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Malcolm Gladwell

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Outliers: The Story of Success is New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell‘s third book and third number one bestseller.

Bully for him!

Gladwell epitomizes some of the best qualities of the modern journalist. He possesses a hunger for novelty and a powerful urge to help his subjects tell their stories in the most effective manner.

He truly likes new ideas. Most writers have a small stock in trade of novel ideas that they came up with by age 30 or so and just keep using those over and over. Gladwell, in contrast, is constantly out there searching the human sciences for theorists with new notions.

In Outliers, Gladwell offers explanations for why Asians are good at math, why blacks aren’t, why Jews dominate litigation law, and why some cultures’ airliners crash more than other cultures’.

We are also informed why Bill Gates is rich and why the Beatles are popular. In two chapters about “The Trouble with Genius,” he argues that nobody should bother thinking about IQ. In fact, talent really doesn’t much matter, according to Gladwell. Instead, what counts is hard work, and being provided with opportunities.

Gladwell concludes with an ambitious explanation of exactly what’s wrong with American society that prevents blacks and Hispanics back from achieving as much as other groups.

As you can see, Outliers sounds very much like my columns—if I politically corrected them so that they would pass muster with the legal and human resources departments at major corporations (who get sued for discrimination enough as it is). Then I could get paid $50,000 per speech to their annual sales conferences.

In Outliers, Gladwell rails against what he claims is the conventional wisdom: “We are so caught in the myths of the best and the brightest and the self-made that we think outliers spring naturally from the earth.”

Yet his book is not overloaded with quotes from anybody attributing their triumphs to their inborn aptitude. I have shelves of autobiographies, and virtually every famous person attributes their success to the same things Gladwell credits: hard work, mentors, and luck. The only exception to this polite fiction that I can recall is Wilt Chamberlain’s A View from Above. In that, the basketball star frankly gives the lion’s share of the credit to his being seven feet tall.

Gladwell is so fashionable that he sold the movie rights to his last book Blink, another unfilmable journalistic mishmash, to Hollywood for one million dollars, with Leonardo DiCaprio attached to play him. Outliers’success, which will lead to even more corporate speaking gigs for Gladwell, confirms his position as this era’s most representative nonfiction write—the perfect symbol of the Bernie Madoff Years.

But, not surprisingly, Gladwell also embodies the chief shortcomings of contemporary journalism: a complete lack of realism and skepticism.

He has neither the intellectual capacity nor the moral character to question his sources rigorously. So he ends up just recasting their self-interested talking points in a more reader-friendly format.

Let me be frank about my trade. On the whole, we journalists aren’t very bright.

Fortunately, we don’t have to be. We don’t get paid to ask tough questions. If we made our sources uncomfortable by figuring out the fatal flaws in the ideas they were peddling, they would just stop taking our calls. And then where would we be?

No, we are more or less in the PR business. Journalists get paid to package in a facile way other people’s ideas and help sell them to the public.

Running reality checks on the latest brainstorm of the century and pointing out why it’s wrong won’t sell magazines and won’t get you speakers’ fees. (Not that I care, of course).

Reading Malcolm Gladwell is a lot like reading Dan Brown, author of the bestseller The Da Vinci Code. When you pick up a bestseller, you hope that the author inspires enough confidence to induce in you a willing “suspension of disbelief”. With both Brown and Gladwell, however, the relentless hailstorms of mistakes of fact and judgment that the well-informed reader must endure just show that they don’t know what the heck they’re talking about.

Malcolm never misses an opportunity to miss the point. For example, consider the self-evident stupidity of Gladwell’s title, Outliers: The Story of Success. His book attempts to offer a General Theory of Success in America—why, on the whole, Jews and Asians are well educated and well-compensated while blacks and Mexicans aren’t—through anecdotes about a small number of anomalous “outliers.”

Gladwell chose the word “outliers” for his title because it sounded scientific. He’s vaguely aware that statistical analysts are much concerned with the outliers in their datasets, so it sounds cool to write a book about why people like Bill Gates and the Beatles are successful and call it Outliers.

Of course, the reason statisticians think about outliers a lot is because, to quote Wikipedia, “Statistics derived from data sets that include outliers may be misleading.”

For example, say you are a market researcher doing a random survey of consumers for a mutual fund company to determine the average net worth of Americans by different levels of education. You tote up your results and see that the mean wealth of your 100 college dropouts is $500,050,000.

“That’s weird,” you say.

You then look at the individual surveys and see that one respondent claimed to have a fortune of fifty billion dollars.

Is he lying? Is he crazy? Or is he Bill Gates? You don’t know. All you know is that he’s an outlier and therefore you aren’t going to use him in your data set. Otherwise, your innumerate pointy-haired boss in the marketing department (who, by the way, loves Malcolm Gladwell) might take your findings as justifying a huge ad campaign aimed at the evidently vastly wealthy dropout market.

In contrast, Gladwell devotes 18 pages to Gates, without noticing that Gates is a perfect example of the kind of data point that the very concept of “outliers” tells you to be suspicious of.

But notice how Gladwell’s mistakes err in a direction favorable to his bank account. People will pay to read about the richest man in the world in the hopes that they’ll pick up some tips from him. So Gladwell makes up a theory about why Gates is so rich (he got to practice computer programming on an early timesharing terminal at his expensive prep school), just as he devotes eight pages to his theory of why the Beatles were so successful (they played live a lot in Hamburg in 1960-1962).

