Kleinfeld is partly right and partly wrong. The data are published in
greater detail in:
Milgram, Stanley. Interdisciplinary thinking and the small world problem.
Sherif, Muzafer and Sherif, Caroline W., eds. Interdisciplinary
relationships in the social sciences. Chicago: Aldine; 1969; pp. 103-120.
A histogram of the data from the 42 completed chains in the Nebraska study
(not 44 as originally reported in Psychology Today) is on page 113. One
does not need to go to unpublished papers to find this. The MEDIAN is 5.5.
The Mode is 6. The full text of Kleinfeld's article is not yet available on
line so that it is not clear to me that she consulted this source. If she
did, then the Chronicle article is inaccurate. If she did not, then in
terms of scholarship, the pot should not call the kettle black.
What she is right about is that 160 persons started, so only 27.5%
completed the task. Skill and interest is as important in "networking" as
the actual social structure, a point that is often not made, but one that I
make every time I write about this. With respect to sampling, the text says
only "The general procedure was to obtain a sample of men and women from
varied walks of life." The use of pick-up "samples" is still universal in
social psychology labs; the word sample is confusing, but Milgram used
standard practices for recruiting subjects, practices that are still
regrettably followed by contemporary social psychology experiments. At
least Milgram's Nebraska subjects were not college sophomores taking psych 101.
Note further that Milgram comments: "... when we speak of five
intermediaries we are talking about an enormous psychological distance
between the starting and target points, a distance which only seems small
because we customarily regard "5" as a small manageable quantity. We should
think of two points as being not five persons apart, but five "circles of
acquaintances" apart -- five "structures" apart. (p. 118). In Milgram's
use, 5 is the magic number, not six, since it is not six people he is
concerned with (which would include the target), but the number of
In short, all told, many people have misunderstood Milgram and have not
even bothered to follow Casey Stengel's famous dictum, "And you can look it
Distinguished Scholar, Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies