October 10, 2013

Everybody Hates Malcolm

Way back in 2005, 2006, and 2008, when Malcolm Gladwell was wildly esteemed, I pointed out the fundamental flaws in his thinking. 

This led Malcolm, in his disastrous 2009 debate with Steven Pinker, to denounce me in the New York Times as an evil source of data about (of all things) NFL quarterbacks: "Sailer, for the uninitiated, is a California blogger with a marketing background who is best known for his belief that black people are intellectually inferior to white people."

By 2013, however, everybody hates Malcolm, so it's worth reading Gladwell's defense of himself.


82 comments:

Anonymous said...

Gladwell was tolerable as an 'contrarian' airport bookstore writer.

But when he became THE AUTHORITY on all sorts of stuff, he began to embarrass liberals with his too-cutesy anecdotes.

I think there was the same kind of backlash against Freakonomics guys.
Same with Thomas Friedman, the folksy Dr. Phil-ish 'expert' on world affairs.

When popularizers/generalizers act like original thinkers, when mild provocateurs act like prophets, when amateurs act like pros, or when relief pitchers act like starting pitchers, people get tired.

Also, Gladwell took on too many topics, and the experts in each of them were bound to feel offended by this dilettante who acts like he knows everything and sees stuff that even experts in the field miss.

Anonymous said...

To be fair to Gladbag, he was the creation and darling of the media complex that wanted to trump him as the BRILLIANT West Indies 'black' intellectual.
He deserves blame for milking it for all it's worth, but he was groomed, shmoozed, and pampered by the media bigshots.

He was Leo Sayer who made his bucks while the going was good.

You make me feel like thinking.

Anonymous said...

The Freakonomics guys turned into the scientist from Idiocracy that had the prostitute frozen. That's why they stopped being cool.

Cail Corishev said...

I used to get Gladwell confused with Saletan (never seen either one). Both are willing to write on topics many writers won't touch, and both flirt with politically incorrect concepts now and then, but ultimately they end up supporting the PC status quo. Their dabbling with (but always rejecting) dangerous ideas allows the MSM to portray them as the "sensible opposition," which allows the actual opposition to be portrayed as out-of-bounds.

So I always have to stop and think which shill is which.

Anonymous said...

Gladwell is on the cover of Costco magazine this month, FWIW.

nooffensebut said...

It is hard for me to take sides between Pinker/Chabris and Gladwell. Chabris criticizes Gladwell for thinking professional football is unethical. It is, and Chabris has to ignore a lot of evidence to say otherwise. Chabris (like Razib Khan and Daniel MacArthur) makes blanket statements against candidate-gene behavioral genetics despite meta-analyses favoring the warrior gene, arguably the most well-known example. Pinker dismissed the warrior gene based on a copy-and-paste error that made Chinese people seem like those most likely to have it. Why should I excuse Pinker's error, but not Gladwell's misspelling of eigenvalue? At least Gladwell acknowledged his mistake, and Pinker is a Harvard professor.

Anonymous said...

Gladwell: "The kinds of people who read books in America seem to have no problem with my writing."

Malcolm, that's a good defense! Right along the "The kinds of people who listen to music in America seem to have no problem with Justin Bieber (just see his Youtube record)"

Enough! Gladwell is a talented, maybe even outstanding, bullshit peddler. But the bullshit is bullshit, no matter how you spin it.

Harry Baldwin said...

Chabris should calm down.

Gladwell should know that telling someone to calm down is condescending and counter-productive. Police are trained not to use that expression for that reason.

Whenever I've talked to someone who is all excited about having read "Blink," their takeaway is always that snap judgments are usually sound. Gladwell says that his not his point; quite the contrary. So why do his readers seem to mostly get it wrong?

The same confusion seems to apply to the 10,000-hour claim. Gladwell now explains that his readers fixated on something that wasn't really that important and he didn't intend to be taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

You should check out his new website. He has some compelling arguments.

www.authorswholooklikelesbians.com

Dan in DC.

Anonymous said...

@at the first anonymous,

I'd also add Nassim Taleb to that list. Incidentally, he also ploughed through a self-made shitstorm with Pinker in which he (Taleb) came out looking like an ass.

-Jostein

Anonymous said...

My hunch is Gladwell is truly surprised people take his ideas seriously.

Surprised and laughing all the way to the bank.

Good for him!

Steve Sailer said...

"My hunch is Gladwell is truly surprised people take his ideas seriously."

No, Gladwell actually is surprised when people disagree with him. See my 2006 article above that recounts the long debate over the ethics of car salesmen between Gladwell versus myself and Judge Richard Posner. Gladwell really was shocked that "Sailer and Poser" didn't believe his explanation that car salesmen were unwitting victims of unexamined prejudices but were instead more like conniving profit maximizers.

Anonymous said...

"The same confusion seems to apply to the 10,000-hour claim. Gladwell now explains that his readers fixated on something that wasn't really that important and he didn't intend to be taken seriously."

He may have something of a point. After all, Amy Chua's TIGER MOTHER book was NOT a manifesto on mothering or the superior Asian way, but the media hyped it as such.
Perhaps the most misunderstood author is Fukuyama with 'end of history'. He didn't mean that history is over but that the main moral ideological debate is over. True or not, he's been so misunderstood on that point.