As usual with Gladwell, he manages to choose examples that undermine his own theory, even when his basic idea is fairly sensible. Yes, as Gladwell stresses, putting in ten thousand hours of practice is helpful at becoming really good at a trade, so it’s helpful to come from a privileged background where you can get in a lot of practice at a young age.

Nevertheless, while the Beatles got lots of practice at playing live in Hamburg, they aren’t the most famous rock group because they were an exceptionally great live band. In fact, they gave up playing live in 1967 and nobody much noticed.

Instead, they were the greatest songwriting and studio band.

Similarly, Bill Gates didn’t become the richest man in America by being a great programmer. In reality, he bought his strategically pivotal Disk Operating System from a Seattle programmer named Tim Paterson and then licensed it to IBM. No, Gates got rich by being a great monopolist—which is a more difficult career to practice far ahead of time.

Gladwell, the unofficial Minister of Propaganda for Multi-Culti Capitalism, seldom says anything negative about capitalists. For example, if you are looking for the deep roots of Gates’s unerring cunning at acquiring a monopoly at such a young age, it’s perhaps interesting that Gates’s father was a defense attorney for firms accused of antitrust violations. Unsurprisingly, Gladwell never notices that.

Indeed, Gladwell’s climactic depiction of the more just society he envisions is quite terrifying. In the grand summation of his book’s argument, he writes:

“We look at the young Bill Gates and marvel that our world allowed that thirteen-year-old to become a fabulously successful entrepreneur. But that’s the wrong lesson. Our world only allowed one thirteen-year-old unlimited access to a time-sharing terminal in 1968. If a million teenagers had been given the same opportunity, how many more Microsofts would we have today?” [p. 268]

Let a million monopolies bloom!

The great thing about Gladwell is that he’s so lacking in critical thinking skills that he just blurts out the underlying assumptions of today’s conventional wisdom, stating its stupidities in their Platonic form. To Gladwell, the long, laborious, and expensive development of the computer isn’t a great accomplishment of Western civilization for which posterity should be grateful. No, it’s a civil rights issue. See, back in 1968, “our world” hadn’t “allowed” enough teenagers—especially not enough black and Mexican ones, to use state-of-the-art time-sharing computers.

Just think—if our world had allowed a million teenagers to be given the same opportunity of unlimited access to a time-sharing terminal in 1868, we could have a billion Microsofts today!

One obvious cognitive problem that Gladwell suffers from is a complete inability think in terms of bell curves. He spends much time emphasizing how great a factor luck and family background plays in determining who is stuck being Tim Paterson and who gets to be Bill Gates. But it never seems to occur to him that he’s talking about the difference between the 99th and the 99.99999th percentiles.

If you actually want to develop a general theory of success, one that applies not to the outliers but to the 2nd through 98th percentiles, well, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has been tracking the lives of 12,866 Americans since 1979 in its National Longitudinal Study of Youth. You can download and crunch the numbers yourself.

Social scientists constantly publish new results from this vast project … to almost zero acclaim, because they keep coming up with the same boring, depressing, politically incorrect findings as the first major study of the NLSY data in 1994: Richard J. Herrnstein’s and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve.

What they find is that success in life correlates with all the usual suspects: IQ, race, work ethic, finishing high school, not having kids out of wedlock, health, luck, staying off drugs and out of jail. That kind of stuff.

These factors won’t predict for you exactly which guy with a high SAT Math score is going to turn out to be Bill Gates and which ones are going to turn out to be just Tim Patersons.

That’s because Bill Gates is one of those outliers that statisticians warn you about.

But these factors do predict quite accurately which ethnic groups will do well on average and which ones won’t. And that is what Gladwell’s book is ultimately supposed to explain (but doesn’t).

You might think that corporate executives interested in how the world works would hire Charles Murray to come speak to them, no doubt for much less than Malcolm Gladwell’s mid-five figure’s fee.

Of course, very few do, because paying Murray could be used as prima facie evidence in a discrimination lawsuit against the corporation.

Not surprisingly, the lightweight journalist hates the heavyweight social scientist, with an animus so deranging that he libeled Murray in the pages of The New Yorker last December. I noticed Gladwell’s slander and mentioned it to Murray, who had his agent call The New Yorker’seditor David Remnick, who quickly posted this humiliating retraction:

“CORRECTION: In his December 17th piece, “None of the Above,” Malcolm Gladwell states that Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, in their 1994 book “The Bell Curve,” proposed that Americans with low I.Q.s be “sequestered in a ‘high-tech’ version of an Indian reservation.” In fact, Herrnstein and Murray deplored the prospect of such “custodialism” and recommended that steps be taken to avert it. We regret the error.

The internet makes possible a new kind of social science journalism, allowing writers to quickly do their own quantitative research rather than merely rely upon biased sources.

But unfortunately, Gladwell is a very old-fashioned journalist.

For example, Gladwell devotes 47 pages to propounding the argument of an airline consultant named David Greenberg that (in Gladwell’s exaggerated version): “The single most important variable in determining whether a plane crashes is not the plane, it’s not the maintenance, it’s not the weather, it’s the culture the pilot comes from.”

Greenberg argued that in a highly deferential culture like Korea, co-pilots were afraid to speak up when their commanding officers were flying the plane into a mountain. Thus, in 2000, after a series of crashes, Korean Air hired Greenberg to train its cockpit crews in the more broadly participatory style that American airlines have espoused since the invention of “Crew Resource Management” in 1979. And Korean Air stopped having so many crashes.

