Neuron Culture

Micheal Nielsen gets swiftly to a problem many scientists (and not a few writers) have with Gladwell’s books — and highlights their redeeming factors as well:

All three of Malcolm Gladwell’s books pose a conundrum for the would-be reviewer. The conundrum is this: while the books have many virtues, none of the books make a watertight argument for their central claims. Many scientists, trained to respect standards of proof above all else, don’t like this style. A colleague I greatly respect told me he thought Gladwell’s previous book, Blink , was “terrible”; it didn’t meet his standards of proof. Judge Richard Posner wrote a scathing review criticizing Blink on the same grounds.

Gladwell’s gift as a writer is not for justification and proof of his claims. What Gladwell does have is an extraordinary gift to use stories to explain abstract ideas in a way that is vivid and memorable, a way that brings those abstract ideas quickly to mind at later need. This shamanic gift is dangerous, for if you read his books credulously, it leaves you open to believing ideas that may be false. It%u2019s also incredibly valuable, for what you learn you internalize deeply. In my opinion, this more than makes up for whatever Gladwell’s books lack in rigorous justification.

Hat tip: Neuronarrative

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