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Cutting Gladwell Down to Size

Those tired of Malcolm Gladwell will enjoy this bashing by Andrew Orlowski, a British journalist and former colleague of mine. Andrew isn't the first to challenge Gladwell -- see this piece on Duncan Watts, for instance -- but he may be the bluntest. He calls Gladwell's missives from the world of social science "empty, cynical and trite," among other things, and refers people to works by authors he thinks should be taken more seriously.

It's quite fun to read, and Andrew's creation of 'the vertical marketing bureaucracy' is clever and rings true -- but no one will stop using the "tipping point" as a phrase because of it, and people were using "outliers" before the book was even published. In America, at least, we do need to be reminded that it takes hard work for most people to become an overnight success.

Andrew himself makes at least a couple of journalistic slips -- he talks about how Stanley Milgram's Six Degrees theory has been "debunked" since The Tipping Point was published. In fact, the six degrees theorem is still valid -- it's just irrelevant after the third degree.

He also makes it sound like there is no good work in epidemiology being done using social network theory, which is not true.

I have fewer reservations about Andrew's evisceration of "The Long Tail," which is nice in theory but unprofitable in practice. Next up will certainly be Anderson's idea that giving things away is the best way to make money, which looked absurd in his Wired magazine piece on the subject but will still become a book. But let's wait for that one to get published.

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