Gladwell grandly entitles this notion of the dangers of excessive deference “The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes.” He illustrates it with a long account of a Colombian airliner that crashed on Long Island in 1990 because the first officer never made clear to the surly New York air traffic controllers that they were running out of fuel and needed emergency priority to land.

Yet is Colombia truly a “high deference” culture? Judging by its drug lords, jungle rebels, and military coups, it might seem a rather aggressive culture. Perhaps that Colombian co-pilot held his tongue not out of deference to a bunch of lowly air traffic controllers, but out of the Colombian’s traditional macho pride.

Or maybe he had poor English language skills and couldn’t think of the right phrase. Who knows? At this point, it’s all speculation because everybody is dead.

Is “cultural deference” the single most important variable in airline safety, as Gladwell claims? Let’s try a simple reality check: Does Japan, a famously polite and deferential country, have a disproportionate number of crashes?

I spent a few hours poking around on the Internet and found, which lists every “fatal event” involving a scheduled airliner. According to the rigorous definition they employ, there were 45 fatal airline events on Earth between the beginning of 2004 and October 2008. I entered all 45 into an Excel spreadsheet and looked at the results.

  • First, not one of the 45 crashes involved a Japanese airline.

This is not to say that excessive deference to captains might not be a problem. After all, American airlines have been fighting it for almost 30 years. But apparently it’s the kind of problem that a highly competent country like Japan can train its aircrews to avoid.

  • Second, my spreadsheet quickly suggested a far more general “ethnic theory of plane crashes”—one that Malcolm Gladwell would never, ever mention.

The International Civil Aviation Organization summarizes the number of departures by region, allowing us roughly to estimate rates of crashing per flight.

North America (the U.S. and Canada) accounts for 42 percent of the world’s airline departures, but only seven percent of the fatal events on AirSafe’s list of 2004-2008.

But Latin America has only seven percent of the departures, but 18 percent of the fatal crashes, since 2004. Thus, airlines headquartered in Latin America have been 16 times as dangerous as airlines based in North America.

Africa and the Middle East, lumped together, are 42 times as dangerous as North America—with five percent of all departures and 33 percent of all crashes.

In summary, First World airlines are fairly safe.

In contrast, the old Second World (the ex-Soviet Union) looks quite dangerous, with nine crashes among its airlines.

And the Third World (Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia) is, unsurprisingly to VDARE.COM readers, highly dangerous relative to its small number of departures. Third World airlines accounted for 29 of the last 45 fatal events.

None of this is astonishing. Third World and ex-Soviet countries are much more dangerous in general (here’s a website that tracks Third World bus plunges), most likely due to lower levels of general competence.

Still, that’s a rather important thing to know. Wouldn’t you say? Useful when booking your next overseas trip?

Malcolm Gladwell’s books are sold in vast quantities in airport bookstores to frequent fliers. So you might imagine he’d want to clue his loyal readers in on how to minimize the danger of dying in a crash. But that would involve violating the taboos against political incorrectness—which could make him as popular on the corporate speaking circuit as Charles Murray.

Forget it!

And “The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes” is perhaps the best chapter in Gladwell’s new opus.

“Rice Paddies and Math Tests” isn’t the worst chapter, either, but it’s still lame.

Gladwell argues that the reason Chinese kids are good at math is because they work hard.

Math requires hard work, no doubt. But discounting aptitude this completely is something that only somebody as bad with numbers as Gladwell would do. Anybody with any skill at math knows that, no matter how hard you try, you’ll always run into somebody who is better at it than you are.

Why do the Chinese work hard? Because, according to Gladwell, their ancestors worked in rice paddies, which demand much more effort than the wheat fields harvested by lazy Europeans.

To explain why whites are so lazy, Gladwell contrasts the “autonomous” work of Chinese rice growers to the closely managed work of European farmers:

“The peasants of Europe worked essentially as low-paid slaves of an aristocratic landlord, with little control over their own destinies. Growing rice is too complicated and intricate for a system that requires farmers to be coerced and bullied into going out into the fields each morning. By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, landlords in central and Southern China had an almost completely hands-off relationships with their tenants: they would collect a fixed rent and let farmers go about their business.”

Malcolm apparently believes that European aristocrats would, in the manner of Parris Island drill sergeants, wake up their tenants each morning and force them out of their beds!

These Da Vinci Code-quality howlers pop up repeatedly in Outliers.

Nonetheless, Gladwell is certainly right that rice farmers work hard. Not surprisingly, though, he fails to mention the even more relevant contrast to rice farming: the “female farming” cultures of tropical Africa, which demand mostly just hoeing by women, with very little labor from men. By Gladwell’s logic, that might explain a lot about African-American culture, but he wouldn’t go there even if he ever thought of it.

Rice growing makes the Chinese hard working, which, in Gladwell’s theory, makes them good at math.

(Of course, vast numbers of Chinese live in the wheat belt, around the Yellow River. Indeed, that’s where Chinese culture originated. But never mind that…)

Is Gladwell arguing, as geneticist Henry Harpending and evolutionary theorist Gregory Cochran document in their upcoming book The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution,that the life or death Malthusian struggle to grow enough food to survive caused humans to evolve rapidly in recent millennia?

Is Gladwell theorizing that rice growing selected Chinese genes for hard work and/or math?

Of course not! It’s all a cultural legacy from working in the rice paddies, he says.

