Tuesday, December 23

Joel Spolsky Takes on Gladwell and "Pseudoscience"

Joel Spolsky, a programmer who is emerging as one of the more sane voices on how to not only program, but more importantly, organize a bunch of programmers to create good software took a shot at Gladwell.  Joel's thesis is that Gladwell epitomizes "pseudoscience", a trend where good writers define new scientific laws through witty turns of the pen and not through traditional research.
I half agree and disagree with Joel's rant.  On one hand, there is a proliferation of writers who are looking to define the new rules of social laws through the use of the "interest anecdotes".  It's a rising trend that I have ranted against before of writers believing that they should be integrally related to the content and should be "owner" or "creator" of the idea they are passing through (e.g. the trend of tv anchors interviewing journalists as experts on a topic).  I agree that many writers and journalism outlets are overreaching in an effort to aggrandize themselves.  They can't help it. You have to be somewhat self-centered to think that everyone wants to read your writing.  (Kind of like bloggers, right?)
But the flip side is that I think Gladwell is actually making counter-intuitive observations that actually do have a basis in sound social science.  I think Gladwell's dirty secret is that many of his ideas actually come from existing research that exists with the study of Communications, a formerly obscure social science that has gained exposure along with the rise of Marketing as a competence in our companies.
Regardless of what I think, it's a good read.  Joel's post is here.

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