficult to believe you understand what an eigenvector or eigenvalue is and how they are used and their menaing if you cannot spell it as the usual sources where you would learn would have the correct spelling (I am assuming you were responsible for the original).

I forgot the details but there have been several hoaxes where people wrote correct sounding gibberish in prestigious journals which was repeated not unlike what a parrot does and complimented if not lauded.

I know you know much about the subjects of which you write but I don't know the limit. How much of that quoted paragraph do you understand? Or perhaps this might be a subject for another article or book.


As the Times is my home page, I was excited to see one of my top ten favorite authors featured with a review. However, I found Pinker's piece to be overly pedantic and fault-finding. Malcolm has a writing style and research format that is entirely original and compelling. He may not produce hundred-page long studies with meticulous formulas and annotations on the subjects he chooses to write on, but he does provide a unique and fresh analysis on topics many would think uninteresting and banal at first blush. Furthermore, he provides a cultural commentary and attributes meaning to whatever he is writing about. Malcolm illuminates the human meaning in what many would brashly consider meaningless. This type of writing is invaluable, and Malcom's talent for doing so places him and his pieces in the top level of modern journalism. Although Pinker may have been correct in his criticisms, his hamartia is that he overemphasizes such criticisms, when Malcolm's virtues far exceed and outweigh such trivial vices.

nicola kountoupes

congrats on the new book. I want to share a quote with you from a favorite friend of mine. He passed away last month, at 88. He advocated that Peace was only possible after, and indeed the essential outcome of, Hope, from Growth. I just learned in his eulogy that he also had a short story published in the New Yorker when he was much younger!. He encouraged my recent art practice by telling me that "creativity is the ability to see similarities in things that seem different, and differences in things that seem similar." I think you would have liked each other. Thanks for your contributions!


You can't fake it Malcolm. They're on to you...



Re: New Yorker fact checkers, I think there is pretty good evidence that they missed the error, at least somewhere (i.e., the original print version). Below is a comment on Brad DeLong's blog from 2003 which mentions the dreaded igon value. I suspect the New Yorker (perhaps after receiving an email or two) fixed the version in their digital archive. I think the odds that their fact checkers and editors caught it the first time around are low.


One of my favorite journalistic gaffes is "igon value" from one of Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker pieces. I guess he and his editors never took a single linear algebra course. (I actually really dig Gladwell's pieces in general).

Posted by: ETC on September 3, 2003 07:45 PM


PS Re: IQ of 120 and all that, I side with Pinker.

Steve Sailer


Why do you humiliate yourself in public like this? Why don't you just hire a research assistant who knows more about statistics and numerical analysis than you do? You can afford to get the help you need, so why don't you just do it?

Jeff O

According to the world's greatest investor, Warren Buffett, having an IQ over 120 or 130 does not make a difference when it comes to becoming a great investor: "You have to have the right temperament. I tell the students who come visit me that if you have more than 120 or 130 I.Q. points, you can afford to give the rest away." Well, that succinctly annihilates Pinker and Sailer's IQ argument.


I agree, Malcolm, the New Yorker fact checkers are better than those who worked for your book.

If you are going to respond to criticism, it would be great for you to acknowledge a mistake.

There's an idea for your next piece: the phenomenon whereby accomplished people in numerous fields can't ever acknowledge a mistake, even when it's obvious.

Jeff O

Dr. Taleb on language: "Language is largely made to show-off, gossip, confuse people, delude them, charm them, seduce them, scare them, exploit them, etc. And, as a side effect, convey information. Just a side effect, you fools."


OK - a typo probably based on voice recognition software, or a copyeditor? Why are people hating so much on Malcolm? Geeks really love to hate on him. I love him, and so do my students. Many of them even know what an eigenvalue is.

Malcolm's webmaster

For all the conspiracists. Here is the link to the WayBack machine at Archive.org, which neither Malcolm nor the New Yorker has the power to change.


It clearly shows that the pdf of the New Yorker article on the site - as it was originally posted - had eigen spelled correctly.

I, on the other hand, am clearly overpaid by Malcolm as I missed the error when I posted the text...