No nature, just nurture. Nobody here but us chickens.

Let’s try a reality check. Why don’t the rice paddy cultures of Southeast Asia, such as Cambodia and Indonesia, produce math wizards? There has been a sizable Filipino population in California for several generations, but very few make it to Cal Tech.

It’s a puzzlement. At least to Gladwell.

We journalists don’t have to be smart. But we do have to be clever in understanding what makes us money in modern America.

For example, there’s a huge market for books offering non-genetic explanations for the lower intellectual performance of blacks—look at how over 1.5 million copies have been sold of Jared Diamond‘s rather boring Guns, Germs, and Steel. Stephen Jay Gould’s anti-IQ book The Mismeasure of Man has been similarly successful.

Gladwell’s insight, however, is that the market for these books is largely driven not by blacks searching for arguments for why they aren’t really less intelligent on average. After all, blacks aren’t prominent in the publishing and book promotion businesses. Instead, most of the excitement about these books is generated by Jewish media figures looking for arguments about why Jews can’t possibly be smarter on average than gentiles.

Thus, Gladwell includes a chapter focusing on a famous Jewish lawyer,“The Three Lessons of Joe Flom”, that makes the curious (but no doubt popular) claim that Jews became so successful in the professions by the middle of the 20th Century because they were lucky to have parents who were garment workers in the sweatshops of New York. Therefore, any group could be as successful as Jews if they just had the same opportunities.

He argues:

“Or consider the fate of the Mexicans who immigrated to California between 1900 and the end of the 1920s to work in the fields of the big fruit and vegetable growers. … [Historian Daniel Soyer writes] ‘If you are working in a field in California, you have no clue what’s happening to produce when it gets on the truck. If you are working in a small garment shop … you can see exactly what the successful people are doing …’ “[pp. 148-149]

In fact, Mexican stoop laborers aren’t as stupid as Gladwell assumes: they quickly learn what happens to “produce when it gets on the truck” and eventually leave the fields and get jobs at the warehouse and at the grocery store. This process has been going on for a century. However, it hasn’t produced many famous litigators.

Moreover, it doesn’t occur to poor Gladwell that a huge number of different ethnic groups have been garment workers at one point or another—but only Jews have emerged from the sweatshops to, say,dominate Hollywood.

For example, Los Angeles has had a large garment industry staffed by Mexicans for generations. The International Ladies Garment Workers Union organized a strike by several thousand Mexican women in downtown LA in October 1933. In 2001, there were 120,000 workers in the LA apparel industry, almost all of them immigrants.

But you don’t read as much about the Mexican sweatshop workers of Los Angeles as you do about the Jewish sweatshop workers of New York.

Why not?

Because a lot of the old Jewish apparel workers’ kids grew up to be writers, academics, and professionals. That isn’t true of Mexican garment workers kids.

Bottom line: Malcolm Gladwell has made a huge amount of money in this decade telling people what they want to hear.

Unfortunately, Americans can’t afford ignorance, lies, and wishful thinking anymore.

[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S “STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE”, is available here.]

(Republished from VDare by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Malcolm Gladwell 
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Malcolm Gladwell, one of the highest-paid print journalists in America, has just been awarded the supreme MSM accolade: a 2600-word profile in today’s New York Times entitled the The Gladwell Effect. [by Rachel Donadio, February 5 2005]

So I am naturally honored to find he has posted on his website a 1000 word response (scroll down) to my 2005 critique of his humongous bestseller Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. readers may recall that I summarized Blink as contradictorily advising:

  • Go with your gut reactions, but only when they are right.
  • And even when your gut reactions are factually correct, ignore them when they are politically incorrect.

In his response, Gladwell is baffled and offended that both Judge Richard A. Posner, the distinguished leader of the Law and Economics school of thought, and myself had scoffed at his theory that, as he puts it, the reason “car salesmen quote higher prices to otherwiseidentical black shoppers is because of unconsciousdiscrimination. They don’t realize what they are doing. But buried prejudices are changing their responses in the moment.”

Posner and I had pointed out that auto dealers aren’t tragic victims of their own hidden bigotry. Instead, they are relying on their years ofexperience at milking different kinds of customers for the highestpossible price.

Thus, they make higher offers to blacks and women because they’ve found they can often manipulate them into paying more.

Gladwell sniffed: “Sailer and Poser [sic] have a very low opinion of car salesmen.”

Now, that’s a killer comeback!

I’ll return below to Gladwell’s rebuttal and toss in my own snide comments. But let’s first review both the magnitude and meaning of “the Gladwell Effect.”

Gladwell’s $250,000 salary with The New Yorker, for 40,000 to 50,000 words annually, comes out to about five dollars per word. But that’s just the beginning of the Gladwell financial empire. His books The Tipping Point and Blink earned seven-figure advances and have sold three million copies between them. And he charges corporations roughly $40,000 per speech on topics like “The Intuitive Manager”and “The Laws of Cool.”

Most remarkably, even though Blink is a nonfiction book with no plot, Gladwell sold its movie rights for a million dollars. He is slated to be played by, of all people, Leonardo DiCaprio, the pretty boy star of Titanic.

This is even odder because DiCaprio has lank dark blond hair, while Gladwell, who has some black ancestry, claims that he was inspired to write Blink when he grew a vast Afro and suddenly started getting hassled by The Man.

Gladwell is important, however, because he’s pioneering a new hybrid genre.

