Malcolm Gladwell wrote a flawed weed moral panic piece for The New Yorker


Pot’s been a thing for decades. There’s a s***load of data around that can be analyzed. Being choosy about studies is bullshit.
The reference to what happened in Washington is bullshit until all other factors are considered.
And these Neo-pot opponents need to answer two issues for me:
Re; those dependent on medical marijuana: Are they worse off with it or without it?
And notwithstanding that even if legalized pot could be smoked and freely and publicly as booze is, how would broadly legalized marijuana make the world a worse place than it is with legal booze?
Bonus: A probable, Gladwellian dishonest fact: Far more alcoholics voted for Trump than potheads.


Now that I’ve had time to read the article, no argument from me on that score. At very least, while they may not have paid for a change in position or some publications contrary to Gladwell’s personal position, it sure didn’t go unnoticed that he was an asset with positions useful enough to be amplified as much as possible(vaguely apropos of that; I’m not sure how you would really measure this; but I’d love to know how often ‘buying’ is actually a practice where the person bought comes to sincere identification with the one signing the checks, how often the purchase is of some public statements, writings, 'product defense’s research, etc. but the provider is purely mercenary about it and forms no genuine identification with the position; and how often it’s just a selection thing: where you seek out people who already have the right position and provide them with consulting gigs, campaign donations, think tank fellowships, and so on not to sway them, since they already agree; but to allow them to advance your agenda full time)

I stand by my assesent of his style; but don’t disagree with it apparently being the case that he has…not gone unrewarded… for his utility as a popularizing contrarian in the face of overwhelmingly negative conclusions.


It’s a good piece, thank you for sharing. The studies they cite are all formal peer-reviewed studies published in known journals so I am less sure that it’s “blarg” (poppycock?). A reader with no agenda could easily conclude from all this to-and-fro banter that the causation between THC and its effects is still being studied. With that as context, whether one leans notionally in favour or against cannabis is a personal choice. The evidence is hardly conclusive for anyone to be hung up on either side of the aisle.


Apart from responding to specific comments in this thread, I’ll just say this. Gladwell may have an agenda, and may well be selectively citing studies with a confirmation-bias to push his own negative thesis, but I don’t see any major studies that prove his stance wrong. An article Boing Boing can and should link to studies that show amazing medical benefits, but falls short. There are now several publications that attempt to present the evidence from peer-reviewed studies – and in them, the evidence is mixed. “Marijuana as Medicine” is among them.

I doubt there’s enough at the moment to be so Gladwell-opposed as I see in this thread. As an author, he’s a glib attention-seeker, but it would be good to challenge his proposition with facts, not ad hominem.


Welcome new comerade…
Are you disappointed with BoingBoing?


Long day, yesterday, so I didn’t return to the BBS. I am disappointed there weren’t as many fish jokes as I’d hoped.

TL;DR: BoingBoing shouldn’t rely on its readers to bolster its strong claims. They need to do the legwork themselves and stop being lazy. Gladwell being compromised is the lesser problem. His facts are bad and he should feel bad.

So there are a few different pieces I want to put together with regards to all of this, and so I’m going to center my initial objection with important context, and what that objection is to:

Malcolm Gladwell may be epistemically compromised (we all are), but I’ll come back to that in a minute. The real heart of the problem, and it’s one I come across constantly, is that strong claims need to be backed up with strong evidence by the original author. My visceral emotional reaction to that in part comes from a sort of self-consistency. In a comment section, I’m lazy and I don’t always thoroughly cite everything. When I am producing for my own projects, however, I don’t place the burden of research on the reader, and I want to be clear this is more than a logical objection–though it is also a logical objection. It’s a labor objection. I don’t think I’ll get disagreement from the relatively well-educated BBS commentariat that research is work, that it is a form of real labor.

