Malcolm Gladwell bleg

by on February 4, 2017 at 3:10 am in Books, Current Affairs, Economics, Education, History, Political Science, Science, Sports | Permalink

On February 27, I’ll be having a Conversation with Tyler with Malcolm Gladwell.  (Sorry the event is already sold out!  In due time I’ll get you information on the live stream.)  What should I ask him?

I thank you in advance for your intelligent and scintillating suggestions.

1 Lukas P February 4, 2017 at 3:29 am

Foxes against hedgehogs. Does it matter when leading intellectuals make big predictions that turn out to be wrong? Is that justified by our needing narratives or does is it problematic because collectively we get inaccurate expectations when we might to better by being more humble in our forecasts?

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2 londenio February 4, 2017 at 3:37 am

How does he choose which project to work on next? Just his own interest? Or does he look into the current discourse and zeitgeist?

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3 So Much For Subtlety February 4, 2017 at 3:51 am

Where does Steve Sailor go wrong in his opinion?

Although at this moment we should be asking the author of Blink, Tipping Point and Goliath v. David where does he think the deadwood media went wrong? How does any of his works relate to the Trump phenomenon?

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4 D February 8, 2017 at 1:58 pm

Steve Pinker weighed in on some of this when him and Gladwell had a back-n-forth. Gladwell dismissed IQ research by labeling it the “ice flo of IQ.” Pinker replied by noting that what Gladwell refers to the “Ice flo of IQ”, cognitive psychologists refer to it as “mainstream.”

Gladwell’s wrong on all that stuff. Steve Hsu also debunked his claim about IQ having no real benefit over 120, iirc.

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5 Thomas February 4, 2017 at 4:01 am

Ask him if the lull in violence between the terrorism of the 70s and the aggravated assaults of the teens was just a lull in leftist political violence due to them having won?

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6 Just Another MR Commentor February 4, 2017 at 4:14 am

I would hardly call the period between 1980 and 2017 a time of leftist political victories

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7 msgkings February 4, 2017 at 12:32 pm

+1

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8 Careless February 4, 2017 at 4:10 am

I do not see this thread going well

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9 Jozef Imrich February 4, 2017 at 5:49 am

I think Malcolm Gladwell is one of the best observers of human behaviour and most morons just dislike him … Ask Malcolm what is the difference between 1930 Germany and 2017 America … Both societies and cultures were yearning for real change.
Cheers

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10 Boonton February 4, 2017 at 7:40 am

Not an expert on 1930’s Germany but were both societies ‘yearning for real change’? Why? Germany had gotten out of the hyperinflation years before, it has survived the Great Depression. No one was really giving it that much problem with WWI reparations anymore. Germany in 1930, all things considered, was probably just fine. Why demand ‘real change’ then when previously the country had been through so much more dramatic stuff?

Same thing could be said about 2017. We survived the housing crises, recovered from the Great Recession. In 2001 terrorism meant skyscrapers being destroyed along with thousands of people, unknown people sending anthrax through the mail. Today crime is low, terrorism is somewhat equally common to random shootings by mentally ill crazies (which for some reason doesn’t seem to demand any ‘real change’ in policies) and none of it looks like the sophistication that 9/11 experienced.

Might the issue be we don’t have issues and have been lulled into a sense of nothing too bad will happen because our institutions handled a lot of shit before so we could play with leaders who throw tantrums and promise to break the system because they will be entertaining to watch (recall Peter Theil, sorry ‘Peter the genus’ because he’s super rich so his thoughts must be extra profound, asserting that Obama’s lack of corruption made him ‘boring’ and presumably that’s a problem). Might ‘boredom’ be a weakness of democratic societies that causes them to launch into disastrous policies?

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11 anon February 4, 2017 at 9:25 am

A related read, with more Singapore:

https://t.co/RNOfaw7Zvk

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12 tjamesjones February 4, 2017 at 9:43 am

oh dear, we’ve got some modest non-experts who really are non-experts telling us what’s what with Germany in 1930s. Yes, that’s right , exactly how much of a Nazi is Donald Trump. If only he had the big flags with the Swastikas then we could be SURE.

