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Steve Sailer

I think Republicans should brand the Democratic Party the "black party":


I think this because I'm not a racist.


Malcolm, you are a fabulous writer. But I am totally disappointed with your rebuttal to pinker. First, as a couple of commentors before me have pointed out, much as you would want to brush it aside, "igon value" was not a case of spelling error. Second, casting Sailer as a racist when he clearly is not is a weak attempt at side tracking the issue.

You seem to be responding a lot like the Superfreakonomics authors to criticism. But at least you allow negative comments on your blog and I appreciate that very much.


"Sailer makes 'The Bell Curve' type of arguments. To imply that because of this, his observation on quarterbacks, based on data he clearly presents, is incorrect, is irrelevant ad hominem."

I have to agree. Let's argue about the exact issue at hand, instead of getting into everything else (no matter how odious the opinions of someone may be.)

Mr. Gladwell - please address each of Pinker's arguments. Pinker has other things to do beside argue with YOUR book. Truly, the onus is on you to defend your work.

Why not write a point-by-point rebuttal? I am very interested.

Ryan M

Why the non sequitur or "you are wrong about football" implies "you are a dogmatist about IQ"?

And seriously, it's hard to appreciate the nuances with the data in the context of regression, given that you cannot understand the validity of multiple regression without using some form of Igon Values. I'm sorry, but Mr. Gladwell is using statistics to dispute the work of statisticians, when the fact is that you cannot understand what statisticians are doing by interviewing one for a couple of hours. Spoiler: statistics are harder than that.

Steve Sailer

This is the real Steve Sailer.


There's no reason for your articles to be innumerate just because you are. You should hire a research assistant who is good with statistics. Lots of name brand writers have research assistants so they can concentrate on what they do best. Why shouldn't you? You can certainly afford a good assistant.

For example, Andrew Gelman, the brilliant professor of statistics at Columbia (who has safely left of center political views), might be able to recommend for you a younger person in New York City with advanced statistical training who could help you better understand and better question the social scientists you interview.

Don't continue to degrade the value of the Malcolm Gladwell brand by being penny wise and pound foolish. Pay the money it takes to get the assistance with numbers that you need.


It's great to see the two of you debating the issue like this.


"Sailer makes 'The Bell Curve' type of arguments. To imply that because of this, his observation on quarterbacks, based on data he clearly presents, is incorrect, is irrelevant ad hominem. "

Posted by: Eric



I recently read a book that backs up Malcolm's point on QB's performance and the draft. The book is entitled "How We Decide" by Jonah Lehrer. Here's an excerpt from the book, which by coincidence addresses QB's performance, their draft selection and the "IQ test" (Wonderlic) used by NFL scouts as part of the draft. One example of two NFL QB's are Alex Smith and Matt Leinart. Both were top 10 draft picks and scored high on the Wonderlic - both disappointing. I've also posted a link to a blog specifically on these two top draft picks.

"How We Decide" Excerpt

Blog Post on QBs Smith & Leinart


In any sport, I believe that the gold standard of career performance is games played. This is especially true of hard-to-evaluate positions, such as the stay-at-home defenseman in hockey. How do I know that Kevin Lowe (10 career goals) was a better player than John Slaney (22 career goals)? Because Lowe played 1000 more games in the big league.

Sailer's contempt for the per-play statistic is valid. Careers are judged by longevity, especially in the NFL where the unsung members of the offensive line are so critical to a play succeeding.

By that metric, draft position is clearly related to performance.


it was fun while it lasted


Nice attempt to distract and sidestep, but it would be better if you addressed the core issues Pinker raises:

1) An eclectic essayist is necessarily a dilettante, which is not in itself a bad thing. But Gladwell frequently holds forth about statistics and psychology, and his lack of technical grounding in these subjects can be jarring...I will call this the Igon Value Problem: when a writer’s education on a topic consists in interviewing an expert, he is apt to offer generalizations that are banal, obtuse or flat wrong.

2) 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...given the technology you have, there is an optimal threshold for a decision, which depends on the relative costs of missing a target and issuing a false alarm. By failing to identify this trade-off, Gladwell bamboozles his readers with pseudoparadoxes about the limitations of pictures and the downside of precise information.

Becky O'Malley

"Blogging etiquette"? Something like "military intelligence" I expect:oxymoronic. (Yes, I made that word up.) This discussion is fascinating, but less interesting for those of us who know nothing at all about football. Anyone have any examples drawn from a non-football (and preferably non-sports) context? And what's spelling got to do with it? Tacky for a linguist like Pinker who surely knows better even to bring it up-- it's the copy editor's problem, not the author's.

Kevin Quinn

Professor Pinker and Mr. Gladwell:

I am a sports economist and have investigated the predictability of eventual NFL performance by QBs based on the information available just before the draft. While my approach and methods differed somewhat from those employed by my friend and colleague Dave Berri, my results essentially confirm his findings.

However, my findings are not supportive of Mr. Sailer's claim that Berri's results are skewed by high-performing QBs picked later in the draft. In fact, we find that the QBs picked earliest different most from those picked later by the number of opportunities that they got to play, and not by their ultimate quality. We have some preliminary findings for WRs and RBs that give similar results.

The bottom line as I see it is that there is surprisningly little inherent quality difference between the top dozen or so of entering NFL QBs - what post-draft productivity differences that occur are largely due to the stochastic nature of the sport itself, and any number of accidents of opportunity or circumstance.

