The peril of the popular intellectual

No matter how copiously one cites the pertinent studies which purportedly prove your assertions, there is always the danger that someone might actually take your ideasthe ridiculous ideas of someone else you have popularized seriously enough to put them to an empirical test:

On his 30th birthday, June 27, 2009, Dan had decided to quit his job to become a professional golfer.

He had almost no experience and even less interest in the sport.

What he really wanted to do was test the 10,000-hour theory he read about in the Malcolm Gladwell bestseller Outliers. That, Gladwell wrote, is the amount of time it takes to get really good at anything — “the magic number of greatness.”…

The Dan Plan will take six hours a day, six days a week, for six years. He is keeping diligent records of his practice and progress. People who study expertise say no one has done quite what Dan is doing right now.

It’s not exactly a secret that the middlebrow Gladwell is completely full of it. His books appeal primarily to the half-educated, -1 to +1 SD intellects that soak up information insufficiently critically to notice the unsound foundation upon which most of his conclusions are based. Of course, Readers Digest created a small empire catering to the tastes of such readers, so there are not only a lot of them, but they tend to read more than the norm in search of that feeling of intellectual self-improvement that Gladwell sells so effectively.

It should be interesting to hear Gladwell attempt to explain away the inevitable failure of his thesis. Perhaps he’ll even get another best-selling book out of it.

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