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13 MARTY MURPHY February 7, 2017 at 10:02 am

Are you sure that the US in 2017 should be compared to Germany in the 1930s? Why not compare US politics today to France in the 1930s? Germany reacted to its perceived problems with aggression. France reacted to German hegemony with passivity and nihilism. Neither ended well.

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14 rayward February 4, 2017 at 7:32 am

Ask Mr. Gladwell if Americans, the Americans who support Mr. Trump, have given up on the American Dream, the belief that anyone, through initiative, hard work, and determination, can succeed. Much is made on the left about Trump not representing the interests of his most loyal supporters, that Trump is simply a con man who has conned his supporters, and concluding that Trump’s supporters must be stupid. While I believe they are stupid, it’s not because they believe Trump isn’t a con man, rather it’s that they do believe Trump is a con man and that Trump will include them in on the con. They are like the hapless Mathew Martoma, who believed his mentor, Steven A. Cohen, would include him in on the con only to find himself abandoned, on his own, and in prison for obedience to his mentor. The American Dream has been forsaken and replaced by American Cynicism, the belief that success isn’t obtained through initiative, hard work, and determination but by exploitation of others.

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15 Heorogar February 4, 2017 at 8:06 am

Ray, Read your stuff. It’s why the smart people lost: fear and loathing of red-state Americans and the uses they make of their lives and liberties. .

Trump voters are idiots, “Attention Walmart voters.” Yes! I am an idiot. I couldn’t see how voting Hillary was good for me or America.

The Russians hacked the election. (Latest excuse) Obama’s disastrous policies made America worse*. It wasn’t that Hillary is corrupt, dishonest, and incompetent.

I voted Trump. I’ll vote Trump again in 2020. I are stupid.

National debt deteriorated 89% rising $9.4 trillion from $10.6 trillion to $20 trillion.
National debt per capital nearly doubled going to $61,340 from $31,000.
Labor force participation rate crashed 5% from 65.8% to 62.8%.
Home Ownership Rate dropped from 67.3% to 63.5%
Real Median Household Income declined 6.4% from $57,744 to $54,045.
Food stamp dependence worsened by 36% from 32 million to 43.6 million.
Persons in poverty rose by 7 million destitute Americans deteriorating 18% to 45 million from 38 million.
Never achieved 3% annual GDP growth.
[…]
.

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16 anon February 4, 2017 at 9:33 am

Without getting into the “bad things happened, so burn it down.”

It is actually a huge lie that no one in “the elite” worried about middle class outcomes. That was what much of the argument during stimulus and recovery was really about. That was what cyclical vs structural unemployment was all about.

Of course, people who really remember that history may find it ironic that people who didn’t want stimulus because it was leftist, who thought anyone below median income was a taker, would suddenly convince themselves that it was the elites fault that nothing happened.

When of course they had spent 10 or 15 years making sure nothing happened.

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17 Simian February 4, 2017 at 7:35 am

Did it take 10,000 hours to become an expert at spinning anecdotes into pop “science” books containing no actual data?

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18 msgkings February 4, 2017 at 12:38 pm

So much jealousy of that guy. Sitting in your cubicle thinking “shit I coulda gotten rich doing that!” Yeah, no you couldn’t.

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19 firingline February 5, 2017 at 1:32 am

The guy who invented the pet rock is a millionaire. It is possible to think something is overrated without being livid at the thought that you didn’t come up with it first. It says something about you that you think the fact of getting rich trumps everything else.

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20 Ricardo February 4, 2017 at 1:55 pm

Where does he rely on anecdotes? Everything I have read from him clearly references published academic research. You can accuse him of relying on some questionable research and sometimes not interpreting the results in a defensible manner but the notion that he spins anecdotes strikes me as a basic misreading of his books.

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21 D February 8, 2017 at 3:26 pm

The actual 10,000 hour researcher, Andreeson (I think that’s his name), was on the Freakonomics podcast and very nicely said Gladwell misunderstood his research.

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22 Craig February 4, 2017 at 7:46 am

What is the strongest critique against his work?

Overrated/underrated:
Stranger Things
10,000 hour rule
Podcasts
Ketchup

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23 Christine February 4, 2017 at 9:07 am

Good one (strongest critique). I vote for that.

