Friday, October 11, 2013

Gladwell and Chabris, David and Goliath, and science writing as stone soup - Andrew Gelman

Gladwell and Chabris, David and Goliath, and science writing as stone soup
A follow-up, again.
I have a lot of sympathy for the Blink-man here: he writes these bestsellers and puts himself out there, so he’s a target. If Gladwell’s books were generic business-bestseller pap of the be-yourself-and-be-tough variety, he wouldn’t get hassled. It’s because Gladwell has this impressive track record of putting out these intellectual earworms—the tipping point, blink, the 10,000 hours.
Gladwell is probably a better writer than most of the "business/self-help inspirational" writers out there.
Nobody is criticizing storytelling. Stories are great, and they’re a key way we understand the world. ...  Here’s the problem. What Chabris is saying (I think)—and, in any case, what I’m saying—is that the messiness of reality is a key way that stories work in conveying information and overturning our preconceptions. [M]y problem was not that Gladwell was not academic, or that he had too much messy reality in his books. Rather, my problem (and, I think, Chabris’s as well) was that Gladwell’s stories were not messy enough! Fables are fun, but the real world can be much more interesting.
... [T]he point is that to just report that study as truth without mentioning the controversy over its non replication . . . that’s over-smoothing. It makes the story less interesting, less messy, less real. 
O.K, Gladwell served us some stone soup. If that is the only food around, I will take it, but it is not. The problem is that too much stone soup around, where is the meat?

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