Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Inner World of Outliers

At some point today I finished reading/leafing through Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers". I take issue not with what he says in the book but how he says it. Do I think that some people are born in 'lucky' years where opportunity presents itself more readily? I noticed twenty-five years ago that Prince, Michael Jackson, and Madonna were all born in the summer of 1958. It's Gladwell's conclusions, or methodology that I take issue with. He cherry picks, particularly deeper into the book, where he's thin on validation of his hypothesis. Almost without exception he chooses men as subjects, and men that fall within his outliers paradigm. Some of his comparisons are infuriatingly spare on their criteria. I couldn't help but wonder if he was hellbent on justifying something in his own mind moreso than discovering a real truth.
I read Gladwell's "Blink" and "The Tipping Point", and both of those books are much better conceived and thought out than "Outliers". That might be the trouble. He wants to justify his own bit of outlier land, and the reader is led fairly far afield.

6 comments:

H said...

I haven't read this book, but like you... I often question the methodology of those who present a hypothesis without legitimate research to back it. It is too easy to draw simple correlations.

"I live by syllogisms: God is love. Love is blind. Stevie Wonder is blind. Therefore, Stevie Wonder is God."
— Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report

TheWeyrd1 said...

WOW...the class I just took last week in Portland, OR referenced this book several times...weyrd.

jennifer from pittsburgh said...

TW1 - If you read the book there seems to be an underlying push to explain why some people succeed and others fail. It's as if Gladwell is desperately trying to find order when at times there is chaos...and when order doesn't fit he blames chaos. Things don't necessarily work out that way.
Compared to Blink I found the book sloppy. Certainly not well thought out, and the exclusion of women entirely just brings that fact home.

TheWeyrd1 said...

I'll just cross that one off my list.

jennifer from pittsburgh said...

Oh no, check it out of the library...it's worth that much effort ;)

drollgirl said...

it sounds like a crock of shit to me! but i haven't read the book, and i am already agreeing with your assessment! it drives me bonkers when people write and cherry pick things that match their thesis when there are glaring examples they conveniently ignore!