Actually, we count on readers to catch the errors sometimes caused by the vagaries of html editors as they convert text into html.

So now, I suppose that I will have to blame the army of eagle-eyed readers who somehow missed this one.

And then I will have to decide whether to leave the text, or re-write history.... decisions decisions!

Jeff O

Dr. Nassim Taleb makes the case that not editing text is the best route to take: "There is an expert problem with copy editors particularly when they are self-appointed representatives of the “general public”. (“Advice” from book editors reminds me of Warren Buffet’s comment about people in limos taking stock tips from people who ride the subway). Fooled by Randomness was not copy edited (with close to 200 typos in the hardcover edition). My next book (post-TBS) will NOT be edited. An edited text is fake. Really fake. It is as shameful as ghostwriting.

Raw literature used to resemble speech, in its messiness, idiosyncrasy, (& charm). Spelling was only made uniform very late, by printers, not by authors –which explains the idiosyncrasies of medieval authors.

This ethical stand means that I will not be able to publish Op-Ed, book reviews, etc. in the “general public” and academo-philistine press. I am now left to myself –and the web."


@Conor Friedersdorf:

There are good responses and there are bad responses. A good response would be for Gladwell to admit to his errors, acknowledge that he is at times out of his intellectual depth, and promise to consult with an expert before treading boldly beyond his own intellectual limits, as he seems wont to do. (I say seems because I stopped reading Gladwell's writing years ago--save for these three blog posts I was linked to--after concluding he was nothing but a bullshit artist.)

A bad response is to deny everything and respond with needless ad hominems.

@Jeff O: The point, as has been said on here before, is that "igon value" isn't a typo; it conveys a fundamental lack of understanding about the subject at hand.

If I trusted Mr. Gladwell to respond honestly, I would ask him whether he even knew what an eigenvalue is or how it is computed when he wrote that piece. I suspect we all know the answer, though.


Wow. You people are amazing and ruthless. Dan, you do realize that Gladwell is a journalist, right? Not a professor of linear algebra. Also, note that eigenvalue is in a quote -- he's quoting someone else saying it for goodness sake! By the sake of your logic I need to understand the entire principles of quantum physics just to write the noun "string theory." This is preposterous, and only serves to illustrate that some of you are rationalizing hate.

Jeff O

Dan, you are taking yourself and the "quality" of your knowledge too seriously. How do you know that "igon value" wasn't a typo? The web master posted an response that said the original article eigenvalue spelled correctly. I like Dr. Taleb's major hobby:"My major hobby is teasing people who take themselves & the quality of their knowledge too seriously & those who don’t have the courage to sometimes say: I don’t know...." Dr. Taleb, has also said that a side effect of language is to convey information, "just a side effect, you fools."

Jeff O

Correction to my prior post :The webmaster posted a response that said eigenvalue was spelled correctly in the original article.



Journalists are typically expected to be more than stenographers, which means understanding the meaning (as well as the spelling) of quotes they repeat, rather than merely reproducing them verbatim.

Jeff O:

You may be right that it was the webmaster's fault, though this explanation is somewhat perplexing. (Does Gladwell's webmaster reproduce all of his articles by transcribing them manually from hard-copy? And if so, was it that transcription that was then used in the subsequently published book?)

I will say that anyone who knows a little about statistics and has read a sampling of Gladwell's writing would hardly need this example to prove the point, but that's certainly only my opinion.

Nonetheless, as I said before (and as Anonymous tacitly agreed), I find it likely that Gladwell, regardless of the source of the error, did not (and probably still does not) know the meaning of the term eigenvalue. Does his role as a science journalist require that he understand what his subjects say, or merely that he jot it down in a compelling and easy to read manner?

The fact of the matter is that Gladwell's writing is science for those who don't know anything about science; I know nobody who is informed enough to evaluate the veracity of Gladwell's various claims who is of the opinion that it makes for anything more than ill-informed dinner-party chatter. I know I'm just some random kook on the Internet to you, but I assure you, if you don't know enough about the subject matter to be able to sort the volumes of fiction from the scant fact in Gladwell's pieces, you would be best served by steering clear.

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