Facial Profiling

Gladwell Has Critics Seeing Red

Gladwell's writing suggests that if a product benefits the majority, any damage to individuals is insignificant. Thus, in 1997, Gladwell wrote that breast surgeon Dr. Susan Love "consistently overstates the risks and understates the benefits" of estrogen. In 1999, he called Ritalin "a remarkably safe" and "not addictive" drug, and wrote that "there is little or no reason to believe that breast implants cause disease of any kind." In a 2001 profile of Fred Soper, who promoted widespread DDT spraying to fight malaria, Gladwell defended Soper's absolutism, writing, "He was a fascist—a disease fascist—because he believed a malaria warrior had to be."

So what role does Gladwell's authority play in the age of terrorism? At a time when Americans want to detect terrorists "with a wave of the wand," Bleecker says, Gladwell delivers "a comforting bedtime story." Gladwell professes not to see any shortcomings to FACS, but Bleecker says, "His writing style is so smooth that it's easy to be led toward the most dangerous aspects of law-and-order politics without being aware of it. Of course, it would be easier to put people in categories, round them up, and put them in Guantánamo Bay. That silky smoothness makes you want it and not want to know the price you're going to pay for it."

One sign of Gladwell's validation power: a mini-profile of Ekman appeared in the September 8 New York Times.

Via e-mail, Gladwell wrote that Ekman is "strongly opposed to the use of FACS in actual court cases," and that, indeed, FACS can never be used in court. "It doesn't tell you someone is lying. It is only emotional information." Rather than increasing "tragic" incidents like the Diallo shooting, he wrote, FACS should help police conduct more sensitive interrogations. Thus, "I'm not sure I agree . . . that Ekman's work belongs to a fascist or racist tradition. It sounds like the opposite to me."

Reached at press time, Ekman wrote that "the whole issue [of racial bias] is a bit bizarre, since no one in police work using my findings classifies people by facial expression."

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