But maybe the confusion is due to title-itis or headline-itis or blurb-itis. In order to sell books or ideas, they are often condensed into simple terms or neat phrases.

So, 'battle hymn of tiger mother' sounds like a declaration of war.
So, 'end of history' sounds like history has really ended.
So, '10,000 hrs' sounds like 10,000 hrs will really do the trick for everyone.

Authors, in hyping their books, deserve some of the blame. Chua certainly played the misapprehension to the hilt, even posing with tigers for a Time mag photo.

But the media deserve blame too. Some seem to misunderstand the ideas, but others are willful in distorting the truer meanings and turning them into b/w or either/or positions.

A lot of people might get the wrong idea from Pinker's title 'Better Angels of Our Nature'. I found it too optimistic, but it's not entirely optimistic.

What really makes me sick about the likes of Gladwell is they are first and foremost self-promoters. If Gladwell said foolish things out of genuine conviction, I can at least forgive him as a fool. But I think he's been a snake oil salesmen.
While it's true that readers have simplified his ideas, he has encouraged such simplification--and they were custom-designed to invite simplication--to act as a kind of self-help guru. He tried to turn ideas into sleek Apple products.

After all, people prefer books with simple ideas and advice than complicated and thorny ones. Gladwell has been flattering others to be flattered in return.

Of course, he never meant that 10,000 hrs of training could turn anyone into an Einstein or Tiger Woods, but his glib style of advice-giving and back-patting certainly gave the impression to a lot of people that salvation is at hand for those who have faith in effort.

Ross Douthat wrote a book called Bad Religion about the crass church that says "if you love Jesus, you will be rich". 10,000 hr prayer solution?

Gladwell is all about Bad Faith and Bad Science and Bad Advice.
He's clever enough to leave himself just open enough to claim later that he was misunderstood, but deep down inside, he must know that his success was built on being 'misunderstood'.

It's like someone who says DO IT, DO IT, DO IT. You DO IT and it goes badly, and he says, "I didn't mean you should DO IT ALL THE WAY."

He reminds me of the hipster geek in RISKY BUSINESS. He tells Joel(Cruise) to say 'what the f---'. When 'what the f---' goes badly, he says he was just kidding.

"Hey, 'Mr. What-The-Fuck'
...what about 'exploring
the dark side' and all that?
Or was that just bullshit?"

"That was just bullshit, Joel."

But later, when what-the-fuc* goes good again, he demands free ride with the ladies. What a sleazebag. Just like a-holes on Wall Street.

PS. Funny he hates being pigeonhole when he pigeonholed Sailer and others.

Anonymous said...

"Gladwell is a talented, maybe even outstanding, bullshit peddler.."

I think you nailed it. He gives a good impersonation of someone revealing hidden in plain sight truths. And he knows exactly what the New Yorker crowd wants to hear.

I wonder if he is self aware enough to have seen his current immolation coming. The author he pretends to be would have.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

I'll agree with your explanation of his surprise. Truly Gladwell is not a serious thinker. If he were he would understand the limitations, if not naivete of his theories.

I have to think he knows this which is why he backs off of his claims when challenged - such as with the 10,000 hour thesis which he now claims others took more seriously than he intended.

Anonymous said...

Say what you want about gladwell, his article on ketchup is one of the best things I've ever read.

Steve Sailer said...

Gladwell has a long history of going to war publicly against critics who are obviously a lot smarter than he is, like Pinker and Posner. It's hard to see how this reflects cunning on his part, although it's typically worked out fine for his bank account, if not his reputation.

With his latest book and round of publicity, he seems to be trying to make use of some of the advice I've given him over the years.

Anonymous said...

"Say what you want about gladwell, his article on ketchup is one of the best things I've ever read."

But he can't cut the mustard when people ask 'where's the beef?'

Anonymous said...

There's a comedian that pranked a recent TED Talk. Here's how he says he was able to trick his way on to be a speaker:

http://www.phillymag.com/news/2013/10/06/tedx-prank-philadelphia-drexel-sam-hyde/

"One wonders if the organizers of TEDx whiffed on vetting Hyde, which wouldn’t have taken more than a few minutes of Googling. Pujara was not immediately available to comment afterward, but Hyde allegedly fed them a good story. Hyde said: “I told them I had just returned from Mogadishu where I was shooting war journalism following this group of women cleaning up the neighborhood, and by picking up trash, they had lowered crime rate. So it’s like broken window theory there, or whatever the fuck. A little Malcolm Gladwell. [They] wrote back and said, ‘Wow, that’s exciting. We got some real hard hitting stuff here.’”"

elvisd said...

http://www.cracked.com/article_15788_the-top-25-men-who-look-like-old-lesbians.html

wasted an hour of my life at a posner lecture said...

Posner is not smart he is erudite in a weird predictable modern way.
Pinker is smart, but uncultured, and an intellectual battle between two famous curly haired male academic hangers-on is a win/win for both sides even where one guy outweighs the other by a couple standard deviations.

Anonymous said...

