Thursday, October 17, 2013

Trashing Malcolm Gladwell

It is with some glee that I have been reading the many negative reviews of Malcolm Gladwell's most recent book (David and Goliath..), in particular Chad Orzel's "Malcolm Gladwell Is Deepak Chopra." He compares Gladwell's style to that of Deepak Chopra, who I immediately decided was a con-artist when I first encountered his work in the 1970s. After noting Gladwell's willful misleading of readers with cherry-picked science, Orzel notes the connection to Chopra:
So what does this have to do with everybody’s favorite bullshit artist stand-up Eastern philosopher? It occurred to me in reading some of the social media reactions that Gladwell stands in relation to good, responsible journalists in more or less the same position that Chopra stands in relation to actual quantum physicists. That is, he’s a glib and gifted writer who can talk just enough of the talk to buffalo people from outside the field. To a physicist, Chopra’s babble about “energy fields” and “congealing quantum soup” presents as utter gibberish, but he drops enough names and technical terms to sound superficially like somebody with real knowledge of physics, making it really hard for those of us who really know how the universe works to convince non-scientists that he doesn’t. If both sides throw around technical terms, but one twists them into a compelling narrative while the other is full of limits and caveats and, you know, math, well, the fact that the people with the complicated story are right doesn’t carry as much weight as it ought to.
A few further writeups are Poole's review relayed in The New Republic, and Chabris in Slate.

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