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24 Greg February 4, 2017 at 9:13 pm

+1

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25 rayward February 4, 2017 at 7:58 am

Given Cowen’s appreciation for Singapore, perhaps he would like to interview Bernard Yeung, Dean of National University of Singapore’s business school. I would never have expected this: https://promarket.org/promarket-interviews-bernie-yeung-part-ii-system-dominance-built-resistance-change2/

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26 Econ 101 February 4, 2017 at 8:06 am

Does the ongoing ‘replication crisis’ and other methodological debates in social psychology impact on how you write your next book? Does it make you view your previous books in a different light?

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27 KenB February 4, 2017 at 9:49 am

This was my first thought as well.

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28 Anon February 4, 2017 at 10:51 am

That’s a good question.

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29 msgkings February 4, 2017 at 12:39 pm

+1

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30 Dominik February 4, 2017 at 10:27 pm

+1

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31 carlospln February 5, 2017 at 12:16 am
32 D February 8, 2017 at 3:26 pm

+1

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33 Thiago Ribeiro February 4, 2017 at 8:07 am

Is the Brazilian model universally appliable or each country must find its own to deal peacefully with the legacy of institutional racism? Which vierues allowed Brazil to become a Black-majority country and be scheduled to beco e a Protestant-majority country in a peacefully fashion?

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34 Dan Wang February 4, 2017 at 8:07 am

As many Canada questions as you’re able to get in…

How are Canadian elites different from American elites? What is Gladwell optimistic about Canada in the short to medium term? What was it like growing up with Canadian Evangelicals in rural Ontario? What does he like most about Toronto? Could he have done his best work if he established himself in Toronto, and would he be as well-known if he did?

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35 Todd K February 4, 2017 at 12:15 pm

Most important Canadian question: Should Alex and Geddy tour without Neil?

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36 msgkings February 4, 2017 at 12:40 pm

Oh shit, is Neil quitting the band?

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37 Nick_L February 4, 2017 at 1:15 pm

He wrote an interesting and – at the time – somewhat provocative article on Enron, so with the passage of time has he seen any reason to change his views on Enron’s practices? He also had a more process orientated view on the 2008 crisis, rather than the ‘hang the guilty’ approach, which was somewhat prevalent in the moment. So again with the passage of time, what are his thoughts on detecting or preventing another such crisis. Also, why is it that certain institutions appear to need more than 10,000 hours of operation to ..umm.. master their subject?

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38 msgkings February 4, 2017 at 1:32 pm

Because the 10,000 hour idea applies to individuals not institutions. You’re welcome.

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39 carlospln February 4, 2017 at 3:22 pm

What? He wrote a piece on why Enron didn’t pay any tax: It didn’t make profits.

The End.

Ask him if he still takes money from the tobacco industry.

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40 Brian Held February 4, 2017 at 8:40 am

Ask about his running.

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41 Todd K February 4, 2017 at 12:45 pm

He retired last year. Canada is in crisis.

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42 Jack PQ February 4, 2017 at 8:48 am

Science journalism: How critical should journalists be when reporting scientific findings and discoveries? We know there is a problem with many “false positive” studies having exaggerated claims being reported credulously by journalists (including actual hoaxes like the chocolate study). Should journalists be more critical? Can we expect them to be, given that they do not have PhDs and are not researchers? Do they have a duty to contact other researchers in the field to get a critique and thus report a more balanced picture?

I think this is important because there is an unhealthy feedback loop between “exaggerated” research, media reports, “impact”, and happy university administrators. Boring, but true, research does not get media attention.

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43 albatross February 4, 2017 at 10:33 am

+1

More broadly, how does a general science/social science writer make sense of papers and results in fields they haven’t studied? How do they avoid being taken in by plausible-sounding snake oil, or confused by jargon into misunderstanding the importance or implications of the research they’re reporting on?

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44 Diogo February 4, 2017 at 8:54 am

I am planning to write a non-fiction book. Can you name 5 books I could learn from in terms of technique?

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45 too hot for MR February 4, 2017 at 12:27 pm

Not that you asked for my answer, but start with William Zinsser.