Very good point anon Penn's college channel would play his TED talk where he mostly spoke about the ideas in that article all the time while I was at school and every time if it came on and I wasn't busy I'd watch. He's a pretty fascinating speaker.

Maybe he will focus on being more of a brand analyzer/ focus group type guru like that annoying guy on fox. He's got a knack for it.

Eric said...

I'll agree with your explanation of his surprise. Truly Gladwell is not a serious thinker. If he were he would understand the limitations, if not naivete of his theories.

I think he's probably more clever than you surmise. He has his audience nailed - if he adds too many academic qualifiers the upper East side latte sippers will lose interest. Well, that's pop science writing for you.

Gladwell's problem is he can't resist lying about academic research to make it seem like his latest pet theory ties up nicely in a little intellectual bow. While he knows normal people aren't going to dig out the studies he refers to, as in any con the more popular he gets the more likely it is a critical mass of people who know better will start to get air time.

Anonymous said...

I think it would be an interesting idea if Slate would agree to sponsor a debate between Steve and Gladwell on their pages, much the way that they did between Steve and Steven Levitt back in the day. The debate could be on 2 or 3 main themes with written exchanges as well.

Anonymous said...

I bumped into Gladwell outside my building last week while I was taking out the garbage. He gave me a kind of quick once-over. I wanted to ask him what his initial surmise was but decided to pretend I didn't recognize him.

Why encourage it.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

Perhaps the most misunderstood author is Fukuyama with 'end of history'. He didn't mean that history is over but that the main moral ideological debate is over."

And - undoubtedly - he is wrong.

TGGP said...

Good point about Fukuyama. Samuel Huntington wrote "Clash of Civilizations" in response, and has been similarly misread. I still get a little angry recalling that putz Reza Aslan arguing against it based on points Huntington makes in that very book!

Whiskey said...

Harvard prof does not impress me Einstein and the Wright brothers lacked those credentials.

A theory by the worst man or the best stands on its own.

Is Taleb Nassim correct? He's made a pot of money putting his theories int oractice. By contrast Pinker and Gladwell both are hucksters, just for different bobo audiences.

Bruce Charlton said...

My guess is that - like a lot of popular personalities - Gladwell's looks, his appearance, was essential to his success.

He retained a fresh-faced and distinctly 'boyish' appearance much longer than most men do - but these things don't last forever.

Now he is an old man, his looks are gone, and with them a vital reason for his appeal, and that is that.

Anonymous said...


"Selfish gene" is also much understood. A lot of people think it means the DNA for greed.

Anonymous said...

A 'leftist' book that is oddly more subversive of the Left than of the Right is GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL.

Liberals like to see it as a book that shows that western superiority is NOT based on white racial superiority, but that position has been orthodox for so long that I don't see how GGS makes a difference in that regard.

The book really has the effect of undermining the idea that West got rich and powerful cuz of white evil, greed, prejudice, and etc.
It says Western power is the product of geography, grain seeds, and domesticate-able animals than of any character flaw of white man or Western civilization.

So, if non-whites accuse whites of being rich and powerful cuz of past history of 'racism', whites merely need to say, "no, we just happened to have cows."

Nathan Pollock said...

I think it would be an interesting idea if Slate would agree to sponsor a debate between Steve and Gladwell on their pages, much the way that they did between Steve and Steven Levitt back in the day.

That was back in the day. Much has changed since. It was borderline daring then, it is impossible now. Slate has nothing to gain in instilling doubt in its SWIPL following.

Anonymous said...

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2451854/35-cent-household-wealth-Russia-belongs-just-110-billionaires.html

Anonymous said...

http://techandgadgetnews.com/size-doesnt-matter-anymore-with-big-data/?utm_source=outbrain&utm_medium=traffic&utm_content={aid}&utm_campaign=outbrain

Whitey Whiteman III said...

"My guess is that - like a lot of popular personalities - Gladwell's looks, his appearance, was essential to his success. "


Seriously? A picture of him is the best argument against miscegenation I have ever seen.

Bottledwater said...

I don't think he's consciously a BS artist, I just think he let's his ideology overwhelm his objectivity, which makes for best sellers but poor scholarship.

Some of his ideas are idiotic (the whole thing about the cultural legacy of Chinese rice farming explaining their current math achievements) but I had no problem with his much maligned 10,000 hour rule. As predictive as IQ is, it doesn't explain everything. For example Geniuses like JD Salinger, Richard Feynman and Gary kaspaov "only had IQ's reportedly of 104, 125, and 135 respectively...IQ seldom explains more than a sixth of the variation in real world achievements, even ones as import as personal income. There is plenty of room for non-IQ factors to explain success and achievements, and Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule has a lot more explanatory power than pseudoscience like Emotional Intelligence.

Steve Sailer said...

The 10,000 Hour Rule is fine in that it usually takes at least 5, probably 10 years of hard work for anybody to get to the very top of anything complicated, such as golf, tennis, or whatever. Ross Perot was pretty good at being a Presidential candidate on his first year doing politics full time, but that's exceptional. It used to be easier to get to the top in various pursuits when amateurism was the rule, but professionalization has evened things out.

