Search results for 'gladwell'


14 Dec

A scathing critique of Gladwell.

Our Bad Media

In the summer of 2012, just days before a certain columnist was found to have plagiarized from The New Yorker, a staff writer at the prominent magazine itself resigned in the wake of a widespread plagiarism scandal. The journalist, famous for pop-science works that generated scathing reviews, had been using unattributed quotations taken from other people’s interviews. He had copied-and-pasted from his peers. Generally, he had faked his credentials as an original researcher and thinker.

The New Yorker itself had a doozy on its hands. The scandal had tarred the magazine’s famed fact-checking department, despite claims that its procedure was “geared toward print, not the Web.” Editor-in-chief David Remnick was embarrassed. He’d initially kept the writer on board, distinguishing one bout of self-plagiarism from the more serious offense of “appropriating other people’s work.” Now, his magazine was losing a star that had been groomed as “Malcolm Gladwell 2.0.”


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Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 Hour Rule” Doesn’t Add Up

24 Jan

More on the Malcolm Gladwell controversy.

All About Work

As regular readers of this blog know, it bugs me when writers get things wrong or can’t be bothered to justify their facts. Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of references to the “10,000 hour rule” – the idea that you need to spend 10,000 hours on an activity to be successful at it.  I knew that this idea was popularized by writer Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, but I didn’t know where he got the idea from or what it was based on.

So imagine my surprise when I Googled “10,000 hour rule” and found this very recent letter by K. Anders Ericsson, the lead author of the study that Gladwell cites as “Exhibit A”  in support of the “rule”. Not only does Ericsson say that Gladwell “invented” the 10,000 hour rule, but he also describes Gladwell  as making a “provocative generalization to a magical number”.

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Malcolm Gladwell and His Critics, Round Two

29 Nov

The Malcolm Gladwell controversy continues:

All About Work

Malcolm Gladwell’s promotional tour for his book David and Goliath is rolling along, but his responses to criticism aren’t getting any more persuasive.

When he appeared on CBS This Morning, he was asked about the contention that he  “cherry picks” from published research, and only discusses results that support his points. Here’s his answer:

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The Malcolm Gladwell controversy

26 Nov

There is rising tide of criticism of Malcolm Gladwell as evidenced by this piece in The New Republic Author John Gray argues:

“Pretending to present daringly counterintuitive views to his readers, he actually strengthens the hold on them of a view of things that they have long taken for granted. This is, perhaps, the essence of the genre that Gladwell has pioneered: while reinforcing beliefs that everyone avows, he evokes in the reader a satisfying sensation of intellectual non-conformity.”

My primary interest in this controversy has been in the oversimplified way that Gladwell has written about deliberate practice.

Recent links on Malcolm Gladwell

23 Oct

I have discussed the controversy about the 10,000 rule a few times. Now it seems like Malcolm Gladwell is the subject of greater critical scrutiny. See this piece “Thrashing Malcolm Gladwell” by Deric Bownd and the post he references by Chad Orzel.

The 10,000 hour rule backlash

15 Aug

The 10,000 hour rule was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell. As we have noted here there were a number of serious problems with the kind of claims made on its behalf, in particular claims that talent is illusory and superior performance is only the result of intensive practice. Now the reservations, previously voiced in academic journals, are beginning to make themselves felt in the popular press. Witness this article in The Washington Post:

“That rule was in turn loosely based on a 1993 study of accomplished violinists in Berlin, which found that the most accomplished students had spent 10,000 hours practicing by the time they were 20 — far more hours than the less accomplished students had spent practicing. Gladwell estimated that the Beatles and Bill Gates had also put in 10,000 hours of practice fiddling with guitars and computers, respectively, by the time they went big.

There’s one problem with this idea: Research suggests it isn’t true. Practice is helpful in improving performance in a variety of fields, from athletics to chess. But it plays a surprisingly small role in determining whether people become virtuosos.”

One of the problems with the way scientific controversies get reported in the media is that the claims swing between extremes. First, we are told that talent doesn’t matter. Later we are told that talent is the only thing that matters.

Ericsson’s work on peak performance has made a real contribution and he has discovered important insights into effective training that may have important implications for education. The 10,000 hour rule is misleading, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.


