We made a few posts last year about the NFL and whether or not draft order is related to productivity. The core issue for us was a claim Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly asserted that the draft order of NFL quarterbacks (QBs) is unrelated to performance. Well, the issue was raised again over the Labor Day weekend and we were alerted to some more recent material we hadn't seen because to be honest we thought we were done with the whole thing. We found this very sensible WSJ blog from last December, but then we also found this CNBC blog from May of this year. Darren Rovell, the CNBC blogger, reproduced the following table from economist Dave Berri. It purports to show that performance of lower drafted QBs is similar to that of the top drafted QBs. Now to be fair, the table was used to argue that the cost-benefit of the lower picks might exceed that of the higher picks and that is entirely plausible. But Berri also uses a table like this to argue that draft order is not a good predictor of success.
I'll admit I'm in a curmudgeonly mood because I feel like I'm wasting time writing about something so obvious. But we've been implicated in a strange argument that erupted in the blogosphere last week, so I'm compelled to write a few words to clear our name. As we mentioned in our last post, a few days ago Steven Pinker reviewed Malcolm Gladwell's latest book and criticized him rather harshly for several shortcomings. Gladwell appears to have made things worse for himself in a letter to the editor of the NYT by defending a manifestly weak claim from one of his essays – the claim that NFL quarterback performance is unrelated to the order they were drafted out of college. The reason we're implicated is that Pinker identified an earlier blog post of ours as one of three sources he used to challenge Gladwell (yay us!). But Gladwell either misrepresented or misunderstood our post in his response, and admonishes Pinker by saying "we should agree that our differences owe less to what can be found in the scientific literature than they do to what can be found on Google."
We're going to file this one in the "we told you so" file! The other day the famous Harvard psychologist Stephen Pinker reviewed Malcolm Galdwell's newest essay collection in the New York Times, and it wasn't pretty. Pinker savages Gladwell, concluding:
In my last post I compared a speech given by Malcolm Gladwell in the spring to the content of his new book Outliers, and wondered what had happened to the employee selection angle he had promised in the speech. Well, no sooner did my post go live than my New Yorker magazine showed up in my mailbox with the answer — this week's cover story is an article by Gladwell entitled "Most Likely to Succeed: How do we hire when we don't know who's right for the job?"
Recently on a plane the guy beside me was reading the same book I was – Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. My fellow passenger didn't think this was remarkable as the airport bookstores had huge displays. Gladwell has become somewhat of a household name for his skill at popularizing social science through collecting compelling anecdotes. Blink and The Tipping Point were entertaining enough to read, and that's why the guy beside me had made an impulse purchase.