The 10,000 hour just flops when you try to turn it the other way around and say that practice overwhelms talent and anybody can make it to the top by practicing for 10,000 hours. For example, the Dan Plan guy who is trying to become a Tour golf pro by putting in 10,000 hours of sophisticated practice has been stuck shooting around 80 for the last year:

http://thedanplan.com/statistics-2/

Bottledwater said...

Clearly the 10,000 hour rule has its limits, the biggest being that it has not, to my limited knowledge, been tested with any kind of scientific rigor. Are people good because they practice or do people just enjoy practicing what they're already good at? Do child prodigies get better with age because they've had more practice or simply because of maturational brain growth and development? Does it really take 10,000 hours to develop one's talent, or is that just the time it takes for talent to get recognized? What counts as practice? Does practice at checkers count towards becoming a chess grandmaster? Are there skills that the 10,000 hour rule does not apply to, and practice makes little difference?

This theory seems almost impossible to test without having a video camera on people 24/7 for a decade to see how often people practice something, and then comparing how good they were before and after the decade, to see if practice matters more than other factors like talent and IQ. And even with a video camera, you never know the mental practice people get by visualizing and pondering the activity in their mind.

David said...

>Gladwell has a long history of going to war publicly against critics who are obviously a lot smarter than he is [...] it's typically worked out fine for his bank account, if not his reputation.<

Miley Gladwell.

chucho said...

Re: Gladwell's looks, early in his career he wore his hair closely cropped and dressed like a normal dude. I knew his name from reading the New Yorker and when I finally saw him as a talking head on TV one day it didn't occur to me that he was part black. He definitely had some kind of image makeover in the early 00's, and I'm sure it helped his success.

As Bill DeBlasio's son reminds us, people love afros.

Harry Baldwin said...

Bruce Charlton said...My guess is that - like a lot of popular personalities - Gladwell's looks, his appearance, was essential to his success. He retained a fresh-faced and distinctly 'boyish' appearance much longer than most men do - but these things don't last forever.

I think there's something to that. It's not that he was handsome--he was strange looking, like a boyish gnome. But he had a look of naive enthusiasm that seems to have waned.

Edward Waverley said...

Cail Corishev said...
I used to get Gladwell confused with Saletan (never seen either one).

Well let me tell you, MG's hideous: http://www.ericgarland.co/wp-content/uploads/pix/2012/07/malcolm-gladwell-jonah.jpg

Harry Baldwin said...

Nathan Pollock said...Slate has nothing to gain in instilling doubt in its SWIPL following.

This seems to be the trend at all liberal outlets. For example, NPR's idea of an end-of-the-week debate on political matters is to get E.J. Dionne and David Brooks together. My local NPR affiliate recently had a discussion of racism in our state. The panel comprised several black activists and academics. The liberal white host was determined to prove himself more anti-white than his guests. But what is the alternative? If you put someone like Jared Taylor in the mix, every cliched excuse the panel trotted out would be logically demolished. We can't allow debate on some matters, they're too sacred.

Anonymous said...

"For example Geniuses like JD Salinger, Richard Feynman and Gary kaspaov "only had IQ's reportedly of 104, 125, and 135 respectively...IQ seldom explains more than a sixth of the variation in real world achievements, even ones as import as personal income."

Whoever said Salinger was a genius? He was just a very engaging writer who hit a home run with one book.

As for Kasparov, 135 IQ is nothing to sneeze at. And there may be certain aspergery skills required in chess that are outside of conventional IQ. It's like a lot of very smart people would not be good at chess. Some people have a certain knack for certain things.
They 'sense' it like others can't.

Anonymous said...

Gladwell is a toe-wetter.

Dips his toes and then prtends to plumb the depths.

Anonymous said...

Ross Perot was pretty good at being a Presidential candidate on his first year doing politics full time, but that's exceptional.

Yeah but Perot had charts, which is kind of cheating. Most politicians don't have charts.

For example, the Dan Plan guy who is trying to become a Tour golf pro by putting in 10,000 hours of sophisticated practice has been stuck shooting around 80 for the last year:

There's rarely straight linear progression when practicing or training or learning new things. You often get stuck or plateau for a while before some aha moment or some moment when your body just clicks and then you make a significant jump in progress.

Truth said...

Again Steve, from my understanding, Gladwell NEVER said that there is not an inate component to talent. He simple point is that natural talent must be nurtured by hard work, or greatness does not happen.

Dan Kurt said...

re: "But the media deserve blame too. Some seem to misunderstand the ideas, but others are willful in distorting the truer meanings and turning them into b/w or either/or positions." ANON 10/10/13, 6:20 PM

How can one blame stupid. What you don't understand is that the media is made up of individuals that are not smart. TV is made up of the photogenic. Newspapers use the dregs of the Ivys and lower. Magazines, except for technical ones, take what is left. The bright don't seem to be attracted to the media hence the really low level intellectual content, analysis and lack of continuity ( short attention span toward a topic, lack of follow-up, and no institutional memory of events ).

Dan Kurt

Anonymous said...

Gladbag seemed to have it all. He looked old-and-wise-as-the-years and precocious-and-cuddly-as-a-child. He looked black, Jewish, and white. He looked male and female. He looked strikingly different and oh-so-ordinary. He sounded like a contrarian and a common sense person. Something for everyone.
He looks like the older male version of the mixed race girl in the Cheerios commercial.