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46 anonymous as usual February 4, 2017 at 6:40 pm

Walter Lord (Titanic/MIdway guy) (50s), Ariel Durant (history of the years when our grandparents’ grandparents’ were little) (60s), W F Buckley (70s), Malcom Muggeridge (the guy who made Mother Teresa famous) (80s), Randy Alcorn (victim of a despicable lawsuit who earned his living by writing books in praise of life) (90s)… If you take Gladwell’s advice, the agents and editors will think you are a 100 months behind the times, feel free to take his advice instead of mine anyway

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47 anonymous as usual February 4, 2017 at 7:16 pm

years from now remember me fondly please. Good luck!

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48 anonymous as usual February 5, 2017 at 6:21 pm

William Zinsser is good advice, too.

49 Jack February 4, 2017 at 9:08 am

Malcolm has cited John le Carre as his favorite writer, and spy novels more broadly as his favorite books. I’m not sure what the right question is, but that seems like under-explored territory.

His recent podcast series stepped (perhaps blundered) into the economics of elite higher ed, a subject which overlaps with your expertise.

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50 Jeff R February 4, 2017 at 9:16 am

I would ask him about the future of journalism. Given the difficult economic picture, does he think podcasts are an important part of that future, with the way that ads can kind of be embedded in them? Is he happy doing podcasts or would he prefer to still be writing long articles for an audience of paid subscribers?

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51 Ali Choudhury February 4, 2017 at 9:18 am

What is he most interested in right now?

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52 Barkley Rosser February 4, 2017 at 9:46 am

Ask him when he wrote his work on tipping, was the work of Thomas Schelling an influence and if so how?

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53 Jack PQ February 5, 2017 at 11:13 am

+1
I’ve stopped reading Gladwell because I find that he’s trying to have his cake and eat it too, and he comes too close to passing off research he is reporting on as his own ideas. Let’s assume it is not intentional.

Moreover let’s not forget the “Igon value problem” that plagues Gladwell and other science journalists.

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54 reed E Hundt February 4, 2017 at 9:47 am

Is there a Tipping Point to the Trump Presidency?

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55 Ted Craig February 4, 2017 at 10:03 am

I’ve always wondered what it was like for him working at The American Spectator in his youth.

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56 Daniel J February 4, 2017 at 10:20 am

Ask him about the psychology of police and power. I’ve always wanted to know his deconstruction of a police encounter in minority neighborhoods. The difference between an officer that cannot manage split second decisions and the stress of going after a suspect vs one who is more innoculated to that stress (i.e. a military veteran police officer).

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57 oli5679 February 4, 2017 at 10:22 am

How can his 10,000 hour hypothesis be reconciled with developmental psychology literature. Specifically the small amount of any variation that is explained environmental effects in twin studies, and the lack of persistence/transferability caused by various shocks/interventions.

Could there be some genetic basis for dedicated perseverance aiming to improve?

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58 Jack February 4, 2017 at 10:37 am

Ask him whether he believes Judge Posner was successful in portraying Gladwell as a superficial phony in Posner’s New Republic review of Gladwell’s book “Blink ” and if so why this hasn’t affected the news media’s endless fascination with him — witness this upcoming interview.

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59 Thiago Ribeiro February 4, 2017 at 2:19 pm

Woukd he want to learn the teachings of Prophet Bandarra?

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60 Tom Anichini February 4, 2017 at 10:56 am

Gladwell is consistently thought provoking. Even when I don’t interpret topics the way Gladwell does, I typically felt enriched by reading him, as he has often introduced me to thinkers/researchers of whom I had not previously heard (eg Anders Ericsson, John Gottman, Paul Eckman).

However, some people get really worked up about how much they dislike him and his writing. Really, really worked up.

Why does he think his detractors are so passionate about him?

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61 too hot for MR February 4, 2017 at 12:35 pm

I suspect it’s frustrating for people who see pedestrian or even wrong ideas heralded as genius insight.

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62 msgkings February 4, 2017 at 12:45 pm

No, many insecure people get jealous when someone is successful doing something that LOOKS easy. Anyone coulda done that! Nope. Michael Lewis gets similar treatment.

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63 too hot for MR February 4, 2017 at 2:09 pm

To be sure I would never say “anyone could do that.” He’s clearly an expert at packaging and marketing, whatever you think of the substance.

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64 too hot for MR February 4, 2017 at 2:16 pm

Also, please consider how you’d react if we took your exact comment and cast it upon Trump detractors. Clearly they’re all just bitter and jealous.

65 Careless February 4, 2017 at 3:52 pm

Michael Lewis gets similar treatment.

