Putting the *sigh* in pseudoscience.

el Prof
October 21, 2021

I binge too much TV, watch too many movies, and read too many books, hence why Chad and I named this publication Culture HOR — we’re already living in the metaverse, where status revolves around saying the right thing about the right things and liking the same things as everybody else. What better way to get the clout and dopamine we so desperately crave than to do our HORing in front of all you voyeurs?

This week I am reviewing a book you probably read as required high school reading the year Obama was first elected. Late to the party? Sure. Who cares. I’m still happy to be the guy no one invited who drinks all the beer. I don’t give a shit if you listen. My satisfaction comes from saying it publicly and getting any kind of reaction at all. And since the Elon Musk Simp Club just declared war on the Gladwellian Pop Psych Stans in the wake of the latter’s latest podcast series, now seems as good a time as any to insert my belated opinion into an outdated conversation unrelated to me.

The book in question is Malcolm Gladwell’s pop psych opus Outliers, which I finally crossed off my procrastination list Monday. When I start a piece of content, there is an impulsive need inside of me to finish it in a single go. Back in college, I watched six seasons of Game of Thrones in less than a week, so you’d think I’d be knocking back pseudo-psychiatry fluff like Outliers in one sitting like the bag of marshmallows I finished during the Battle of the Bastards. But instead I add them to my procrastination list. That way, when a task crops up that I really don’t want to do, I’ll just spend the day reading Outliers instead, and delude myself into thinking I’ve been productive.

I only mentioned it because this Catch 22 feels particularly relevant to Outliers. According to Gladwell, what separates the superstars from the plebs is a strong foundation built in your area of expertise, preparing yourself for success when the opportunity presents itself, then hoping the luck and opportunity aligns enough someday so that it will. He talks through the arbitrary and systemic rules that govern those opportunities, and I found it as breezy, readable, and packed with life changing information I’ll forget by tomorrow as self help pseudoscience should be. 

However, I highly doubt the superstar outliers Gladwell’s made a career dickriding would support my procrastination list. The titles on the list include pop psych bestsellers, coding textbooks, 800-page Teddy Roosevelt biographies — in other words, anything but Internet marketing data science, my area of expertise. Gladwell does suggest opportunities may fall into the lap of those from certain backgrounds regardless of their level of preparation, and I’ll admit my self-proclaimed entitled little bitchiness might have something to do with why I can waste a day reading and still count it as a net gain. But I’d argue that I’ve found success because of the wide range of knowledge and perspectives I take in, not in spite of it. 

That’s why, as a follow-up to Outliers, I’d recommend Range by David Epstein, which dives deeper into the preparation aspect of the successful individuals discussed in the former, while examining the divide that exists between generalists and specialists in their approach to preparation. Possibly misleading statistics aside, there’s no one way to success, and I’d say taking in as many as possible is the best preparation there is.

You can buy Outliers and Range on Amazon, but do yourself a favor and pick them up for 50 cents at the local thrift store instead. Fuck Jeff Bezos. It’s time for a new set of data.

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