If Gladbag didn't exist, he would have been invented, which he of course was.

But the whole thing just got too cute and coy, oh boy oh boy.

Dan Kurt said...

re: "For example [a] Genius... like ... Richard Feynman 'only had [an] IQ...reportedly of ... 125....'" Bottledwater

Read a chapter or two, any chapter, of Feynman's three volume physics textbook ( free on the web now, look it up ) and one could never, never assign his IQ to 125.

Neal Stephenson in Cryptonomicon shows how one of his characters, Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, fails an IQ test and because of that failing ends up on a battleship being blown up by the Japs at Pearl Harbor, a character with the mind strong enough to match wits with Alan Mathison Turing.

Dan Kurt

Anonymous said...

"Again Steve, from my understanding, Gladwell NEVER said that there is not an inate component to talent. He simple point is that natural talent must be nurtured by hard work, or greatness does not happen."

Yes, truth, yes. But EVERYONE knows that and agrees. Talent + effort = success. I mean no shiite.

But by coming up with an exacting formulation like 10,000 hrs rule and then peddling it to the masses, Gladbag (surely knowingly) gave the wrong impression that there was some kind of magic formula for EVERYONE.

I say you need natural talent and lots of effort to make it, everyone would nod their head.

But if I mass-market something about 12/365 rule -- 12 hrs 365 days a year rule, I'm gonna give the impression that I found the secret formula for everyone.

This is why I say Gladbag left himself open so that he could say, "Gee, I didn't mean it applied to EVERYONE." But in truth, the very nature of his formulation was misleading and bound to mess up a lot of people.

Why didn't he say 10,000 hrs for 1 in a 100,000 rule? Instead, he yammers about 10,000 hrs, and people think it applies to them.

Ayn Rand was a bullshitter for the same reason. She only cared about individuals with great talent, vision, will, and genius, but she marketed it to the masses to fool the dummies that they are all Howard Roarks or John Galts.
Randian losers are SO pathetic.

Anonymous said...

Even for the talented, the 10,000 hr rule is bogus.

The real rule is the inverse-and-flexibility rule.

Inverse rule simply means the more naturally gifted you are, the less time you need to master what you're naturally good at. Look how quickly Orson Welles mastered the art of film. His first one at the age of 26 blew even the master veterans away. Kubrick learned on his own and mastered the medium from almost the start.
Eastwood, on the other hand, took a long time to become a really good director. His early efforts ranged from interesting to mediocre. It took many yrs for him to develop the kind of semi-mastery seen in Mystic River and Flags/Letters.
Even so, even the best of last Eastwood cannot hold a candle to Welles first film or Kubrick's second and third film.

If you got 10,000 watts of talent, you need 100 hrs. If you got 10,000 watts of talent, you need 1000 hrs. If you got 1000 watts of talent, you need 10,000 hrs. If you got 100 watts of talent, find something else.

In German class in highschool, most people had to drill the vocab into their heads, but one very smart student memorized lots of words almost right away.

There is also the flexibility rule. If you're a boxer, you have to take into account that you might have to face new kinds of fighters and styles. All training tends to be predictive of what-is-likely-to-happen.
But life can throw curve balls out of the blue. The downside of lots of training is it preps and programs to think or act in certain routine ways. It dulls your mind and body to surprises. (This probably matters less in sports such as golf where a set of skills is pretty narrow and constant.)
Some people with lots of training(cram-programmed into their minds and bodies) cannot adapt(due to a kind of rigor mortis) whereas some have the savvy ability to adapt quickly to new situations.

Ali was a great fighter because he had a knack for changing his style with every fighter. A fighter like Foreman just relied on his size and strength. Frazier and Norton always just dug in and relied on brute strength. Ali had a sixth sense. NO doubt he trained hard but he was also full of surprises and able to absorb and weather the surprises sprung by others.

If you train 10,000 hrs to be good at something narrow and specific but new challenges appear out of the blue to neutralize your skills, whether you swim or sink will depend on your ability to be flexible and adapt.

Some old Hollywood directors couldn't adapt to the new ways. John Huston was one of the rarities who kept making fresh works to his final day. His film WISE BLOOD could have been made by one of the young new directors of the 1970s.

It seems Gladbag's coy toy formula has worn out its welcome, and we'll see if he can adapt with new fashions. But such changes must happen quickly in the blink of the eye. The 1 sec rule. Some have the spark, some don't.

Hitchcock had it with PSYCHO. The old master made something startlingly new.

Anonymous said...

Yeah but Perot had charts, which is kind of cheating. Most politicians don't have charts.

That's true. People are suckers for charts. They'll believe anything on a chart, especially if it's a pie chart or a bar graph.

Christopher said...

'Richard Feynman ... only had IQ reportedly of 125'

Bunk.

I know, I know, it's completely out of character for Feynman to joke around. And no one would ever underplay their natural talent in order to make their corresponding achievements seems more impressive.

My guess: he took many tests throughout his life, almost all of which would indicate a much higher IQ than 125, but he enjoyed (for whatever reason) reporting the outlier.