It’s possible he gets it somewhere, but I’ve never seen it.

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66 Chad February 5, 2017 at 5:22 am

Lewis and Gladwell are fundamentally different kinds of of writers. Lewis tells highly engaging stories, but doesn’t make them the basis of broad or universal claims in the same way Gladwell does. This is why Gladwell can be so infuriating to a certain kind of expert. There is no one better at recognizing how anecdotes can be situated into concise statements about the world than Gladwell. Unfortunately, this means that when he’s wrong, he’s still highly persuasive to the under-read.

67 Mike February 7, 2017 at 12:43 am

Isn’t the reason people hate Thomas L. Friedman?

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68 Ted February 4, 2017 at 11:26 am

Given his interests in distance running and human capitalization:

America’s greatest distance runner, Galen Rupp, happened to be coached by America’s greatest distance running coach Alberto Salazar beginning in high school. (Rupp was a soccer player who Salazar recruited for cross country). Does he think this is a coincidence? If not, what does this say about American capitalization in distance running (compared to say Kenyans from the Rift Valley)? What does this say about human capitalization in fields less important than distance running like the arts and sciences?

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69 jseliger February 4, 2017 at 12:13 pm

In Outliers has has a chapter on the Herman Miller Aeron chair. What chair(s) does he prefer today?

He seems very good at omitting unnecessary words, and that’s one of the reasons I admire his writing. Does he have any particular stylistic predecessors he is consciously aware of, or who he thinks about when he writes?

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70 Ray Lopez February 4, 2017 at 12:19 pm

I would ask him about his work at the Washington Post as a science writer, in the early 1980s. Last year I found an article of his, clipped out from the WaPo, in English, from the early 1980s, predicting a “New Madrid” type earthquake, in my Greek granny’s apartment, how it got there, as she spoke no English, is a mystery! Nearly 30 years later, such an earthquake did occur in the DC area when apparently ExxonMobil (now departed back to Texas where they belong) did some experimental fracking drilling a few years ago. It’s now well known (but not so much 10 years ago) that fracking causes earthquakes. Ask him if he remembers that article (to test his memory).

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71 Mike February 7, 2017 at 12:45 am

Fracking doesn’t cause earthquakes; the disposal of wastewater does.

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72 Some Guy February 4, 2017 at 12:40 pm

It’s your birthday. Someone gives you a calfskin wallet. How do you react?

You’re in a desert walking along in the sand when all of the sudden you look down, and you see a tortoise, it’s crawling toward you. You reach down, you flip the tortoise over on it’s back. The tortoise lays on it’s back, it’s belly baking in the hot sun, beating it’s legs trying to turn it’self over, but it can’t, not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that?

Describe in single words, only the good things that come into your mind about your mother.

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73 chrisare February 4, 2017 at 12:42 pm

He’s been incredibly successful in communicating intellectual ideas to a broad audience. Does he have any advice for the academy on how to do a better job at this?

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74 Paul Hamrick February 4, 2017 at 1:24 pm

I inadvertently eavesdropped on a conversation Gladwin was having at a coffee shop in Echo Park, Los Angeles. He was discussing the Serial podcast, season one, and whether he believed that Adnan Syed is guilty of murder. I believe I overheard him coming down on the side of guilty. I’d love it if you asked him this directly 🙂

And maybe there’s something more there with this category of “injustice porn” documentaries more broadly, such as Making a Murderer, etc.

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75 msgkings February 4, 2017 at 1:41 pm

I know it’s a typo, but is Gladwin’s Law the one where Hitler gets mentioned in online forums 10,000 times every hour?

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76 AlanG February 4, 2017 at 1:37 pm

Are ‘Alternate Facts’ just another form of Confirmation Bias?

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77 Julian Berengaut February 4, 2017 at 1:59 pm

If history is telling stories (and it certainly seems to be), what does the understandable bias towards telling interesting stories does to our understanding of our past?

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78 Edgar February 4, 2017 at 2:33 pm

Does anyone come as prepared to an interview as Tyler? Yet again I was astonished by the depth of his insight and preparation last month with Rabbi Wolpe. He really offered his guest an opportunity to shine. I just don’t see such conscientious work any where else. There should be a “Tyler Cowen Award” given annually to the interview host who adds the most value to discussions with a guest.