When bloggers or pundits or influencers or “creatives” (whatever the hell that means) can rely on the unpaid labor of their followers and consumers to shore up the weaknesses in their arguments, it sets up a dynamic where that labor is effectively devalued. If I were in a relative position of power, say for example that I work for a blog that was profiled in Fast Company, I can start pawning that labor off onto the people I have a pseudo-social relationship with. Some of them are actual, literal professionals in the field I’ve decided to make claims about because I know full well, for instance, that my website is patronized by some of the most educated people, globally. If I were a truly cynical operator, which I actually don’t think BB is, I could continually skim my commenters and Twitter followers for information and insights for subsequent posts. Yes, a lot of internet comments are absolute garbage, invective, and/or fish jokes, but not all of them. So this is actually more than just me saying that “HEy, tHe BuRden of PrOof is ON YoU!” I mean it is, but also, the burden of labor, and the burden of labor is nothing to sneeze at.

As for Gladwell himself, there are bigger questions I haven’t resolved in my mind about the extent to which knowledge (and particularly scientific knowledge) is mediated by power. Gladwell makes his living by saying things that appeal to prevailing power structures. That’s not news to me, ever since I read his positive portrayal of broken-windows policing in The Tipping Point. With questions of law and morality, these power dynamics are incredibly important, but I question their impact of the issue of two and two equaling four. Without dragging Hegel, Weber, Foucault, Nietzsche, and a lot of 17 letter words into this, my tendency is to think that we should evaluate positive scientific claims (as distinct from normative social claims that are connected to them), without relating them to power structures, for the most part.

Of course the ability, in terms of access to capital, to evaluate these claims is subject to social pressures. And of course, I’m not blind to my own inculcation of this notion of evaluating scientific claims from my own training, which was of course mediated by my relationship to power. But, the research team on Twitter already did the work of refuting MG through this critique. So the epistemic compromise is really a kind of lesser argument. A) It’s not that definitive, because I don’t think anyone is whispering in MG’s ear specifics about what to write (or at least I can’t prove that’s the case). I think it’s more a case of cocktails and coffee epistemology: He schmoozes with people who say things like, “You should look into this marijuana business, I don’t think it’s as safe as people make it out to be. Mmm, wanna biscotti?” Also, B) MG could be right anyway. Not in this case, but simply because he has interest in making certain claims, it doesn’t mean the claims are inherently wrong. This is an argument I’ve made on this blog before and which I hold myself to, in my own blog. So again, my criticism is to some extent motivated by self-consistency and my own approach to these things.

So why sit on the weaker arguments, the suggestive arguments, instead of on the strong arguments? Could it be that they’re not that strong? That we’re not that confident about them? That we talk about public health, and health issues in a way that makes it hard for us to have these discussions? I have thoughts on that too, but this is already longer than I wanted it to be by far. Then there’s the whole issue that I feel this blog does far too much “reporting by implication” in general. People need to substantiate their strong claims, or they need to weaken the claims, I don’t see an excuse for the laziness here.

Sorry for this 400 lb non-chicken halibut of a comment.


I really agree with this point about unpaid labor that we all do in the comments section here. I know there was an article about this issue a read a few years back, but I’m blanking on who it was. Most people wouldn’t see hanging out on message boards (or on REDDIT, etc) as labor. But I’m entirely convinced that it is. So, what do we get out of doing this unrenumerated labor? A critical hit of endorphins? Cyber-friendships? A greater understanding of the world around us (at least here, I can’t speak for other message boards)? Joy at posting animated gifs? A good larff? Does that make the unpaid labor worth it? I think at least some of us most certainly do, because here we are, right?

But I wonder what this all says about the future of intellectual labor (which is the specific kind of labor it is) and of the public sphere that it represents? I mean, couldn’t you say that the idea of unpaid labor of this variety goes back to the public sphere itself, in some capacity? But wait… now that I’m thinking about this, isn’t seeing this as merely a form of labor really just marketizing the public sphere, where we work through issues as a society? So, which is it, really? Unpaid labor or public interactions? Is there a line to be drawn there? Is BB merely a money-making machine, or is there other things of value that contributes to public life in some way?