There are three obvious ways to get rich as a nonfiction writer.

  • Flatter conservatives that they are more moral, patriotic, and practical-minded than liberals.
  • Flatter liberals that they are more ethical, cosmopolitan, and high-minded than conservatives.

Although once a conservative, briefly working for The American Spectator, in recent years the Canadian-born Gladwell has beenperfecting a spiel that unites the latter two approaches: he appeals simultaneously to his audience’s liberal snobbery and capitalist greed.

His reply to me, quoted above, is a perfect example of this. He asserts that car salesmen would make even more money if they overcame their primitive biases and started to offer blacks and women lower prices.

In other words, become more politically correct and wealthier at the same time.

Hey, it sure worked for Gladwell!

This is a good strategy for snagging lucrative corporate speaking gigs, from which Gladwell earns approximately one million dollars each year. Every large organization in America is constantly battling discrimination lawsuits from disgruntled minority and female employees. Big companies definitely don’t want to take the chance of a plaintiff in a bias suit pointing out to the jury that they hired a speaker who publicly engages in crimethink.

You can imagine the restraining effect that being able to make $40,000 for a day’s work would have on anybody: a single publicized “gaffe” where you tell the truth about some taboo topic and your annual corporate speaking engagement income suddenly drops to zip.

Before Gladwell got into the lecture racket, his net worth was no doubt smaller but his courage was definitely larger. Back in 1997, forinstance, he published an article in The New Yorker called The Sports Taboo: Why blacks are like boys and whites are like girls. (May 19).

It made the same heretical argument about the genetic origin of sex differences in mathematic performance that got Harvard President Larry Summers in so much trouble last year: that men have a largervariance on many traits, so there are more men at the top (and bottom) of the bell curves.

And then Gladwell bravely went ahead and applied the same logic to the biology of race differences to try to explain why blacks are faster Olympic runners and dominate in football and basketball.

He wrote that blacks are more genetically diverse than whites, so

“… you would expect to see more really fast blacks-and more really slow blacks-than whites but far fewer Africans of merely average speed. Blacks are like boys. Whites arelike girls.”

Unfortunately, Gladwell’s theory of the genetics of race was based on a common fallacy: that blacks are more genetically variable than other races. But this is only true for junk genes that don’t do anything.

A little bit of observation would have shown Gladwell that the real world doesn’t look at all like his pet theory predicts. Gladwell is unmarried, but I’ve spent lots of time shepherding my kids at playgrounds and sports fields. The average racial difference in running speed is apparent from toddlerhood up. There simply is no question that average sprinting ability is higher among African-American kids than white kids.

Similarly, if black IQ is more variable than white IQ, as Gladwell suggests, then blacks should be over-represented in high IQ positions, such as Ivy League physics departments. They aren’t. (The reality, incidentally, is that blacks have a slightly smaller IQ variance than whites.)

The big racial difference in both running speed and intelligence is not in variance but in the mean. For IQ, the means for blacks and whites differs by a full standard deviation.

So Gladwell’s theory about the genetics of racial differences was self-evidently absurd. But at least you could say that he was trying—back in 1997.

By 2005, though, Gladwell cravenly failed to come to the defense of Summers for saying exactly what he’d said about sex differences eight years before.

Now, Gladwell merely attempts to bolster the political pieties reigning among New Yorker subscribers, as demonstrated in the Feb. 6th New Yorker by his disingenuous attack on the efficacy of racial profiling: The Problem with Profiling: Is there any accurate way to determine who is going to behave badly? To make it seem as if profiling wouldn’t work, Gladwell constructs a Rube Goldberg analogy to the controversy over outlawing pit bulls that has to be read to be believed. You can find my debunking here.

Last year in, I accused Gladwell of wielding Occam’s Butterknife in his interpretation in Blink of a well-known 1995 study by law professor Ian Ayres of racial discrimination by Chicago car dealers.

Ayres sent matched testers into auto show rooms where they found that car dealers gave the lowest initial offers to white men, then to white women, then to black women, and then finally black men. Even after 40 minutes of negotiating, the black guy shoppers were still being offered prices nearly $800 higher than the initial offer made to the white guys.

(Although Gladwell didn’t mention this, the race or sex of the salesperson didn’t matter—e.g., on average, black saleswomen quote higher prices to black women than to white men.)

I pointed out that in a scathing review of Blink in The New Republic, the celebrated Judge Richard A. Posner explained:

“It would not occur to Gladwell, a good liberal, that anauto salesman’s discriminating on the basis of race orsex might be a rational form of the “rapid cognition” that he admires… [It] may be sensible to ascribe the group’s average characteristics to each member of the group, even though one knows that many members deviate from the average. An individual’s characteristics may be difficult to determine in a brief encounter, and a salesman cannot afford to waste his time in a protracted one, and so he may quote a high price to every black shopper even though he knows that some blacks are just as shrewd and experienced car shoppers as the average white, or more so. Economists use the term ‘statistical discrimination’ to describe this behavior.”

Here’s what Gladwell had to say on his website:

“One of the most bizarre reactions that I received fromreviewers of Blink is an absolute inability to accept the notion of unconscious prejudice. Here is an example from a fairly well known writer named Steve Sailer. Sailer, in turns, quotes from a very hostile review of Blink in The New Republic by Richard Posner.”

