The Electric Commentary

Friday, March 03, 2006

Fun Friday, Part 2

Bill Simmons chats with Malcolm Gladwell:

There's a famous experiment done by a wonderful psychologist at Columbia University named Dan Goldstein. He goes to a class of American college students and asks them which city they think is bigger -- San Antonio or San Diego. The students are divided. Then he goes to an equivalent class of German college students and asks the same question. This time the class votes overwhelmingly for San Diego. The right answer? San Diego. So the Germans are smarter, at least on this question, than the American kids. But that's not because they know more about American geography. It's because they know less. They've never heard of San Antonio. But they've heard of San Diego and using only that rule of thumb, they figure San Diego must be bigger. The American students know way more. They know all about San Antonio. They know it's in Texas and that Texas is booming. They know it has a pro basketball team, so it must be a pretty big market. Some of them may have been in San Antonio and taken forever to drive from one side of town to another -- and that, and a thousand other stray facts about Texas and San Antonio, have the effect of muddling their judgment and preventing them from getting the right answer.

I'd be the equivalent of the German student. I know nothing about basketball, so I'd make only the safest, most obvious decisions. I'd read John Hollinger and Chad Ford and I'd print out your mid-season NBA roundup and post it on my blackboard. I'd look at the box scores every morning, and watch Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith on TNT. Would I have made the disastrous Marbury trade? Of course not. I'd wonder why Jerry Colangelo -- who I know is a lot smarter than I am -- was so willing to part with him.


  • Why on Earth would Germans have heard of San Diego but not San Antonio? I think historically, San Antonio is a much more famous city. The Alamo and all that. Sandiego is just another one of those cities on the beach in California. And who wouldn't guess that they're "about the same size"? They are. I wonder how Gladwells theory would hold up to this question:

    Which is bigger, Milwaukee or Boston?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:40 PM  

  • If you look at metro areas, you will see that Boston's is much bigger than Milwaukee's (6th vs. 26th, or 5.8 million to 1.7 million)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:44 AM  

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