Jeremy Duns+ Your Authors @JeremyDuns Author of Free Agent, Song of Treason, The Moscow Option, Spy Out The Land and non-fiction Dead Drop (Codename: HERO in the US). Reviews thrillers for @thetimes Sep. 21, 2019 1 min read + Your Authors

The Gladwell review in the Atlantic... Obviously, it's been clear he's shonky for years, but I think the review shows precisely why he is, eg his poets and suicide 'stat'. The review should lead to much more serious scrutiny of all his work, but I suspect won't. Why not?

I think because he's become too big to fail, but also because of cognitive dissonance. We know people can be smart and articulate and still distort the truth. But Gladwell also seems friendly and kind and warm and somehow just Good. And we can't really process that part.

You can be smart, articulate, a good writer, have some interesting insights, be kind and warm and friendly... and still be a woefully inadequate researcher who distorts the truth. And that is, I think rather clearly, what Gladwell is. Yet it feels wrong to say it aloud.

Here's the review if you missed it. 

The Guardian review makes similar points but is devastating in other ways, I think 

I have a theory related to this, which is that in the last couple of decades popular non-fiction books like this have tended to imitate academic journals more, most notably with the use of endnotes and bibliographies. In many cases it's been an effective disguise for charlatans.

It's one thing that readers are often persuaded by the mere existence of endnotes that everything is above board, but publishers often don't seem to check either. In academia, a researcher trying to pull Gladwell's trick with the suicide stat would usually be exposed very fast.

So there's a best of both worlds situation: Gladwell, Hari and others in this vein spout counter-intuitive, platitudinous nonsense for huge advances, and are viewed as something close to academics - but rarely experience any of the real scrutiny or consequences that go with that.

(I'm not alleging Gladwell is a plagiarist, by the way - I think the plagiarism and sockpuppeting stuff obscured a much greater problem with Hari's writing, which is still a major element of his books, ie the massaging and distorting of material to suit his catchy narrative.)

You can follow @JeremyDuns.


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