That Internet Explorer "IQ test" was a hoax [Updated]

Summary:Last week dozens of tech publications and mainstream news outlets unquestioningly printed the results of a study purporting to show that Internet Explorer users have lower IQs than those who use other browsers. It was a hoax. But the "study" made a telling point about journalism.

See update at end of story, with confirmation from original source that it was indeed a hoax, and a list of 8 tell-tale signs that every journalist who ran with this story missed.

Remember the story last week about a Canadian research firm that supposedly performed online IQ tests and concluded that Internet Explorer users had lower IQs than those using other browsers?

If you fell for it, you might want to go run some tests of your own. A new investigation by the BBC (which initially fell for the story) concludes that the site and the test results were bogus.

Questions about the authenticity of the story were raised by readers of the BBC website who established that the company which put out the research - ApTiquant - appeared to have only set up its website in the past month.

Thumbnail images of the firm's staff on the website also matched those on the site of French research company Central Test, although many of the names had been changed.

The BBC contacted Central Test who confirmed that they had been made aware of the copy but had no knowledge of ApTiquant or its activities.

The Beeb was unable to reach representatives of the so-called research firm, and third-party experts who looked at the data agreed it was suspicious.

Meanwhile, high-profile tech and news sites, including Business InsiderThe Register, CNN, Mashable, the Seattle PI, and even our own Adrian Kingsley-Hughes at ZDNet unquestioningly reported the “news” and reprinted the bogus chart. It made the front page of Techmeme for a while:

A few sources were skeptical. Todd Bishop at Geekwire ran a summary of the “study” along with the chart, but headlined it “The Internet Explorer IQ test: Come on, we're not that dumb” and noted a glaring typo in the report. He also put up this red flag:

I did attempt to contact AptiQuant for more details on this threatened lawsuit, but its online contact form repeatedly responded with an error when I tried to submit my message.

Yes, I happened to be using Internet Explorer. But for the record, the form didn’t work in Opera, either.

When I read the report and watched as it was unquestioningly amplified through the Internet echo chamber, I simply rolled my eyes and noted via Twitter:

But perhaps it was a test after all. If you follow any publications that wrote this story up last week and haven't yet corrected it, you might ask them where they send their journalists for training.

ZDNet's Zack Whittaker, a trained researcher, also covers the news, noting that crunching the test data from a population of more than 100,000 users is an extraordinarily difficult task and concluding, in understated fashion, "Not all research is as accurate or as empirical as others."

Thanks to Paul Thurrott for the pointer.

Update August 3, 10:45AM: AptiQuant, the fake research company that posted this bizarre study, admits it was indeed a hoax, calling it a "lighthearted joke" that got out of hand. In a follow-up post, they also have some unsparing criticisms for the sloppy journalists that fell for this gag: Tell-Tale signs that should have uncovered the hoax in less than 5 minutes!

The list notes that the press release had a phony address and that the phone number listed as a press contact is also listed on the site owner's other properties, including the shopping site (AtCheap.com) that it was designed to promote, and which is linked in the site's footer.

 

Topics: Software Development, Browser, Microsoft

About

Ed Bott is an award-winning technology writer with more than two decades' experience writing for mainstream media outlets and online publications. He has served as editor of the U.S. edition of PC Computing and managing editor of PC World; both publications had monthly paid circulation in excess of 1 million during his tenure. He is the a... Full Bio

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