A contrarian is a person who takes up a contrary position, a person who seems to be "contrary for the sake of being contrary," especially a position that is opposed to that of the majority, regardless of how unpopular it may be. It is similar to iconoclasm; attacking or openly rejecting cherished beliefs and institutions or established values and practices, but unlike the contrarian, the motive is not simply to be contrary or a tool to incite discussion. Contrarian styles of argument and disagreement have historically been associated with radicalism and dissent.
Contrarian tropes in journalism
Contrarian journalism is characterised by articles and books making counter-intuitive claims, or attacking what is said to be the conventional wisdom (a phrase attributed to John Kenneth Galbraith) on a given topic. A typical contrarian trope takes the form "everything you know about topic X is wrong".
- Amateurs are more knowledgeable than experts (attributed to James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds)
- Boys are the biggest victims of sex discrimination (attributed to Christina Hoff Sommers, The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men)
Slate magazine has collected a set of parodic proposed contrarian titles appearing on Twitter. Writer Juliet Lapidos observed, "Maybe it's contrarian for us to say so, but some of these are quite brilliant."
- The New York Yankees deserve to be loved, but not for the reasons you think.
- Wings: Better than the Beatles, or just different?
- What's the giraffe's most distinctive feature? Hint: It's not the neck.
Supporters and critics
Paul Krugman has criticised "contrarianism without consequences", in relation to the debate over global warming, and in particular, the controversy over the book Superfreakonomics, saying "The refusal of the Superfreakonomists to take responsibility for their failed attempt to be cleverly contrarian on climate change is a sad spectacle to watch ... having paraded their daring contrarianism, the freakonomists are trying to wiggle out of the consequences when it turns out that they were wrong." The Economist has suggested that the critical response to Superfreakonomics may represent the end of contrarianism as a popular style of journalism, quoting the Crooked Timber blog description of contrarianism as "a cheap way of allowing ideological hacks to think of themselves as fearless, independent thinkers, while never challenging (in fact reinforcing) the status quo.”"
Contrarianism in science
In science, the term "contrarian" is often applied to those who reject a general scientific consensus on some particular issue, as well as to scientists who pursue research strategies which are rejected by most researchers in the field. Contrarians are particularly prominent in cases where scientific evidence bears on political, social or cultural controversies such as disputes over policy responses to climate change, or creationism versus evolution.
Writers on scientific topics commonly described as "contrarian" include David Berlinski, a critic of mainstream views on evolution, and Richard Lindzen, a critic of the scientific consensus on climate change. Bjørn Lomborg, who accepts the scientific consensus on climate change, but argues against action to mitigate it, has been called "the poster boy of the contrarian trend".
A Sports Contrarian, in a US context, is someone who doesn't root for the home teams in the state they reside in, but rather supports teams in other states. They either dislike their own home team's tradition and favors the tradition of another team, believe their home team is playing mediocre and is unlikely to make the postseason, or they favor the conference/divisional rivals' players over the home team's roster.
A contrarian investing style is one that is based on identifying, and speculating against, movements in stock prices that reflect changes in the sentiments of the majority of investors.
- WILLIAM SAFIRE, Published: April 9, 1989, New York Times,
The etymology of "contrarianism" and related words is discussed in ON LANGUAGE; Gun That Rumor Down A contrarian is "a being contrary for the sake of being contrary"
"contrarian as a noun, and lately as an adjective, refers to more than "one who is contrary"; the word as noun means "one who sees a value or an advantage in taking an opposing view" and, in adjectival form, "deliberately opposing for the strategic reason of being against the trend.""
- Everything you know about the 1960s is wrong, Salon.com, November 24, 2012
- Krugman, Paul (23 October 2009). "Contrarianism without consequences - NYTimes.com". The New York Times.
- "Telepathic Supreme Court vote counting". The Economist.
- "Copenhagen climate change conference 2009: climate contrarians". The Daily Telegraph (London). 25 November 2009.