Wednesday, July 08, 2009

What is it about Popular Speakers?

Becker lays out further arguments against Gladwell's anecdotal style.

Interestingly, a comment popped up in his thread about whether he'd make the same arguments against Ken Robinson's book 'The Element'. And I think that brings up the question in general about using anecdotal evidence to make general societal claims.

And whether Gladwell is making the generalization or Robinson is making the generalization, I think we -- as critical thinkers -- have the right, as well as an obligation, to call them on it. Especially when those generalizations are being presented in an argument attempting to redefine how we think about education. And especially on stage in front of a conference of teachers where said keynote speaker can easily make the annual salary of two of us combined by giving a canned 40 minute speech.

To my mind, there's a danger in the blind acceptance of this as 'just the way it goes with popular speakers'.

Does this mean I'm against anecdotes?

Of course not; I use them myself all the time. But when I do use them, I try to present them as they are for what they are, whereas all too often in the work of certain writers, there is a tendency to take a single anecdote and turn it into a blueprint for the big picture. This rarely works. Especially in non-fiction.

Lives are more complicated than that.

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