Let me butt in here. Malcolm, I get the impression that you don’t really know who Posner is, or you would have left out mentioning that Posner agrees with me. Here’s the intro to an interview with Posner:

“Richard Posner has been showered with superlatives byfans and critics alike. He’s been called the most prolific, the most outspoken, the most intelligent, and the most controversial judge in the country. Along with his job as a Federal Appeals Court judge, he’s a professor at the University of Chicago Law School and he has published over 40 books.”

Back in 2005, I explained what was really happening in the showrooms:

Women dislike hurting other people’s feelings more than men do, and car salesmen are very good at acting emotionally hurt when you try to lowball them. … Black men, for whatever complicated reasons, enjoy being seen as big spenders. And car salesmen are all too willing to help them spend big.”

Malcolm, you could only sputter in shock and repeat yourself:

“It’s hard to know just what to say in the face of arguments like this. … My interpretation is that the reason the car salesmen quote higher prices to otherwise identical black shoppers is because of unconscious discrimination. They don’t realize what they are doing…

That’s naive to the point of hilarity. Some of these guys have been selling cars for as long as you have been alive. And, believe it or not,they pay close attention not just to what makes the most money for themselves but to what works for other salesmen as well.

Further, if the salesman’s unconscious prejudice is costing the dealership money, his manager will make him highly conscious of itquickly, or the salesman will be out on the street.

You go on, working up an impressive display of righteous indignation:

“Sailer and Posner, by contrast, think that the discrimination is conscious and, what’s more, that it’s rational. The salesmen, in Posner’s words, ‘ascribe the group’s average characteristics to each member of the group, even though one knows that many members deviate from the average.’ And what is the ‘group’s average characteristic’ in this case? That, as Sailer puts it, black men “enjoy being seen as big spenders.” Am I wrong or is that an utterly ludicrous (not to mentionoffensive) statement? Where does this idea come from?”

Uh, from 10,000 rap videos? From the fact that the world’s #1market for cognac is Detroit, which is 80% black? The mouths of black stand-up comedians? Decades of marketing research? 100 years of car buying experience?

Malcolm, you go on:

“How is it possible that when it comes to buying things black men–magically–all take on the same personality?”

Uh, because they don’t all take on the same personality. Go reread the line from Judge Posner that you yourself quoted above: we’retalking about the “average“—a concept you may have heard of?

You say:

“… I refuse to believe that all of the car salesmen ofChicago are so stupid as to believe that by virtue ofhaving a slightly darker skin color a human being becomes somehow predisposed towards higher prices.”

But Malcolm, saying “I refuse to believe” when you have no evidence bespeaks desperation.

We’re talking about an ethnic cultural trait. And the simple fact is that the urge to drive a hard bargain famously varies between ethnicgroups. As Dave Barry notes in his new book Dave Barry’s Money Secrets (Like: Why Is There a Giant Eyeball on the Dollar?):

“I’m the world’s worst car buyer. I come from a long line of Presbyterians, who get their name from the Greekwords pre, meaning ‘people,’ and sbyterian, meaning ‘who always pay retail.’ … My idea of an opening tactical salvo is to look at the car’s sticker price and say to the salesperson, ‘This looks like a good deal! Are you sure you’re making enough profit on this?’”

As for your coup de grace“Sailer and Poser [sic] have a very low opinion of car salesmen”—you must be one of the few people in thecountry who claims not to have a low opinion of car salesmen. A 2005 Gallup poll asked 1002 adults nationwide to rate the honesty and ethical standards of 21 occupations. Nurses came in first, with 82% rating them high or very high. Last were telemarketers at 7%. Next to last were car salesmen at 8%.

You say:

“Nor do I believe that this ridiculous prejudice is rational.The point of the chapter is that prejudices that rely onpeople’s appearance don’t help salesmen make money.”

Yeah, Malcolm, Judge Posner and I know that’s the point of your chapter. We just think that when it comes to the specific example youchose to illustrate it, it’s a stupid point.

This stems not from an “absolute inability to accept the notion of unconscious prejudice” on the part of Judge Posner and myself. Instead, it flows both from our familiarity with economic theory andour many years of exposure to Chicago car dealers and customers. We think that after a century of selling cars, Chicago car salesmen know more about how to make money in their business than you do.

You say:

“A salesman makes money on volume—”

No, he makes money on volume times profit margin. It’s a good thing you don’t run a car dealership—your strategy would be to lose money on every car sold, but make up for it on volume!

“…and anything that has the potential to stigmatize or scare off a specific kind of customer is a really bad idea.”

Yes, so the advantage in higher profit margins from price discriminating by race and sex must be quite lucrative. Otherwise, thenondiscriminating dealerships would have driven the discriminating dealerships out of business over the last century.

You go on:

“The reason the notion of unconscious prejudice is soimportant is that there are certain kinds of behavior that are so inexplicable that this is the only way to explain them.”

No, as Judge Posner explained, this behavior is explicable—by the well-established economic concept of statistical discrimination.”

Malcolm, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of your buddy Steven D. “The Freakonomist” Levitt, but call him up—I’m sure he could help you grasp the meaning of “statistical discrimination.”

Economist Robert J. Stonebraker writes:

“While dealers and/or salespeople may know little or nothing about a particular customer, they know quite a bit about statistical differences among races and genders.They know that women and African-Americans typicallyenter the showroom with less information and lessproclivity to bargain. Although white males often salivate at the chance to lock horns with car dealers in a bargaining struggle, females and African-Americans maybe unaware that bargaining is even possible. Ayres andSiegelman cite a Consumer Federation of America surveythat discovered that many female respondents, and morethan one-half of African-American respondents, believedthat sticker prices were non-negotiable. Armed with suchknowledge, salespeople will rationally adopt a morestubborn stance while bargaining with female and African-American customers.”