"Feynman received the highest score in the country by a large margin on the notoriously difficult Putnam mathematics competition exam, although he joined the MIT team on short notice and did not prepare for the test. He also reportedly had the highest scores on record on the math/physics graduate admission exams at Princeton."

Anonymous said...

http://www.naturallycurly.com/curltalk/attachments/general-discussion-about-curly-hair/23671d1345531626-frieda-peanuts-peanuts-comic.jpg

Gladbag in a peanutshell.

ahem said...

"Posner is not smart he is erudite in a weird predictable modern way.
Pinker is smart, but uncultured, and an intellectual battle between two famous curly haired male academic hangers-on is a win/win for both sides even where one guy outweighs the other by a couple standard deviations"

Yeah. They're like those two bearded brothers on the Loudon cough drops box.

fractional identity said...

"My guess: he took many tests throughout his life, almost all of which would indicate a much higher IQ than 125, but he enjoyed (for whatever reason) reporting the outlier."

It's good to know peoples' iqs can vary. At a proctored IQ test I took (for Mensa) I got 138. Only 5 years earlier I tested 19 points less (also proctored sort of, by a high school teacher). So naturally I think of myself as being 138, even though I don't think I could do it now.
What's amusing about Feynman is choosing what was probably a low-ball number. He does predict the "lowest common denominator" philosophy now dominating the educational system.

local newsletter updates said...

Oh yeah, the guy who said something mean about you 4 or 5 years ago... Amazing he did that, eh? I remember it clear as a day, same as the JFK assassination or moon landing, the feeling we all had. Gladwell then acted like some petty, self-absorbed, preening jerk whooping up a trivial tiff that didn't matter to anyone else. Almost like a blogger out there on the web, or something.

Anonymous said...

"My guess: he took many tests throughout his life, almost all of which would indicate a much higher IQ than 125, but he enjoyed (for whatever reason) reporting the outlier."

My guess is that it might be apocryphal. I've never seen it legitimately sourced. You often hear it in the context of the idea that you can do anything if you believe in it and try hard enough i.e. you can achieve like Feynman did even if your IQ isn't sky-high like Feynman's supposedly wasn't.

Ray Sawhill said...

Back when he had his initial blog and Steve was pestering him a lot (and Gladwell was getting really annoyed by it), I kept suggesting in comments-threads that Gladwell should write a profile of Steve for The New Yorker. I was really surprised that he didn't do anything with the idea.

Anonymous said...

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2009/08/cold-souls.html

Sailer came close to seeing the links here between Gladwell and Kaufman. Part of the appeal is the combination of self-absorbed solipsism and eccentric engagement with the world.
It'd be funny if Gladbag could enter into a kind of 'BEING MALCOLM GLADWELL' and enter his own mind like Malkovich did in the famous movie.

"His agent points out an article in The New Yorker (unfortunately, not by Malcolm Gladwell -- the movie consistently misses chances to be funnier) about how Manhattan's elite are lightening their moods by having their souls extracted and put in cold storage at a clinic on Roosevelt Island... "Cold Souls" sounds like a cross between Charlie Kaufman's Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but the writer, Frenchwoman Sophie Barthes (no relation to the French intellectual) was thinking of Woody Allen movies like Purple Rose of Cairo and Sleeper, and wrote it for Woody."

--------------

I think the backlash against Gladbag was inevitable. From the beginning, experts didn't pay attention to him. He was a media creation. Media loved him as a 'black' Jewish-looking 'cosmopolitan' wunderkind who seemed to have so many ideas. Einstein as a West Indies teddy bear. Like the great Jewish scientist, Gladwell was famous for his hair and image.

Because of his Liberalism, many experts in the stuff kept mum. They knew he was full of shit but since they too were Liberals, they figured they should just give him a pass, and maybe he will pass away as a fad. But the media kept calling on him for opinions on just about everything since he seemed to write about everything as an all-around guru. After awhile, the experts just about had enough.

He was okay as a fad theorist but began to sound like a mad scientist on all sorts of stuff, turning every scientific idea into Sesame Street 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 shtick. He was turning their fields of expertise into a joke, into cute cuddly sleek consumer items, like iPads.

Experts finally drummed up the courage to say thinking is not a goofy aerobics exercise.

Similar backlash was visited on Stephen Ambrose, who seemed to crank out books on just about everything when he knew far less than the experts on many of those subjects.

Experts can tolerate generalizers and amateurs as faddists but not as the authority on subjects on which they are not properly credentialed.

This is where Roger Ebert was smart. He didn't pretend to be the expert on all of cinema and profusely praised other critics who were more erudite about foreign and art films, and they left him alone.

Anonymous said...

This led Malcolm, in his disastrous 2009 debate with Steven Pinker, to denounce me in the New York Times as an evil source of data about (of all things) NFL quarterbacks: "Sailer, for the uninitiated, is a California blogger with a marketing background who is best known for his belief that black people are intellectually inferior to white people."

In 2013, Malcolm Gladwell is no longer popular, but blacks are still stupid.

Gladwell looks like an evil puppet - a diverse version of Chucky.

Anonymous said...