Do you think that’s possible to do so, though? Can we really disconnect truth-claims from their social reality? Maybe it’s because I’m a historian and not a scientist, but I’d argue context matters, in whatever circumstance, especially if we want to fully understand whatever the topic at hand is. For science, I’d say that while we can certainly find hard objective truths through scientific methodology, understanding the larger context matters to, because that shapes what sort of studies get funding to be conducted (among other aspects of scientific endeavors). I also realize that this stance is not a popular one, given that more people here are engineers and scientists than humanities folks… Also, Foucault…




No, I don’t think it’s possible. So I did edit my comment, probably while you writing yours, because on rereading it, I thought that was too strong, now it reads:

And if you smell a weasel in those italics, that’s because there is one. I cannot justify what “for the most part” means. I admit it’s not a philosophical argument. This is a “I gotta pick my kids up from school” argument. It’s a highly flawed get-on-with-life argument. Which is to say it’s how I personally behave, in practice (including the italics).

You have a way of asking questions that are halibut-bait, and apparently Discourse agrees:

But I promised myself that I was going to be brief SO:

I think with science and math there it gets hard to apply a strong principle of social factors and power relations. Like I said, 2+2=4 is hard to imagine even as the strongest possible case of power mediated knowledge. Communication of that idea may be mediated by a form of power, in the sense that language and orthography are mediated by social constructs but not necessarily by, for instance, capital. Not all power is of the same type and source, and so even if we take for granted that all knowledge is mediated by power, not all knowledge is of the same type and source or mediated by the same powers. The thought that 2+2=5 could be legislated seems absurdly Orwellian.

But of course, some of the principles behind scientific empiricism also seem absurdly Orwellian at first blush. Science tells you to deny the evidence of your eyes and ears, because they can’t be relied upon to convey accurate information about the world. If you really think about it, it’s breathtakingly sinister. It’s more complex than that, but I think my point is that when we talk about science as “the best way not to fool yourself” I admit that in some sense we’re saying something a little insidious.


It is really funny, people writing about smoking weed and its consequences. I am happy to have so many unpaid Guinea pigs. Yes there are medical uses for marijuana as there is for Clostridium botulinum (the bacteria of botox). But we have to be careful. The difference between medicine and poison lays on the dosis.

I have not read a single article on the advantages of the usage of Cannabis ruderalis (hemp), that the legalization of weed, may increase the culture and the use of it.

The other advantage is that this discussion will bring back the possibility of the usage of LSD as a medical drug, as it was really intended.

So please record all data regarding the personal usage of Cannabis sativa for cience sake.

Thank you.


I mean, that’s most of us, yeah? :wink:

Sure, and I’m not trying to say that real, hard knowledge doesn’t come from science and math, but the way we come to understand them are still social constructs none the less.

Now you’re talking like a true postmodernist! :wink: Except in the case of academia, the type and source of power are more similar in nature across disciplines, a combination of private and public interests.

Sure, but not outside the realm of reality, though, in a mass society. We saw that with regards to race in Nazi germany (which was considered as solid a field of science as any other at the time) and with regards to all sorts of things under Stalin (or other Stalinist regimes - North Korea, Albania). But of course, such things break down over time, because such Orwellian fictions are just unsustainable… so yeah, you make an important point that should be attended to, but part of the reason for the break downs were also from attacks from the outside. NK is still a thing, saying that 2+2=5…

But also true, because our eyes and ears are biased from the get go… which is why the scientific method relies on the principle of repeatability and why theories don’t become laws for a very long time.

Well, in part because a hardline on that view point completely rejects other form of truth claims that can very much be relevant to humanity.


I’d like to point out another activity to avoid while high: accounting. It is SO MUCH MORE BORING!


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