In summary, Malcolm, I have to scratch my head: You get paid $40,000 per speech to corporate sales forces?

Obviously, you don’t want to insult salesmen, who butter your bread.

But I’ve spent a lot more years in the corporate trenches with sales guys than you have, and most of them have a good sense of humor about what they do. They can put up with some ribbing.

What gets on their nerves is a pompous fool.

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog.]

(Republished from VDare by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science • Tags: Malcolm Gladwell 
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Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is the latest bestseller from New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell, author of the 2000 hit The Tipping Point.

Gladwell describes Blink as “A book about rapid cognition, about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye.”

Because both Gladwell and I write about what the human sciences have to say about daily life, and because we have fairly similar example-laden prose styles, I was looking forward to his book.

Especially after I learned that he makes $1,000,000 per year just from public speaking (25 appearances annually at $40,000 each, mostly in front of corporations).

Maybe I could pick up a few pointers from Gladwell!

So, from Gladwell’s book, here’s what I learned about what the corporate audience wants a nonfiction writer to do:

  • Find or concoct marketable buzzwords for concepts with which readers are already familiar. For example, Gladwell uses the term “thin-slicing” to put a positive new spin on the old practice of judging a book by its cover.
  • Don’t even try to make sense. Logic and consistency just annoy most readers.

Blink’s individual anecdotes are interesting and well-written. But taken as a whole, the book is a mish-mash of contradictions. Gladwellstrongly encourages you to rely upon your snap judgments … except when you shouldn’t.

  • For example, Gladwell cites a study showing that college students can tell how good a class is just by watching two seconds of videotape of the professor lecturing … with the sound off!
  • On the other hand, Gladwell endorses another study showing that experienced emergency room physicians should not use their intuition when deciding whether patients complaining of chest pains are suffering a heart attack. Instead, they should follow a rigid algorithm that had been laboriously worked out by statistical analysis of thousands of cases.
  • On the other other hand, the Getty Museum in LA should nothave relied on the painstaking scientific analyses that supportedthe authenticity of an ancient-looking statue for which the museum paid $9 million. No, they should have relied instead on the instant snap judgment of various art critics who thought it looked phony—as, indeed, it turned out to be.
  • On the other other other hand … well, I could go on all day quoting contradictory anecdotes from Blink.

Now, it would be tremendously useful if Gladwell had figured out some general rules of thumb for when to rely on your instantaneous hunches and when not to.

But as far as I can tell, his book reduces to two messages:

  • Go with your gut reactions, but only when they are right.

Gladwell does make a genuinely useful point about how when people try to put their ideas into words, they often distort them intomeaninglessness or falsehood.

Ironically, this happens to Gladwell every time he writes about race.

Because there were already plenty of books on the market advising corporate workers in tiresome detail how to look before they leap, the sales potential of a book telling them, “Wotthehell, just go ahead and leap,” was clear.

Unfortunately for Gladwell, the best-known examples of thinking without thinking are racial and gender prejudices. But, then, you’ve forgotten Rule #2—Readers despise logic and consistency. So Gladwell just assumes that his otherwise beloved “rapid cognition” is 100% wrong whenever it’s based on race or gender stereotypes.

(And that’s why he makes a $1 million annually and I don’t.)

The most intriguing aspect of Gladwell’s book is that its hopeless confusion and mind-melting political correctness stem from theauthor’s own racial background. Although mostly white, Gladwell is partly of African descent (his mother was black, Scottish, and Jewish). But he doesn’t look noticeably black in most of his pictures.

The origin of Blink, he writes on his website, came when, “on a whim,” he let his hair grow long into a loose but large Afro.

As you can see in this picture of Gladwell with his Afro, he wound up with more of a Napoleon Dynamite Mormon ‘fro than the genuine kinky kind that ABA basketball players espoused back in the 1970s.Still, it does finally make him look marginally black.

As soon as Gladwell grew his Afro, he claims, he started getting hassled by The Man: highway patrolmen wrote him speeding tickets, airport security gave him the evil eye, and the NYPD questioned him for 20 minutes because they were looking for a rapist with an Afro.

“That episode on the street got me thinking about the weird power of first impressions,” he says. “And that thinking led to Blink.”

Obviously, Gladwell is not being wholly honest about why he chose to grow an Afro, which is an extremely high-maintenance hairstyle.

(I know, because I looked just like Napoleon Dynamite myself back in 1978. If you are thinking about growing an Afro yourself, trust me when I tell you that anytime you lean your head against a wall or the back of your chair, you will dent your ‘fro.)

People pick a hairstyle to project an image, and Gladwell presumably wanted to shed his nerdy son-of-a-math-professor look and start making first impressions that reeked of that dangerous, sexy, black rebel glamour associated with famous Afro-wearers like Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver and blaxploitation movie hero Shaft:

“Who’s the cat that won’t cop out When there’s danger all about? SHAFT! Right On!”

Now the inevitable downside of trying to look dangerous to impress girls and interviewers is that you look dangerous to cops.

But you aren’t going to hear about tradeoffs from Gladwell, nor about racial differences. He makes a huge amount of money lecturing corporations, and he prudently toes the EEOC-enforced party line about how there’s no contradiction whatsoever between “diversity” and profit maximization.

