“Why We Sleep” update: some thoughts while we wait for Matthew Walker to respond to Alexey Guzey’s criticisms

So. It’s been a week since Alexey Guzey posted his wonderfully-titled article, “Matthew Walker’s ‘Why We Sleep’ Is Riddled with Scientific and Factual Errors.”

I few days ago I reviewed Guzey’s post, and I summarized:

I’ve not read Walker’s book and I don’t know anything about sleep research, so I won’t try to judge Guzey’s claims. I read through and I found Guzey’s arguments to be persuasive, but, hey, I’m easily persuaded.

I’d be happy to read a followup article by Michael Walker, “Alexey Guzey’s ‘Matthew Walker’s “Why We Sleep” Is Riddled with Scientific and Factual Errors’ Is Riddled with Scientific and Factual Errors.” That (hypothetical) post could completely turn me around! Then, of course, I’d be waiting for Guzey’s reply, “Michael Walker’s ‘Alexey Guzey’s “Matthew Walker’s ‘Why We Sleep’ Is Riddled with Scientific and Factual Errors” Is Riddled with Scientific and Factual Errors’ Is Riddled with Scientific and Factual Errors.” At that point, I’d probably have heard enough to have formed a firm opinion. Right now, the ball is totally in Walker’s court.

As of this writing, the ball remains in Walker’s court.

I googled *”matthew walker” “alexey guzey”* and *”matthew walker” sleep* and a few other things, but nowhere did I find any response from Walker to Guzey’s criticisms.

It’s hard for me to imagine that Walker hasn’t heard about Guzey’s article by now, but I guess it’s possible that he (Walker) is on vacation or that he’s preparing a response but has not finished yet.

The closest to a response to Guzey that I’ve seen is this by Kinkajoe from reddit forum. But I didn’t find that response to be very persuasive, and indeed Guzey replied in detail here.

The fact that Guzey successfully responded to an anonymous internet commenter does not, of course, rule out the possibility that Walker could have something useful to say here. But it does suggest to me that Guzey did not make any clear or obvious mistakes; if he did, I suspect that someone—if not Walker, someone who cares about Walker’s work—would’ve replied by now.

Again, we’ll see what happens.

While we’re waiting for Walker to respond, I had a few more thoughts:

1. A few years ago, if someone were to claim that a celebrated professor of neuroscience and psychology at a major university had published a book on his own field of expertise, and the book was full of scientific and factual errors, that would’ve been a major scandal, no? But now, we’re like, yeah, sure, that’s just more same old same old. As the saying goes, the big scandal is how little a scandal this has been.

2. What would be really cool would be if NPR and Joe Rogan ran interviews with Alexey Guzey about this story. NPR probably won’t bite. But Joe Rogan . . . he might go for this, right? I bet Joe Rogan, or someone on his team, reads social media. And Rogan likes combat. He’s had Walker on his show, now time to have Guzey come in with the critique. That said, I don’t know that a podcast is the best format for such a debate. I think blogging is a better way to go, as then there’s enough space to lay out all the evidence.

3. Assuming Guzey’s criticisms hold up, I’m still trying to figure out what happened with that book. How could Walker introduce so many errors on his own area of expertise (or, I guess I should say, supposed expertise)? Was he just really really confused? Did he delegate the research and writing to lazy research assistants? Did he feel that his underlying story was important so the details didn’t matter? Did he conduct his research by putting all his notes onto index cards, then mistype material off the cards? I just don’t have a good way of thinking about these things.

4. Guzey’s article is careful and in many ways bulletproof: he backs up each of his statements, he doesn’t exaggerate (even for humorous purposes), and nobody seems to have found any mistakes in what he wrote. In addition, Guzey has gone on the web and responded to comments: where people claim he got things wrong, he has responded in detail.

This is excellent behavior on Guzey’s part but I just want to say that it should not be required. Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that Guzey was gratuitously rude, that he made some claims without making his the evidence clear, even that he made some mistakes. Suppose that he spent 13 hours or even 1.3 hours rather than 130 hours writing this post, so that he only got to the highlights and didn’t carefully check everything he wrote? That would be unfortunate, but it wouldn’t make his critique less valid.

What I’m saying is: by preparing a critique that’s clean, clear, well sourced, well written—actually enjoyable to read—, a critique that doesn’t make any questionable claims, by being so careful, Guzey has done us a favor. He’s made it easier to follow what he’s written, and he’s making it more difficult for someone to dismiss his arguments on superficial grounds. He’s raising the game, and that’s wonderful.

But if Guzey hadn’t gone to that trouble, he could still be making a useful contribution. It would just be the duty of Walker to extract that contribution.

Just by analogy, a few years ago someone on the internet somewhat rudely criticized some of my work. Indeed, some of the criticism was not only impolite but also incorrect! However, some of the criticism was correct. I took the useful aspects of the criticism and spent a few months fixing my work. That was my duty. I’m an expert on statistical models for voting, I present myself as an expert in this area, and I have the duty to do my best and to fix my errors. Sure, I could’ve ignored the criticism, or focused on the critic’s rudeness, or on his mistakes—but what would be the point of that?

Guzey has made it easier for Walker by not leaving any clear vulnerabilities: it seems that, for Walker, the simplest response will be the most direct, to accept the criticism and release a corrected version of his book. And that’s how it should be. But, again, let’s not let the care and excellence of Guzey’s work take away from the general value of all sorts of criticism. Let’s not hold criticism to a higher standard than we hold any other academic discourse.

And, of course, I remain open to be convinced by whatever Walker offers in response.

Finally, and most importantly:

5. Remember all that gum I chewed in junior high? I think it permanently dislocated my jaw or something, cos every now and then when I chew, my jaw gets out of alignment and I have to kind of put it back in place. So don’t try this at home, kids!