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    Oh Pinker, Noooo!
    By Asha John | November 20th 2009 09:00 PM | 1 comment | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    I am a writer based in Northern California. I have a BS in Journalism. Two topics I am most interested in - evolutionary basis of religion and living...

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    Pinker goes after Gladwell, for doing a sloppy job on picking and analyzing the research he uses, and then does it himself in his critique of Gladwell. Ooops!

    By now many of you may have read Steven Pinker’s review of Gladwell’s latest book, What the Dog Saw in the New York Times over the weekend.

    Several people have commented here and elsewhere on the review.

    In it Pinker takes Gladwell to task for misspelling eigenvalue as “igon value.” He see it as instance of what he believes is Galdwell’s larger “igon value problem: when a writer’s education on a topic consists in interviewing an expert, he is apt to offer generalizations that are banal, obtuse or flat wrong.”

    As an example he says that Gladwell’s argument, that a quarter­back’s rank in the draft is uncorrelated with his success in the pros, “is simply not true.”

    Pinker doesn’t really mention any counter citations to Gladwell’s in article. So Gladwell asked him for the research that he used to challenge Gladwell’s original claim.

    Here is Gladwell’s response,

    He [Pinker] very graciously wrote me back. He had three sources, he said. The first was Steve Sailer. Sailer, for the uninitiated, is a blogger with a marketing background who is best known for his belief that black people are intellectually inferior to white people. Sailer’s “proof” of the connection between draft position and performance is, I’m sure Pinker would agree, crude: his key variable is how many times a player has been named to the Pro Bowl. Pinker’s second source was a blog post, based on four years of data, written by someone who runs a pre-employment testing company, who also failed to appreciate—as far as I can tell (the key part of the blog post is only a paragraph long)—the distinction between aggregate and per-play performance. Pinker’s third source was an article in the Columbia Journalism Review, prompted by my essay, that made an argument partly based on a link to a blog called “Niners Nation."

    Read Galdwell’s blog.


    Steven Pinker replies:

    What Malcolm Gladwell calls a “lonely ice floe” is what psychologists call “the mainstream.” In a 1997 editorial in the journal Intelligence, 52 signatories wrote, “I.Q. is strongly related, probably more so than any other single measurable human trait, to many important educational, occupational, economic and social outcomes.” Similar conclusions were affirmed in a unanimous blue-ribbon report by the American Psychological Association, and in recent studies (some focusing on outliers) by Dean Simonton, David Lubinski and others.

    Gladwell is right, of course, to privilege peer-reviewed articles over blogs. But sports is a topic in which any academic must answer to an army of statistics-savvy amateurs, and in this instance, I judged, the bloggers were correct. They noted, among other things, that Berri and Simmons weakened their “weak correlation” (Gladwell described it in the New Yorker essay reprinted in “What the Dog Saw” as “no connection”) by omitting the lower-drafted quarterbacks who, unsurprisingly, turned out not to merit many plays. In any case, the relevance to teacher selection (the focus of the essay) remains tenuous.