Anon Coward

"And what's spelling got to do with it? Tacky for a linguist like Pinker who surely knows better even to bring it up-- it's the copy editor's problem, not the author's."

Because it reveals a lack of thought about the subject being investigated?

"Now, this is clearly a constant concern for any science writer, who has the unenviable task of rendering extremely complex and frequently quite technical information down to something that is simultaneously accurate, understandable, and interesting. However, when the bread and butter of one’s work involves criticizing scientific orthodoxy, it seems like one needs to be extremely vigilant to get the scientific orthodoxy right."



Malcolm I think your response letter was ill advised. I am sure it felt cheeky and justified to you. Instead you came off wounded and petty. People are not wrong because they hold views that make others feel bad. They are not wrong because they work commercially and not at a university. They are not wrong because they write concisely or on a blog. The ad hominem attacks make it seem that the facts are not on your side. And maybe that's the case.

And you are wrong about QBs. Yes, there is unpredictability. But the performance-draft position correlation is incredibly powerful. You were wrong. Be man enough to admit it. You are not correct until proven wrong by someone with the title professor writing in a publication you are willing to respect. You must have the numbers. You do not.

Your continued insistence on per-play statistics is embarrassing. Do you really not see why that is an incredibly flawed measure? Most low picks wash out without seeing the field. Meanwhile, teams that invest tons of money and credibility on a top pick wait far longer than they should before admitting they were wrong and pulling the plug (see Oakland Raiders). Per-play statistics are a horrible measure for the point you are trying to make. If you cannot see this you should not be writing about football.


Someone should study the correlation between low IQ and respect for Gladwell. I'd bet it is nearly 1. An idea for Gladwell's next book: how the success of Slapchop shows that religion is in fact a poor indicator of terrorist behavior.

Steve Sailer

I would strongly encourage anyone interested in this topic to crunch the data for themselves. Pro-Football-Reference.com has a very convenient page with the career statistics of all quarterbacks drafted since 1980:



The entire "igon value" situation reflects not only Gladwell's sloppiness, but the incredibly poor editing and review that his publisher provided to him. Did they not have someone half-way familiar with mathematics and statistics on the team?

Apparently not.

Jeff O

Here is a great quote from polymath Dr. Taleb, which can be used to address some of the arguments from Pinker and Sailer: "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...." (You may not be able to change the world but can at least get some entertainment & make a living out of the epistemic arrogance of the human race).

Svend Diamond

Gladwell, if you're going to trash Sailer, you should man up and take him on. If you disagree, call him on it. I'd like to see it. I haven't seen any solid refutations on his ideas. If they're wrong, there is a whole world of cred waiting for you.

Hurry up.


As a fan of both Gladwell and Pinker, I have to side with Pinker in his overall review. I did find Gladwell's above rebuttal to be disarming, charming, and in many ways accurate, but Gladwell has only addressed but one of Pinker's concerns in the entire book. As a PhD myself, I can understand and forgive someone not knowing how to spell (or comprehend) "eigenvalue" but doesn't Gladwell have a responsibility to do his research before spewing nonsense to readers? To the claim that IQ doesn't matter with regard to job performance (or only matters to a certain threshold), there are literally hundreds of studies to suggest that IQ DOES matter and it matters quite a lot. My PhD is in the domain of personnel selection, and meta-analytic research (i.e., statistical summaries of studies) suggests that when speaking about jobs in general, IQ is typically the single best predictor of job performance (above, for example, the traditional job interview). I do hope Gladwell will continue to write - I just hope that he will spend a bit more time in the research and editing tasks. Quality over quantity.

Marion Delgado

Very well said. I would use this as a model for other replies.

Mike G.

Okay, I have a ruling in this matter. You have been patiently waiting, which I appreciate:

The court finds:

1. First, while apropos of the argument at hand, the Pats DID make the correct decision on 4th and two. But clearly the wrong decision on Derrick Burgess.

2. My favorability rating of Pinker went down by 2% for his review. A bit snippy.

3. Gladwell's response only cost him 1%. Just say "a blogger named X."

Readers can either insert "Oh, well, just a blogger" or "Some of the most interesting arguments come from bloggers without the platform of a university or major magazine."

The former group will discount the argument without reading it; the latter can simply evaluate on the merits.

While the Bell Curve Junior guy probably irks MG with his views, it STILL feels a bit on the bullying side to bring that in....

4. I'm still a big fan of both guys.

Daniel Luzer

The "Niners Nation" link in the Columbia Journalism Review article: http://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/heisman_educators.php was merely the shortest and most salient explanation for the The Lewin Career Forecast. The Lewin Forecast is a well established and very effective tool that predicts professional success based on a collegiate quarterback’s completion percentage and games started. Your explanation seems to imply that the CJR criticism was based merely on someone's opinion on a fan site. This is misleading.

D.K. Schwartz

It's so telling that the first P.C. zombie who commented on this post managed to misspell Steve Sailer's name, for she obviously has not read his stuff and/or is just an IQ-denialist.

Instead of just ad-hominem attacks, maybe try to make an actual case against Steve Sailer? The man is easily one of the most brillant minds and most intresting writers living today. But i fear most will continue to run around screaming "He said I.Q. matters! He's a racist! He's a nazi!"

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