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Comments

Huw

To avoid criticism: say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.

Sometimes it's more valuable to be disliked than liked, as so often it is our adversaries from whom we learn the most.

Keep thinking, and keep up the good work, Malcolm.

J

"I will confess to having a slightly reverential attitude toward academia"

I spent several years as the only (US) American in an otherwise entirely European military unit station in the US. One observation I gained from that experience was that people from the US generally have a contempt for authority that Europeans (and probably at least some Canadians) can be taken aback, if not offended by. If you primarily associate with academics and journalists, it's possible you've been insulated from this attitude, but as the JG post demonstrated, appeals to authority don't work all that well with a lot of Americans.

That said, also keep in mind research suggests that the "tone" of an email is misinterpreted half the time, and that's probably true of blog posts. We all need to have a thicker skin here.

MT

Jane Galt does not find the research convincing, she however is an economist.

If you ask an expert to write an article about his or her area of expertise what you're likely to get is an opinion piece, not journalism. The latest theories and explanations in any field are bound to divide that field, and every player is a partisan. Notice TV news has all but abandoned the one-perspective story and instead splits the screen and lets liberal and the conservative trade fire. It's nice to have a view of the controversy from the air, such as only an outsider can provide. So when Malcom tells us how he works, I suspect his description is a little skewed, in that his personal independent assessment of the work by Canning and Bloom seems to have stood out sharpest in a lot of us, provoking replies ala "Malcom's not an economist." But that personal assessment was just an executive check or balance on a vastly more distributed assessment. Malcom reveals that he's attended to the reputation of these economists and their work among their peers. He knows that Canning and Bloom have tenure at prestigious institutions, and I bet he noted long lists of publications in prestigious journals too. If Malcom has heard of Google, I bet he noticed they get invited to speak anywhere by others experts in their fields. And given that he can say "Hi, this is Malcom Gladwell from the New Yorker, I was wondering if I could ask you a question," I bet he's been able to get a lot of pertinent opinions from other experts on the work of Canning and Bloom--and I bet these experts have impressive credentials themselves. Malcom's task isn't to decide whether Canning and Bloom are right about Ireland or GM or anything else. It's to decide whether they deserve space in the New Yorker and the attention of its readers.

Miracle Max

A useful perspective on the subject of the article may be gleaned from the literature on overlapping generations models. It provides an analytical apparatus that clarifies some of the issues MG discusses. The granddaddy of this was Paul Samuelson and his legendary paper on consumption-loan models.

It also contradicts MG in some ways. For instance, the models show what factors make a pay-as-you-go pension system (public or private) sustainable or imperiled. There is not necessarily any problem in a system without a reserve that begins by supporting some non-workers. It can be the population trends, as MG discusses, that can throw the thing out of whack.

Twill00

Classy end on both sides to a non-classy pie fight.

I wonder if Mr Gladwell has recovered his sense of humour enough to notice the unintentional irony inherent in the opening of his prior post?

me

Haha Twilloo. Well said! I think that is the perfect cap to this amusing snit...

malcolm gladwell

Believe me, I have. :-)

HK

I just want to say that I am a fan of your writing because of your ability to translate the work/language of academia so that I can grasp the concept of the idea at hand, and research it furthur if it is of interest. It is especially helpful as a student when I have SO much information to disect before I get to the gist of the matter.

Your books and writing make it quite evident that you are someone who does his research before writing which is more than I can say for many journalists of today. It is rare to find journalist who can remain neutral when faces with opposing view points, but you are one of that backs up your writings with legitimate research.

Josh

Malcolm,
I'm glad you brought up Lee Siegel. I also find him interesting but too often frustrating -- and his blog posts about your writing have been particularly annoying for the very reason you cite about his Gilbert piece.

In one of his posts, Siegel ripped into and basically mocked your using Paul Revere as an example in The Tipping Point. The post bugged me at the time, but I couldn't pinpoint why. Part of it was Siegel's unpersuasive attempt at arguing for the importance of two other Revere contemporaries (I can't remember their names, and his blog has just been removed from TNR's site).

But I recently reread some of Tipping Point, and it hit me why Siegel's post felt so off-target. Your information about Revere and your using him as an example of a Connector were based on the David Hackett Fischer book Paul Revere's Ride. Now, I don't know who Fischer is and I've never read his book. I have no idea if it's scholarly or pop history, or what Fischer's reputation is. But you didn't make up facts about Revere out of thin air. If Siegel wanted to rebut your assessment of Paul Revere, he needed to also have grappled with Fischer's book. By not even acknowledging the book's existence or the fact that you clearly attributed your information to it (in the text--it's not even buried in footnotes), I felt like his post was nothing more than a rant against you. Which apparently is what he did with the Gilbert column.

Colin


Josh,
William Dawes was one of the other messengers with Paul Revere.Petey;I'm a scientist.You can't comment in a scientific journal without attributing uless you use generally acknowledged facts.Thus ,one may say,four nucleic acids are used in DNA.To,say,"Jane Galt is a figure of rather limited intelligence" without attribution in effect says,"I don't like her."I'm not impressed.Now,one can say,"John Kerry is a figure of rather limited intelligence,because his
Naval intelligence testing correlates to an IQ of about 114,and cite the NYT's article in Oct 04 about this and that's acceptable.See?
Just for my limited enjoyment,how would you rate your intellect?

