Tuesday, June 07, 2005

OK, I give up, I heart Malcom Gladwell.

To be honest, I've been a closet Malcom Gladwell fan for about a month and a half having bought The Tipping Point on the way back from the UU blogger picnic.

I read it in like a day.

Then I went out and got Blink and read it in a day.

But I didn't tell anybody.

You see, I've learned to be wary of what I call the Ayn Rand Reality Disotortion Field. When you were in high school/college, did you read Ayn Rand and become a firm believer in what she had to say, for like a week?

Seven days later, you're like "Wait a minute..."

That's the Ayn Rand Reality Distortion Field and I really didn't want it to happen again, because I can still remember my college roommate and I taking the little vow in "Atlas Shrugged" and one should try to limit one's cringeworthy acts.

But it has been more than a month, and in that time I've read Freakonomics, which gives a completely different answer to the question "Why did the crime rate in New York city drop?" I'm still a fan.

Now, The Tipping Point pretty much had me from hello. Though I don't recall that he's explicit on the point in the book, the concept of a tipping point is straight out of chaos theory and I've been a fan of the concept of chaos theory for a long time. (I actually have a long-winded theory that the primary yucky things aobut this country come from people trying despeprately to cling to the concept of a mechanistic universe. For the moment, I'll spare y'all...)

I'm sure chaos theorists are lucky to have a guy like Gladwell on their side. Salon magaine reports that Donald Rumsfeld talks about "Iraq's Tipping Point." Meanwhile, The Roots have named their latest album after the concept. You just don't get a fan base much more diverse than Donald Rumsfeld and Roots vocalist Black Thought.

My linguist friend and I have an argument about whether the person who popularizes and idea is functionally as important as the person who came up with the idea in the first place. But popularizers do tend to get things wrong. The "Emotional Intelligence" fad came out of two popularizers misunderstnading and overapplying some research.

Though popularizing what other people have done is his primary MO, Gladwell to some degree does his own research, doing things like polling companies to see how many CEOs are over 6 feet tall. (A lot more than in the general population.) Though nobody's giving him a nobel prize for that particular study, it is comforting to know that he does know what goes into scientific research and he seems to apply what he finds out reasonably.

In Blink, his other book, he looks into the instant decisions we make when first faced with something and how often we are more right than we give ourselves credit for. Peacebang has some interesting criticisms of her own relted to gender and brain hemisphere. What she's saying is worth looiking into, though I'd always assumed that the concept of "women's intuition" comes out of the fact that the secretary who is never directly told what's gone on often figures is out anyway and can offer insights that the people around her find astonishing because they've forgotten she was even there. Viewed that way, the concept is pretty insulting and I didn't miss it in Blink

Like most books of this type, Gladwell's books are long on the "this is what's going on" and short on the "so this is what you should do about it." But they are a lot of fun to read and discuss. I recommend.

And Malcom, sweetheart, you're free to hang out in my basement.


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