Ten thousand hour rule not defensible

27 May

A paper in the Psychology of Learning and Motivation:

“Why are some people so much more successful than other people in music, sports, games, business, and other complex domains? This question is the subject of one of psychology’s oldest debates. Over 20 years ago, Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Römer (1993) proposed that individual differences in performance in domains such as these largely reflect accumulated amount of “deliberate practice.” More controversially, making exceptions only for height and body size, Ericsson et al. explicitly rejected any direct role for innate factors (“talent”) in the attainment of expert performance. This view has since become the dominant theoretical account of expertise and has filtered into the popular imagination through books such as Malcolm Gladwell’s (2008)Outliers. Nevertheless, as we discuss in this chapter, evidence from recent research converges on the conclusion that this view is not defensible. Recent meta-analyses have demonstrated that although deliberate practice accounts for a sizeable proportion of the variance in performance in complex domains, it consistently leaves an even larger proportion of the variance unexplained and potentially explainable by other factors. In light of this evidence, we offer a “new look” at expertise that takes into account a wide range of factors.”


More on the 10,000 hour rule

14 Oct

Slate weighs in on the ten thousand hours rule.

When we hear that it takes an average of ten thousand hours to become an expert in most fields, we should ask what is the standard deviation around that average? One way to think about an average is that it is a single number that describes a set of results. The standard deviation tells us how well an average characterizes a set of data. If the standard deviation is zero, then all values equal the average and the average gives us perfect information. As the size of the standard deviation grows the average becomes less informative.

How good is the ten thousand hour average?:

 “However, recent research has demonstrated that deliberate practice, while undeniably important, is only one piece of the expertise puzzle—and not necessarily the biggest piece. In the first study to convincingly make this point, the cognitive psychologists Fernand Gobet and Guillermo Campitelli found that chess players differed greatly in the amount of deliberate practice they needed to reach a given skill level in chess. For example, the number of hours of deliberate practice to first reach “master” status (a very high level of skill) ranged from 728 hours to 16,120 hours. This means that one player needed 22 times more deliberate practice than another player to become a master. “

As we can see from the video below, the ten thousand hour rule is very much alive in the popular mind:


Talent and the ten thousand hour rule

15 Jul

The ten thousand hour rule has established itself in the popular mind. However, the claim that practice is the only factor separating novices from experts is controversial. Today’s New York Times reports on a meta-analysis that asserts the central importance of talent:

“The new paper, the most comprehensive review of relevant research to date, comes to a different conclusion. Compiling results from 88 studies across a wide range of skills, it estimates that practice time explains about 20 percent to 25 percent of the difference in performance in music, sports and games like chess. In academics, the number is much lower — 4 percent — in part because it’s hard to assess the effect of previous knowledge, the authors wrote.

“We found that, yes, practice is important, and of course it’s absolutely necessary to achieve expertise,” said Zach Hambrick, a psychologist at Michigan State University and a co-author of the paper, with Brooke Macnamara, now at Case Western Reserve University, and Frederick Oswald of Rice University. “But it’s not as important as many people have been saying” compared to inborn gifts.”

Here is the abstract:

“More than 20 years ago, researchers proposed that individual differences in performance in such domains as music, sports, and games largely reflect individual differences in amount of deliberate practice, which was defined as engagement in structured activities created specifically to improve performance in a domain. This view is a frequent topic of popular-science writing—but is it supported by empirical evidence? To answer this question, we conducted a meta-analysis covering all major domains in which deliberate practice has been investigated. We found that deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions. We conclude that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued.”


Child prodigies as evidence of innate talent

25 Oct

A paper, published in the journal Intelligence, argues that child prodigies count as evidence against some of the extreme claims made on behalf of the 10,000 hour rule. From the abstract:

“Child prodigies provide a particularly fascinating view on the nature versus nurture debate because of the extremely young age at which the prodigies demonstrate their remarkable abilities, thus, limiting the extent to which their abilities can be solely the result of extreme dedication to practice. Despite this fact, some have still argued that child prodigies’ abilities are nurture-driven. Recent research, however, demonstrates that child prodigies’ skills are highly dependent on a few features of their cognitive profiles, including elevated general IQs, exceptional working memories, and elevated attention to detail. Other innate characteristics of the child prodigies predict the domain in which the prodigies will excel. Music prodigies, for example, tend to score better with respect to their general IQs, visual spatial abilities, and working memories, than art prodigies. This new research on a group of exceptional – and exceptionally young – performers strongly supports nature as the primary driver of extreme talent.”

Wikipedia has a fascinating list of child prodigies.

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