If I hear another BS about how TV is where the really good stuff is at, I'm gonna puke.

I finally made myself watch Game of Drones. If the fatass running around the island is the gimmick of LOST, Games of Drones has some midget inside an armor. It's so lame I barely lasted 20 min.

Next, I finally tried to watch MADMEN. It stunk so bad I managed just 15 min before switching it off. Dreary stuff.

I got nothing against TV stuff per se. Brits make some good stuff. I loved Forsyte Saga and Catherine Cookson mini-series productions like Wingless Bird and etc. Not great art but solid storytelling.

But these new American series are shapeless, styleless, and etc.
Madmen was lauded for its style, but what a limp lame production. So full of cliches.

Because feature films have to be 2 or 3 hrs, much of the narrative depends on style and mood created thru artful editing and story construction. But TV shows have lots and lots and lots of time. They are like soap operas that run forever. Compare Madmen with Catch Me If You Can. Madmen is Zzzzzz whereas Spielberg's films dazzles.
So, style goes to sleep to make space for a narrative that stretches on forever. I watched only 15 min of Madmen but it felt like 15 hrs.

Maybe the reason why so many middle brow mainstream social critics love this stuff is because what they do is similar to what TV makers do. What guys like Fukuyama(Wire is art), Goldberg(Breaking Bad Wind is art), and Walter Russell Mead(Games of Drones is my life) have in common is the above-average level of insight and truth-seeking but the lack of will and courage to GO ALL THE WAY AND SEE/SAY IT LIKE IT IS.
These new TV shows can be said to be above-average in writing, acting, and etc, and they may be more 'intelligent' than most dumb blockbuster movies and old TV sitcoms. They may stand tall next to midgets. But they don't have the guts to be real art.

Mainstream social critics wanna be admired for their insight into truth, but they also wanna be part of the game and that means they cannot rock the establishment boat too much, cannot really violate the taboos of PC. They can go for middlebrow truth but not highbrow truth.
So, they want something truer than partisan propaganda, but they are not willing to face the real truth and say it like it is.

So, their approach to social reality has a parallel in all these new 'intelligent' and 'mature' TV shows that, while more 'complex' than most of pop culture, are hardly what can be called works of art.

Maybe Dwight MacDonald was right. Middlebrow stuff can really be stultifying, putting forth the pretentious middle as the real thing.

Anonymous said...

That's true. People are suckers for charts. They'll believe anything on a chart, especially if it's a pie chart or a bar graph.

Well I am quite partial to pies and bars.

Bottledwater said...

Feynman is obviously very skilled in math, but if the IQ test he took emphasized non-math sills like vocabulary, that might explain the unspectacular reported score.

Reg Cæsar said...

The 10,000 Hour Rule is fine in that it usually takes at least 5, probably 10 years of hard work for anybody to get to the very top of anything complicated, such as golf, tennis, or whatever. Ross Perot was pretty good at being a Presidential candidate on his first year doing politics full time, but that's exceptional. It used to be easier to get to the top in various pursuits when amateurism was the rule, but professionalization has evened things out.

For some time now, I've been trying to encourage Steve to ditch Gladwell for a wiser (and more practical) mulatto, Frans Johansson. Well, this paragraph could be the distillation of a chapter in FJ's latest book. He specifically mentions golf, tennis and chess as "mature" fields where the 10,000-hr rule is ironclad. In a field new and still anarchic, like punk rock in the '70s, you could walk in off the street and be a success in no time.

Ray Sawhill said...

In all fairness, Gladwell is a very graceful and amusing writer. He's got a great styl and he's fun to read, or at least he was back when he first showed up. For a while he, at first, he almost seemed to have something on his own mind, and he was discussing interesting people of a kind other writers in places like The New Yorker weren't. I lost interest pretty soon, though. He got to seem shallow and facile awfully quickly. I haven't read him in years now.

Anonymous said...

Feynman is obviously very skilled in math, but if the IQ test he took emphasized non-math sills like vocabulary, that might explain the unspectacular reported score.

Doubt he had weak vocab or verbal skills. He was clearly very verbally oriented. Watch video clips of him.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you have a habit of accusing people who disagree with you of being "stupid."

pat said...

Gladwell's problem is that he doesn't know what he's talking about. His business opportunity is that apparently his readership don't either.

I read one of his early books and came across a passage where he claimed that Mozart never wrote any good music until he was in his mid twenties and had put in his 10,000 hours of practice. How could anyone say such a stupid thing? Obviously he has never heard any early Mozart.

A statement that ignorant is simply breathtaking. Gladwell's whacky practice, practice, practice theory can't survive the existence of prodigies - so he simply refuses to acknowledge their existence. I can understand that.

What I have more difficulty understanding is why he hasn't had his readers after him with torches and pitchforks? Snake oil in a paperback.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

When court jester aspires to the throne, there's gonna be problems.

Anonymous said...

Do we actually have objective documentation of Feynman's IQ score? He loved taking pokes at what he regarded as stuffed shirts and wouldn't have been above a little fib for entertainment.

Anonymous said...

"Again Steve, from my understanding, Gladwell NEVER said that there is not an inate component to talent. He simple point is that natural talent must be nurtured by hard work, or greatness does not happen."

