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by Peter Moskos

September 30, 2010

Gladwell on Strong and Weak Ties

I've written:
It’s to our shame as [academic] writers that the average Malcolm Gladwell New Yorker piece is more thought provoking than 95 percent of journal articles. If we can’t explain ourselves to others in a style both illuminating and interesting, we won’t and don’t deserve to be taken seriously.
Here's that kind of article. Gladwell talks about strong a weak ties. It's straight of out a sociology textbook... but talks about Twitter, is interesting, doesn't involve a single statistical regression, and has real world applications. What else could you ask for?

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure where to post this, but I know your interested in urban blight. The congressional district that covers the South Bronx is still the poorest in the nation:

http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/09/29/2010-09-29_south_bronx_is_poorest_district_in_nation_us_census_bureau_finds_38_live_below_p.html

Steve French said...

It seems that Jonah Lehrer proved him wrong
http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/09/weak-ties-twitter-and-revolutions/

I think Consumer Reports did a number on one of his theories recently as well.

PCM said...

But right or wrong (I haven't read Lehrer's piece yet), everybody who reads Gladwell will understand the difference between strong and weak ties. That's why he's a great teacher of sociology.

tim said...

My problem is I read all his articles with his voice in mind so much that I'd rather wait for them to be compiled into his next book which I can then consume through the audiobook read by the author.

How I would love to sit in on a lecture by Gladwell.

Anonymous said...

Gladwell is not a scholar. People like to read him because his anecdotes are very interesting, his ideas are very powerful, and he writes well. But this does not mean that his ideas are correct or supported by data. It is hard to be engaging, scholarly, careful and right. Darwin was probably one of the few scholars to meet all of these standards, and this is why long after nobody remembers Gladwell except for what is named from him as a result of bequests, people will still be poring over Darwin. Einstein might be another.

PCM said...

If you can be engaging, careful, and right, what else is there as a writer?

What's a scholar but a person with an academic job? And no, Gladwell isn't always right, but so what? The same could be said of Jane Jacobs. But they're both smart people who write well and make me think. I don't need them to always be right. Personally, I'd prefer to think about what people write rather than be told the truth.

[And was Darwin that good of a writer? I read him in college, but not since. And Einstein? I'm not really certain if I've read him at all. What would you recommend?]

Anonymous said...

A scholar is a person who creates knowledge.

A good scholar is a person who creates true knowledge.

A writer is a person who tell stories.

A good writer is a person who tells very engaging stories.

A good scholarly writer tells very good stories about true knowledge, but telling stories and telling the truth are two different things.

Gladwell tells good stories, but his record of creating true knowledge is spotty, especially in relation to what he has been paid for his work. I get the feeling he's been paid more for his stories than for his creation of knowlege.

Hence, he is no scholar. This is an insult only as so far as he wants to be a person who creates knowledge. I think he does.

PCM said...

Interesting and well said.

But I would add that a scholar can also interpret existing knowledge, (which does, then, create new knowledge). Whether Gladwell does this is open for debate.

I guess my real quibble is more general. I think scholars are too often looked down upon (though not always explicitly) for being good writers. Being a good writer and being a scholar aren't opposite ends of some spectrum but rather two independent and potentially very complimentary skills.

I wish more academics had both of these skills.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the compliments.

You said:

"I guess my real quibble is more general. I think scholars are too often looked down upon (though not always explicitly) for being good writers. Being a good writer and being a scholar aren't opposite ends of some spectrum but rather two independent and potentially very complimentary skills.

I wish more academics had both of these skills."

Now that we have honed in on this point, I agree with you fully. One obstacle is that scholars need to be more careful than storytellers, and so their writing seems not to be as alive and dynamic. Sometimes this is a true concern, and many times this is merely an excuse made by a scholar for not being able to write very well.

And so back to Darwin. Scholar, writer, genius.