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The decade in counterintuitive stories

Posted by Christopher Shea  December 7, 2009 12:51 PM

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New York magazine collects some choice examples of arguments made during the past decade that attempted--convincingly or not--to skewer the conventional wisdom on whatever topic was at hand.

Predictably, Slate and The New Republic racked up multiple entries, including:

New Orleans shouldn't be rebuilt (Jack Shafer, Slate)
A raging temper is a good quality in a politician (Michael Crowley, TNR)
Ann Coulter should be a feminist icon (Elspeth Reeve, TNR)
Creed is a good band (Jonah Weiner, Slate--a mirror image Chris Norris's argument, in Spin, that the post-"OK Computer" Radiohead stinks and people just pretend to like them)


Great band?


Overrated noodlers?

Malcolm Gladwell and the "Freakonomics"/"Superfreakonomics" duo of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner showed that the counterintuitive path can lead to riches, via plums like:

Impulsiveness is superior to careful consideration (Gladwell)
Pimps are good for prostitutes (Levitt-Dubner)
Car seats are unsafe (Levitt-Dubner)
Being smart doesn't help you get ahead (Gladwell)

And the Atlantic horned in on TNR's turf, with such striking arguments as:

Breastfeeding is not worth the trouble (Hannah Rosin)
Almost every single widely praised contemporary author of fiction is a charlatan (B.R. Myers)

A place in the Counterintuitive Hall of Fame, however, should be reserved for:

Watching TV and playing video games make kids smarter. Courtesy of Stephen Johnson, in the book "Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter."

And, best of all:

Conventional wisdom is right

Yes, take a bow, Franklin Foer, editor of The New Republic and author of
"In Defense of the Conventional Wisdom: Why What Everyone Thinks Is Usually Right!," for writing Brainiac's choice for the unbeatable anti-CW story of the '00s, and perhaps for all time.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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