For example, Gladwell wields Occam’s Butterknife in his discussion of a well-known 1995 study by law professor Ian Ayres of racial discrimination by Chicago car dealers.

Ayres sent matched testers into auto show rooms where they found that car dealers gave the lowest initial offers to white men, followed bywhite women, black women, and finally black men. Even after 40 minutes of negotiating, the black guy shoppers were still being offered prices nearly $800 higher than the initial offer made to the white guys.

(Although Gladwell doesn’t mention this, the race or sex of the salesperson didn’t matter—e.g., on average, black saleswomen quote higher prices to black women than to white men.)

Ever the loyal lackey of multiculti capitalism, Gladwell theorizes that the car salespeople just didn’t realize “how egregiously they were cheating women and minorities.” He seems to hold the novel opinion that auto dealers are well-meaning but uninformed aboutprofit-maximization.

See, the salesmen would have offered their female and black shoppers lower prices if only they had known (perhaps from reading Blink) that they suffered from irrational prejudices that were keeping them from making more money!

In a scathing review of Blink in the The New Republic, the celebrated Judge Richard A. Posner explains:

“It would not occur to Gladwell, a good liberal, that anauto salesman’s discriminating on the basis of race orsex might be a rational form of the “rapid cognition” that he admires… [I]t may be sensible to ascribe the group’s average characteristics to each member of the group, even though one knows that many members deviate from the average. An individual’s characteristics may be difficult to determine in a brief encounter, and a salesman cannot afford to waste his time in a protracted one, and so he may quote a high price to every black shopper even though he knows that some blacks are just as shrewd and experienced car shoppers as the average white, or more so. Economists use the term ‘statistical discrimination’ to describe this behavior.”

What’s actually going on in showrooms is this:

  • Women dislike hurting other people’s feelings more than men do, and car salesmen are very good at acting emotionally hurt when you try to lowball them. When I’ve gone car shopping with my wife, I’ve seen her flinch in empathetic pain when I scoff at a dealer’s highball offer. But, after I’ve bought our new car for a $1,000 less than she would have settled for, sheforgives me.
  • Black men, for whatever complicated reasons, enjoy being seen as big spenders. And car salesmen are all too willing to help them spend big.

These ethnic differences in how hard groups will bargain extend farbeyond basic black and white. For example, a friend of mine who is a small businessman in Los Angeles can rattle off a ranked list of how difficult it is to bargain with the myriad ethnic groups he deals with.

The most ferocious negotiators he runs into are the Armenians,Koreans, and Israelis. The most aristocratically insouciant about prices and terms are the white South Americans.

Statistical discrimination is a troubling phenomenon, because it chips away at the libertarian assumption that competitive markets eliminate racial discrimination, as they do away with most things that are irrationally costly. (See my 1996 article “How Jackie Robinson Desegregated America for a classic statement of this optimistic view of the free market.)

But, despite Gladwell’s multicultural liberalism, he isn’t going to tell us anything interesting like that.

Amusingly, Gladwell is creeped out by an online psychological experiment called the Implicit Association Test (IAT), because it tellshim that he is unconsciously prejudiced against blacks.

The IAT is a test of how quickly you associate positive and negative words with black and white faces. (You can take it for yourself here.)

Gladwell has taken the IAT’s race test repeatedly and it keeps reporting that he has a “moderate automatic preference for whites.”

He’s one of those “millions of Americans that link the words ‘Evil’ and ‘Criminal’ with ‘African-American’ on the Race IAT.”

He’s not alone:

“It turns out that more than 80 percent of all those who have ever taken the test end up having pro-white associations, meaning that it takes them measurably longer to complete answers when they are required to put good words in the ‘Black’ category than when they are required to link bad things with black people.”

Interestingly, 48 percent of the 50,000 blacks who have taken the IAT also register as associating black faces more automatically than white faces with words like “hurt.”

For whatever it’s worth, when I took the IAT, it concluded, “Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for Black relative to White.”

This finding would allow me to get on my moral high horse and condescend to scientifically-proven racist bigots like Gladwell. But I’ll instead defend his prejudice.

Occam’s Razor suggests a simple, sensible reason why Gladwell tends to unconsciously link black faces with negative words like “criminal”because blacks are indeed vastly more likely than whites to be criminals.

Here’s the official word from the federal government’s Bureau of Justice Statistics: “Blacks were 7 times more likely than whites to commit homicide in 2002.”

And that seven-to-one ratio is a bit of an understatement because, although the government normally strives to break ethnic Hispanics out from non-Hispanic whites in most of its measures, its crime statistics notoriously lump many Hispanics in with non-Hispanic whites. Since Hispanics have a higher crime rate on average, this artificially lowers the black-white crime ratio.

The most strenuous effort to count Hispanics accurately came in a2001 report by the liberal advocacy group National Center on Institutions and Alternatives. I crunched their data on incarcerations in 1997 and found that the black imprisonment rate was 9.1 times the white rate. (The Hispanic rate was 3.7 times the white rate. The Asian rate was not broken out, but I would guess it was considerably lower than the white rate.)

So Gladwell’s association of blackness with criminality on the IAT is a perfectly rational and fact-based example of the “thin-slicing” that he otherwise endorses.

Not that you’ll ever hear that from him. Too many $40,000 corporate speaking gigs at stake!

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and

movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog.]

(Republished from VDare by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Malcolm Gladwell 
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Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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