Gladwell Revisited

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 Gladwell’s newest essay collection in the New York Times, and it wasn’t pretty.  Pinker savages Gladwell, concluding:

“Unfortunately he wildly overstates his empirical case. It is simply not true that a quarter­back’s rank in the draft is uncorrelated with his success in the pros, that cognitive skills don’t predict a teacher’s effectiveness, that intelligence scores are poorly related to job performance or (the major claim in “Outliers”) that above a minimum I.Q. of 120, higher intelligence does not bring greater intellectual achievements. The reasoning in “Outliers,” which consists of cherry-picked anecdotes, post-hoc sophistry, and false dichotomies, had me gnawing on my Kindle.”

Pinker’s conclusions echo the arguments we made in this humble blog about a year ago. Gladwell is a great storyteller, and a gifted writer–but he should not be considered an authoritative voice on how we conduct social science or public policy, or for that matter employee testing.