I don’t get it. Jonah Lehrer was rightly pilloried for dishonest journalism, so why is Malcolm Gladwell, the king of shallow, pseudo-scientific hackery, still getting published, and still raking in absurdly high lecture fees? Why is anyone still giving him the time of day? For instance, read this piece published in the New Yorker in September: Do Genetic Advantages Make Sports Unfair?. It’s more of his glib, counter-intuitive nonsense, and it’s dangerously bad.
He argues that performance enhancing drugs aren’t so terrible after all — they’re just equalizing the playing field. But the only way he can do that is by pretending the consequences don’t exist.
What Gladwell fails to mention – at all – are the risks involved in using performance-enhancing drugs. There is nothing about the risks of blood doping or of pharmaceutical enhancement. He even skips the risks inherent in the very genetic condition he holds up as “lucky.” There is no mention of contact sports, where the decision to illegally enhance could be the difference between life and death for your competitor. There is no recognition that healthcare access for athletes is a continuum with the Lance Armstrongs at the upper end, with their elite teams of morally questionable medical practitioners,and with some kid at the bottom end, desperate for a place on the team, taking injectables that he gets from a friend of a friend.
So journalists can lose their jobs for plagiarizing or making up facts, but actively distorting the evidence and making dishonest arguments is apparently still within the ethical compass of some journalists.