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Junk Science...buyer beware!,
This review is from: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Paperback)
I know negative reviews tend to get dismissed or lost in the shuffle, especially for wildly popular books such as Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point; however, I think it's important to chime in on how this book fails to deliver on its basic premise. In essence, the Tipping Point describes how certain types of people (who Gladwell refers to as connectors, mavens, and salesmen), and certain circumstances (the law of the few, the stickiness factor, and the power of context), can help turn fashion, books, television shows into epidemics, and turn crime waves and smoking trends upside-down. And here is where Gladwell's Tipping Point fails: he uses the data of real-life examples to reason backwards in the formation of his theory. When read closely and critically, Gladwell only describes THAT things `tip' and not WHY they `tip'. As Karl Popper said of Freudian Theory (and of all science), it must be falsifiable. Here it seems unlikely that any observation or experimental paradigm could be developed to falsify the theory of The Tipping Point, which again, makes this book not very scientific. For example, if a person or circumstance met one of Gladwell's criteria, but failed to tip the item/situation, would it call his theory into question? You see where I'm going with this? If something was `sticky' (which the law of stickiness says makes certain information at certain times, irresistible) but didn't tip, does that mean it was never `sticky', or does something need to tip in order for it to be deemed `sticky'. And now we're talking circular logic, maybe backwards logic; the type of theory written on the back of a cocktail napkin at 2am that sounds like it explains everything. Again, not good science. I was really looking forward to this book, but the over-simplifications, sheer repetitiveness, and poor execution of writing scientifically made for a highly disappointing read.
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Showing 1-10 of 34 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 18, 2007 4:59:45 AM PST
Rick James says:
This is one of the better reviews of The Tipping Point. If you take the time to read Mr. Fisher's review, take it to heart as it is spot on.
Posted on Jan 29, 2010 3:44:22 PM PST
Both the best review and the worst review encourage me to read this book. I appreciate both perspectives and look forward to seeing where I 'land.'
Posted on Jun 3, 2010 8:44:03 AM PDT
John Pijanowski says:
The Tipping Point is thought provoking and an entertaining read but Craig Fisher's review offers an important critical lens to use when trying to figure out what you can really take away from the book and use.
Posted on Jun 9, 2010 10:43:10 PM PDT
Nathan Allan says:
Don't you have to be doing science first before you can be accused of the "junk" variety? This not an academic paper, it is a journalistic style self-help book, walking a well understood line between science, philosophy, and personal belief. You may have valid points in disagreeing with the authors conclusions, and it's great that you've pointed them out. On the other hand it's unfair to frame your criticism with false sense of authority and criticize the book for failing at something the author doesn't claim it to be.
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 10, 2010 5:37:44 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Jun 10, 2010 6:50:34 PM PDT]
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 10, 2010 7:05:08 PM PDT
Craig Fisher says:
I appreciate the feedback, Nathan. You make good points and are right, Gladwell was not doing empirical research and did not present it as such. Maybe it was unfair of me to imply that. Perhaps I should have labeled it junk science journalism? Ha, ha. Still, he seems to be espousing some sort of theory. And even if he is not conducting any type of scientific research, the book claims to be about HOW little things make a big difference, so I'm not sure it's unfair to criticize him for at least being unscientific in his reasoning if he does not actually say "how" or "why", only "that". Now, I haven't read the book in around 4 years, but my lasting impression and main criticism was that it merely told us if something tipped then it did, but if it didn't then it didn't (am I misremembering?). And it's only a stones throw from implying causation by way of correlation if not doing so outright. You don't need to be conducting scientific research for your reasoning to be flawed.
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 23, 2010 3:17:24 PM PDT
You make some excellent points. I haven't made it all the way through the book, but my initial impression is that Gladwell jumps into a description of his theories before justifying that these theories are actually tenable. For example, he praises the 1960's psychological experiment which resulted in "Six Degrees of Separation," and uses it as a buttress for the influence of the "connectors." However, he doesn't point out how odd (and unscientific) the experiment was in sending every single letter out to the same city! A truly "randomized" study would have dispersed the letters throughout the the United States. I still find the book fascinating, however. He doesn't prove anything, but his "what ifs" are thought-provoking.
Posted on Jul 2, 2010 5:54:41 PM PDT
alex bushman says:
I like you review because it illuminates something that should be obvious to anyone who reads it, but isn't somehow. That is, he isn't really saying anything. You bring out science into this discussion, but I think it's even more fundamental than that: he simply doesn't have a clue and is just riffing. I agree that it is perplexing that he seems to propose a theory and then not have anything for the theory to stand on, let alone describing how the theory works within the epidemics he loves too much. It makes me wonder what drugs he was on when he wrote this, because this problem with the book is so clear and immediate it was almost impossible to finish, for me.
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 15, 2010 4:53:46 PM PDT
I thought what he was trying to prove in the book was that small things matter, and people are not as immune from little things as maybe we perceive we are. Given he didn't really test anything and it's more him giving out a theory and giving examples that appear to support it. But still I don't think this qualifies as "Junk Science." Mostly because I never really felt that the author was really presenting his theory as true... then again maybe I'm just used to arguing with some people that chiropractors can't really cure anything, and the science behind the moon landings.
Posted on Oct 20, 2010 3:51:00 PM PDT
Mark Twain says:
I think your expectations were the issue with this book and not the book itself. The title of the book includes "how little things can make a big difference" not "why little things make a big difference" or "the science behind little things making a difference", so to criticize the author for not writing what you expected wrongfully so, to read is not a true criticism of the work.
Not once while reading this book did I get the feeling that Gladwell meant to present his work as science. I read the book as astute observation and opinion of social phenomenon. Maybe in the subsequent edition he should quote Dennis Miller by saying "these are just my opinions, I might be wrong".