It took a whole book for him to say what you said in one sentence, but he made all the money.

Practice makes perfect.

Truth said...

"Steve, you have a habit of accusing people who disagree with you of being "stupid."

LOL, doesn't everyone?

Jonathan Silber said...

Gladwell NEVER said that there is not an inate component to talent. He simple point is that natural talent must be nurtured by hard work, or greatness does not happen.

In other words, if you want to develop your talent, you have to work at it.

Is that an original insight of Gladwell that makes him a deep, unconventional thinker, or simply something obvious to any high school-age kid?

Anonymous said...

"Ross Douthat wrote a book called Bad Religion about the crass church that says "if you love Jesus, you will be rich". 10,000 hr prayer solution?"

Gladwell: Bad Reason.

pat said...

Feynman was naughty. No one who read his books could deny that or that he was also super smart.

He publicly challenged anyone at MIT to produce a problem that he couldn't solve (in his head) with something like a 10% margin of error in two minutes. (I'm getting the details wrong).

This isn't the behavior of a guy with an IQ of 125. Everyone should recognize that. My IQ on both the WAIS and Stanford-Binet is well above 125 and I wouldn't dare make such a taunt. Neither would any of this blog's readers.

But I know why he would claim an IQ of only 125. When I was in high school I had a growth spurt. I became 6'2". All around me were guys who were 5'10" who claimed to be six feet. So I claimed to be 5'10". I would stand next to these ersatz six footers - being clearly four inches taller - and claim to be two inches shorter than them. It was a fun way to burst their ego balloons. OK. I have a naughty streak too.

BTW he obviously was also pretty good on the verbal side of the IQ fence. He wrote several books that still sell well today and was a favorite lecturer wherever he taught. Students do not favor teachers who can't compose a sentence on their feet.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

Why is it so hard to believe Feynman has a 125 IQ? That's higher than 95% of America. You combine that with a special talent for math and 10,000 hours of practice, and maybe that's enough to explain his accomplishments. If Mohammed Ali can be a brilliant fighter with an IQ of 78 and Kasparov can be a brilliant chess champ with an IQ of 135, then Feynman can conquer physics with an IQ of 125. He certainly wouldn't be the only Nobel prize winner to score sub-Mensa, 2 future Nobel prize winners failed to meet Terman's cutoff for the gifted study when he personally tested them. IQ isn't everything.

FredR said...

http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9048781/how-malcolm-gladwell-gets-northern-ireland-wrong/

'[Gladwell] recently told the Telegraph’s literary editor, Gaby Wood, that he had wanted to write about Israel but chose Northern Ireland instead because it was ‘safer’, as the English had ‘a greater willingness to be self-critical’ (in other words, were less liable to launch an aggressive counter-attack upon Gladwell’s reputation).'

I haven't read the book, but from the summary this article offers, it sounds like Gladwell feels that Israel has been far too heavy-handed in its treatment of the Palestinians.

Matt said...

Why is it so hard to believe Feynman has a 125 IQ?

I have a Ph.D. in physics. I've never had my IQ tested, but based on GRE percentiles it's probably a couple points under 140. Objectively comparing my accomplishments to Feynman's would be about like comparing a tricycle to a Ferrari.

I'm sure the predictive power of IQ on intellectual accomplishment is pretty rough, but 125? No way.

Anonymous said...

"I'm sure the predictive power of IQ on intellectual accomplishment is pretty rough, but 125? No way."

Yeah, I agree. It's gotta be at least 150.

But I think IQ tests are not always the best measurement/predictor of long-term success.
IQ tests emphasize speed. They give lots of you problems and give you limited time, and you gotta work real fast.

But some people have more of a slow intelligence. Now slow as in dumb but slow as in the digesting and working of the information. It's like some digestive systems are fast, some are slow.

It's like athletics. Measurements of speed and strength can measure who will be the fastest runners and weightlifters, but what about baseball and golf where different skills are required? By conventional standards of athleticism, Tiger Woods wouldn't succeed in most elite sports. But he was excellent at hitting the golf ball accurately, something a lot of big strong fast athletes couldn't master.
And most baseball players couldn't excel in sprinting, boxing, wrestling, and football. But some have a tremendous skill and deftness in hitting the ball that athletes with greater speed and strength cannot. Recall Michael Jordan tried out for baseball but didn't make the cut. By standard measurement of athleticism, he was probably superior to most baseball players. But he wasn't as adept at hitting the ball.

So, IQ tests favor quick and nimble thinkers but not necessarily the kind of thinking that allows more rumination and pondering and some such. Maybe some scientists need time to gather all the data and slowly work them through.

Now, I'm not saying this applies to Feynman who seems to have been quite nimble at solving math problems on the spot. But maybe some 'slower' thinkers can see stuff that 'faster' ones miss.

It's like a car moving at 35 mph will see more detail on the side of the road that a car moving at 70 mph. The latter can will see and reach the destination faster, but the slower car will take in more sights along the way, and maybe some of those sights will prove to be invaluable.

Anonymous said...

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/114901/unknown-known-reviewed-donald-rumsfeld-meet-errol-morris