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79 Edgar February 4, 2017 at 2:51 pm

That said, Gladwell seems like an excellent choice who has a lot in common with Tyler. It might be interesting to see if Gladwell has thoughts on Tyler’s view that arts funding decisions should be made at the federal, rather than the local level, because federal decision makers apparently have more taste than locals. Also, it might be interesting to hear Gladwell’s thoughts on the recent kerfuffle about his podcasts addressing donations to universities. Gladwell apparently ruffled feathers by suggesting that some billionaires might consider donating to universities that do not already have massive endowments instead of the usual suspects. See for example: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/malcolm-gladwell-revisionist-history_us_578d2c6fe4b0c53d5cfa79e0 Related to this, if his project is indeed asking ““When does doing good lead to doing bad, and when does doing good lead to doing more good,?” what are his thoughts on tax policy as it relates to higher education? Should “non-profit” universities be tax-exempt? Should endowments be more tightly regulated so as to produce outcomes that are more in the public interest?

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80 Turkey Vulture February 4, 2017 at 3:17 pm

What are some major things he has ultimately changed his mind about?

Of the things he currently believes, which is he most likely to change his mind about in the next 5 years?

What does he think the goal of human existence should be, both at the individual and species level?

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81 Daniel Frank February 4, 2017 at 5:35 pm

Please ask Malcolm about what the American hatred of Robbie Robertson (and lack of care for Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson) and complete adoration of Levon Helm says about the xenophobic nature of American hippies.

The Band is Canadian; sorry folks.

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82 msgkings February 4, 2017 at 8:14 pm

“is”?

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83 Joel Avila February 4, 2017 at 8:45 pm

In the spirit of Mr Gladwell’s podcast, which of his priors (if any) did he revise as he was producing his first season?

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84 Grant February 4, 2017 at 10:03 pm

Ask him what his thoughts are on Tennis being the best sport in the world.

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85 Shane M February 5, 2017 at 1:06 am

I know this is silly, but I can’t help wondering if he was influenced by or was a fan of Bob Ross? 😉

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86 Philipp February 5, 2017 at 7:25 am

He has been critical of the American higher education system. Ask him if he wants the US to have an egalitarian higher education system like Germany.

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87 me February 5, 2017 at 4:52 pm

How does he feel about the “Igon Value Effect” (http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1897)? Does he consider this a fair criticism, or some misinterpretation / misunderstanding? In general, does he worry about what is lost in the translation from science to science journalism?

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88 Maru February 5, 2017 at 9:49 pm

He went to the same right wing “journalism” training camp as Ann Coulter, The National Journalism Center. I’d like to hear him expand on that part of his background.

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89 Luis Enrique February 6, 2017 at 3:41 am

ask him to respond to the allegations made against him here
http://shameproject.com/profile/malcolm-gladwell-2/

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90 J Scheppers February 6, 2017 at 11:00 am

Dr. Cowen:

Gladwell has made a series of podcasts, “Revisionist History”, including 3 podcast focusing on education. In my opinion, Gladwell makes excellent points about how private universities spend money in a manner that does not help low income families and individuals reap the rewards from private liberal arts education. My question is why Gladwell did not show how publicly funded institutions provide a much better gateway?

The Episodes in referenced in Revisionist History are “Carlos Doesn’t Remember”, “Food Fight”, and “My little 100 Million”.

I am not concerned if Carlos cannot get in to Stanford, but I want him to get into Cal Tech.

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91 Gabriel Rossman February 6, 2017 at 12:44 pm

At the time he wrote The Tipping Point, “influencers” or “opinion leaders” was a good description of the consensus of network science. However since then the literature has become more skeptical. Notably, van den Bulte and Lilien 2001 showed that the tetracycline study was mistaken in attributing a strong role to “opinion leader” physicians and Watts and Dodds 2007 showed that even under favorable conditions the effects of seeding diffusion with opinion leaders are modest.

How would you write the book differently today? More generally are there other articles or books you’d revise in light of subsequent developments in the scientific literature?

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92 Lou Gattis` February 8, 2017 at 8:21 am

In your book “Blink”, you really questioned the existence of “free will”. Do you believe that free will is an illusion, and if so, how does it affect your views economic and social policy?

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