Skip to main content

Copycats and Contrarians - Michelle Baddeley **

I think what Michelle Baddeley is trying to do with this book (or more likely the publisher with its positioning)  is to recreate the success of Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow, and it may have been possible with this topic - but this is certainly not the book to do it. Various recommendations describe this as a 'tremendous read' and tell us that Baddeley has 'terrific writing skills' - but I have to be a contrarian: I found Copycats and Contrarians almost unreadable.

The concept is simple - that there are two significant behaviours: going along with the herd and standing out and being different. Each has advantages in different circumstances, though it can be difficult to know if following the herd, for example, is a good or bad thing in a particular circumstance. And, Baddeley suggests (contrary to David Sumpter in Outnumbered), our social media bubbles turn us too much to herd behaviour and keep out the contrarians who could change things for the better.

All this sounds very interesting, and I think it could have been. However, there are three significant problems with the book. The first is that it sometimes feels more like a business book, with their typical approach of having a few points made over and over again, than it does a science book. Secondly it's very weak on narrative. When Baddeley does built in some kind of story - for example, describing a specific experiment - things pick up. But all too often what we get is just a collection of facts, theories and opinions. And, finally, what science there is tends not to be given enough of a detailed treatment. There is relatively little content with a proper scientific basis (even Freud gets a look in without real criticism) and where studies are mentioned there is nothing about, for example, whether the sample size is big enough to draw any significant conclusions.

I came away from the book with very little insight beyond the second paragraph above. It just didn't work for me.

Hardback:  

Kindle:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you


Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

On the Fringe - Michael Gordin *****

This little book is a pleasant surprise. That word 'little', by the way, is not intended as an insult, but a compliment. Kudos to OUP for realising that a book doesn't have to be three inches thick to be interesting. It's just 101 pages before you get to the notes - and that's plenty. The topic is fringe science or pseudoscience: it could be heavy going in a condensed form, but in fact Michael Gordin keeps the tone light and readable. In some ways, the most interesting bit is when Gordin plunges into just what pseudoscience actually is. As he points out, there are elements of subjectivity to this. For example, some would say that string theory is pseudoscience, even though many real scientists have dedicated their careers to it. Gordin also points out that, outside of denial (more on this a moment), many supporters of what most of us label pseudoscience do use the scientific method and see themselves as doing actual science. Gordin breaks pseudoscience down into a n

A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth - Henry Gee *****

In writing this book, Henry Gee had a lot to live up to. His earlier title  The Accidental Species was a superbly readable and fascinating description of the evolutionary process leading to Homo sapiens . It seemed hard to beat - but he has succeeded with what is inevitably going to be described as a tour-de-force. As is promised on the cover, we are taken through nearly 4.6 billion years of life on Earth (actually rather more, as I'll cover below). It's a mark of Gee's skill that what could have ended up feeling like an interminable list of different organisms comes across instead as something of a pager turner. This is helped by the structuring - within those promised twelve chapters everything is divided up into handy bite-sized chunks. And although there certainly are very many species mentioned as we pass through the years, rather than feeling overwhelming, Gee's friendly prose and careful timing made the approach come across as natural and organic.  There was a w

Michael D. Gordin - Four Way Interview

Michael D. Gordin is a historian of modern science and a professor at Princeton University, with particular interests in the physical sciences and in science in Russia and the Soviet Union. He is the author of six books, ranging from the periodic table to early nuclear weapons to the history of scientific languages. His most recent book is On the Fringe: Where Science Meets Pseudoscience (Oxford University Press). Why history of science? The history of science grabbed me long before I knew that there were actual historians of science out there. I entered college committed to becoming a physicist, drawn in by the deep intellectual puzzles of entropy, quantum theory, and relativity. When I started taking courses, I came to understand that what really interested me about those puzzles were not so much their solutions — still replete with paradoxes — but rather the rich debates and even the dead-ends that scientists had taken to trying to resolve them. At first, I thought this fell under