he British journalist, Bryan Appleyard called Gladwellism: the hard sell of a big theme supported by dubious, incoherent but dramatically presented evidence. The New Statesman,10th April 2014)
He was referring of course to Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, etc.) and I think this is a bit harsh. However, Appleyard has a point. Sometimes, simple conceptual elements, often borrowed from the Social Sciences, helped with some kind of ‘evidence’, can be combined into an attractive proposition that suddenly becomes ‘the new thing’, or ‘The Official Version of Something’. Malcolm Gladwell did non invent the concept of The Tipping Point, for example, but many people will associate the concept with him.
Popular science is also often presented as ‘science’ when in reality is more popular than science. The epidemic of neurobabble is an example. Mention mirror neurons and neuroplasticity, add anything else from marketing to leadership, and you’ll have the famous effect of the ‘new brain research shows that’.
The solution to the protection against ‘big themes supported by dubious, incoherent but dramatically presented evidence’ would be to go to source. But this is becoming impossible in the era of information saturation and availability. Or minds ask: ‘give me the summary, the answer, the bottom line, the so what’.
X part of brain fires and ‘blips’ when Y is happening; it also fires when Z is happening; new neuroimaging sciences show that Y and Z share the same neurosomehting and brain mechanisms; Y and Z are similar phenomena’, etc.
Most rational people, even in the absence of neurological training, would think this logic smells trouble and it simply feels it is as solid as a cream cake. However there will be a vast majority happy to ‘accept the evidence’.
In the old days (not that old), people interested in the Bible, would study Greek in order to read and understand original versions. There was a suspicion than the English or other language translation may have been misinterpreted. The equivalent in other areas would be to go to source. But ‘sources’ are more and more intense and specialized, so we have The Translators to get us a digestible food for our thoughts.
I cannot see a healthy approch other than to exercise intense critical thinking in order to compensate for those ‘dramatically presented evidence’. It’s going to be harder and harder. Unless a miracle occurs in our educational system, people will accept more and more the ‘face value’ of things and arguments, and will have little time for finding the clothes for the emperor