Gladwell, Journo-gurus, and Anecdotes as Science

You can guarantee that whenever Malcolm Gladwell brings out a book he’ll make headlines. And with his latest book having recently been released, here are a number of interesting and contrasting views.

First (via Kottke, and in Gladwell’s own words), what to expect from Outliers: though the story of Sidney Weinberg, from high-school dropout to senior partner at Goldman Sachs, Gladwell asks whether underpriviledged outsiders (outliers?) have an advantage.

Next, in an article that is possibly slightly too long, New York Magazine profiles Gladwell and reviews Outliers. Afterwards I find myself agreeing with the comments of Mind Hacks‘ Vaughan: I found Gladwell’s previous books intruiging but didn’t quite “get the punchline”. The Tipping Point was excellent as a collection of psychology and sociology anecdotes, but I read it in record time as even my cursory knowledge of these two fields equipped me with prior knowledge of almost everything in the book.

Next, More Intelligent Life coins the phrase “journo-gurus” in an article looking at the rise of journlists as consultants.

These journo-gurus are not just sharp observers of business, but sharp practitioners too. They have mastered the dark arts of synergy and global branding. They churn articles into books and books into lectures. […] Friedman dreams up Madison Avenue phrases that stick in the mind, such as the “golden straitjacket” for foreign investment. Gladwell turns complex business ideas into engaging narrative. Anderson has broken with convention by inviting readers of his blog to debate his arguments before they reach the presses.

Finally, Joel Spolsky takes the reigns to criticise these ‘journo-gurus’, saying something I’ve been thinking but in a much better way than I could ever have managed:

Anecdotes disguised as science, self-professed experts writing about things they actually know nothing about, and amusing stories disguised as metaphors for how the world works.


This is not the way to move science forward. On Sunday Dave Winer [partially] defined “great blogging” as “people talking about things they know about, not just expressing opinions about things they are not experts in (nothing wrong with that, of course).” Can we get some more of that, please? Thanks.

A number of these articles come as a refreshing change as Gladwell is becoming the Coen brothers of journalism… everything he touches is gold, whether it is or not.