Colin


Josh,
William Dawes was one of the other messengers with Paul Revere.Petey;I'm a scientist.You can't comment in a scientific journal without attributing uless you use generally acknowledged facts.Thus ,one may say,four nucleic acids are used in DNA.To,say,"Jane Galt is a figure of rather limited intelligence" without attribution in effect says,"I don't like her."I'm not impressed.Now,one can say,"John Kerry is a figure of rather limited intelligence,because his
Naval intelligence testing correlates to an IQ of about 114,and cite the NYT's article in Oct 04 about this and that's acceptable.See?
Just for my limited enjoyment,how would you rate your intellect?

Chris

Speaking of Lee Siegel, sprezzatura! bwaahahahahah!

Gary Farber

Remarkably, no one has noted that Lee Siegel melted down and was suspended by The New Republic.

Although the last comment appropriate laughs.

Ah, no embedded HTML allowed. Well, that makes it hard to cite.

http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2006/09/sprezzatura.html

Dude

Gladwell says, "I will confess to having a slightly reverential attitude toward academia." I was taught very early in grad school to discount the conclusions in academic papers and concentrate on the methodology. I and the dozen other PhDs in my family work in various hard sciences, where it's much harder to stretch the truth, yet it happens all the time in small ways. There's much more wiggle room available in soft sciences (econ, psych), so their conclusions should be met with healthy skepticism. The non-sciences (polysci, sociology) publish position papers masked as objective scholarship. They are so envious of economists! ;-)

People toiling in academia are just like people everywhere. They fall in love with their pet theories. They suffer from confirmation bias. They get hostile when someone pokes at their work. I'm sure a write-up in The New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell is a heady experience for them. It instantly lifts their work out of obscurity. They become mini-celebrities at the next conference. I hope your editors don't let your reverence impair your critical thinking.

BILL WEGMANN

YOU SAID YOU BOTH ARE CRITICS AND JOURNALISTS. WHAT YOU NGLECTED IS THAT YOU BOTH ARE LEFT WING LIBERALS. YOUR POSTS SHOW THIS BIAS.

Michael Sprouse

I wonder Mr. Gladwell, if your research on dependency ratios and the effect contraception had on Ireland's economy might also have changed your view of Freakonomics and the effect of abortion on crime rates? Somewhat similar arguments aren't they?

Love your work by the way.

John

An earlier commenter remarked that, "Megan, an economist, is commenting on the same piece of paper."

I'm afraid that you misunderstand her credentials. An MBA degree is a terminal degree designed to prepare someone for business and management. It most certainly does qualify someone to be considered an economist.

At bare minimum, I would expect someone claiming to be an economist to hold an MA in Economics, and frankly a Ph.D. is expected, certainly to be taking the title for the purpose of serving as arbiter of economic research.

This isn't academic snobbery... while often (but not always) housed in economics departments, the curriculum and expectations for MBA programs are drastically different. They certainly don't prepare or qualify students on the matter of economic research (actually that's one of the most defining differences between terminal masters programs and others).

John

An earlier commenter remarked that, "Megan, an economist, is commenting on the same piece of paper."

I'm afraid that you misunderstand her credentials. An MBA degree is a terminal degree designed to prepare someone for business and management. It most certainly does not qualify someone to be considered an economist.

At bare minimum, I would expect someone claiming to be an economist to hold an MA in Economics, and frankly a Ph.D. is expected, certainly to be taking the title for the purpose of serving as arbiter of economic research.

This isn't academic snobbery... while often (but not always) housed in economics departments, the curriculum and expectations for MBA programs are drastically different. They certainly don't prepare or qualify students on the matter of economic research (actually that's one of the most defining differences between terminal masters programs and others).

Reg Scheepers

It amazes me the antagonistic approach so many people take to Malcolm. I mean, what a cure for insecurities: Disagree with Malcolm Gladwell and let him know how dumb his theories are because that must mean that you're smarter than what he is. Please. People who have posted, like Larry, Person, and Steve Sailer, get their self-esteem up this way. Didn't your parents give you enough love?

It's one thing to disagree, but to ATTACK someone else's views is pathetic and childish.

The Earth is round. That's obvious. Well, it wasn't obvious a couple of centuries ago. So those people who argue that Gladwell's material is somehow simplistic because it's obvious (only now that Gladwell has explained it) shouldn't post. The fact that it's obvious only goes to show how well Malcolm disected it.

When's the last time you published, as you call it, 'obvious' concepts, and made millions from it? Never done it? Still waiting on your first million? Come back and criticize when you have. Any other course of action would make you even more of a fool than what you've already displayed.

Half the ignorant folks on this blog are the same people who would have argued with Einstein about his theory of relativity even though he was a world renouned scientist and thinker. You just get people like that and it's hard not to be irritated by them. But hey, everyone needs to feel smart, so let's attack celebrated journalist Malcolm Gladwell, we'll feel smart afterwards.

Nate

I'm mighty late to this party, but I had to ask: what WAS it that infuriated Lee Siegel so much about your writing, Mr. Gladwell? He constantly accused you of promoting "business values," but the substance of your writing is often against the interests of big business. The only thing I can think of is that you have what he considers an unromantic worldview. Did you ever have any personal communication with him about it?

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