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

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.

SHARE:

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

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

76 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • The media failed the IQ test

    News sites will go out and retail anything you give them.

    This instance is relatively benign, but evildoers do this all the time. Remember the snowstorm in New York? The NY Post ran a cover story called "Abominable Snowmen" claiming the union of snow removal people did a work slowdown as a labor protest, leaving the city stranded. Newspapers everywhere repeated it.

    Months later, investigators determined the only such claim came from a Tea Party city councilman who refused to say who these supposed union people were who told him this.

    The original story was repeated everywhere. The true story was buried on C34 below the fold.
    HollywoodDog
    • People who create such stories

      @HollywoodDog ... are in fact limited only by their creativity, audacity, and knowledge of how the media works.

      In my opinion, the undisputed king of these was the Koran burner guy. A two bit con artist preacher in Florida with a congregation of 50 people, he was totally media savvy.

      He send a press release threatening to burn a Koran, and yanks a reaction statement out of General Petraeus, the Secretary of State and many others. Remote TV setups rush to cover him.

      Then 24 hours later when they get bored and get ready to move on to something else, he issues a new demand: cancel the 'ground zero mosque' (which isn't a mosque and isn't a ground zero) and I'll not burn the Koran. The media threatened to get bored and move on, so another 24, another twist: 'I've made a deal with the ground zero Imam for him not to build the mosque' (he hadn't). Etc.

      All it takes to do one of these is cleverness and intimate familiarity with what keeps the media interested for 24 hours, and how to feed the story and give it new twists.
      HollywoodDog
      • Oh dear, you're giving me ideas

        @HollywoodDog

        ;)
        Ed Bott
      • Re: That Quran/Pastor Jones fiasco

        @HollywoodDog <br>Thanx, HoDog- I already figured this stuff out, but it's amazing how the media either didn't or did but cynically went along with the "gag".<br>What is truly sad, though, is the loads of impressionable young chaps jumping up and down in foreign lands over this gag, to the point where some of them (and including their young children) actually DIED in these naive protests.<br>I'll copy your message above, and bring it up when the next "Danish/Pastor Jones" media fiasco occurs somewhere.
        PercySludge
      • RE: That Internet Explorer

        @Ed Bott: Apple out of Cupertino or you'll burn an iPad?
        jgm2
      • RE: That Internet Explorer

        Why am not surprised that "Adrian Kingsley-Hughes" and "bogus" are put together?
        markbn
      • RE: That Internet Explorer

        @HollywoodDog Do you think that a faith that burned Churches and murdered 16 to 25 people around the world over innocuous cartoons published in a tiny paper in a very small European country 3 months earlier wasn't media manipulation? The boob Terry Jones burned a book for media attention and got it because Islam erupts over trivial events with little real provocation not because Terry Jones was a media manipulator. The media filters and reports based on its own preconcieved notions to create the news not the manipulator.

        This was true of the IE IQ hoax and the Koran burner whose action resulted the burning of a book but the Muslim reaction ended in the deaths of scores of innocents while the IE IQ story made the smug self assured. Not a lot of damage in my book.
        andymalone
    • RE: That Internet Explorer

      @HollywoodDog

      Dan Halloran is not a member of the Tea Party. He is a Republican registered in the Liberty Caucus. Don't confuse the two, as so many have.
      benched42
      • RE: That Internet Explorer

        @benched42
        I don't need to confuse them.

        They're already more than sufficiently confused.
        fairportfan
      • Liberty Caucus?

        @benched42 - There's a difference? So many are "confusing the two" for very good reasons!
        omb00900
      • By any other name

        @benched42

        Latest fashions for the reactionary throwback white person, the perfect bag!

        http://www.seaservices.com/t/
        schmandel
    • Your first sentence is totally wrong

      @HollywoodDog
      News sites will go out and retail anything they think readers will flock to. On ZDNet, that means that every anti-MS story is posted immediately with absolutely no fact checking because that is what the general readership of ZDNet wants to see.

      Don't be naive about the naivete of the media. They are selling a product just like McDonalds and Apple.
      toddybottom
    • RE: That Internet Explorer

      @HollywoodDog
      +100.
      Ram U
    • RE: That Internet Explorer

      @HollywoodDog
      Really, A Tea Party member on the New York City City Council? If that is true, in the near undisputed heart of Liberal America (Only San Francisco can challenge it.) Then there is really going to be a trouncing in 2012 of the remnants of the Democratic Party.

      But, I don't believe it.
      YetAnotherBob
      • Message has been deleted.

        Fletchguy
      • RE: That Internet Explorer

        @Fletchguy
        Yeah, as opposed to that brainiac of a VP candidate the Republicans had. What were we thinking!
        boomchuck1
    • RE: That Internet Explorer

      @HollywoodDog <br>More (in)famous than NY snowmen was the articles about Cuban "atrocities" In Angola 30 years ago, during that country's civil war.<br> For the most part, the (Black) Cubans behaved exemplary, and on several occasions defeated the (White) South African army and captured many "elite commandos" i.e. white SA soldiers on the other side. This was one of the wake-up calls to the Apartheid people: "ummm, the Black guys are more disciplined and better soldiers than us!"<br>But I digress.<br>The CIA had operatives sitting at typewriters in Kenya and a few other African countries pumping out stories about Cubans raping and pillaging in Angola. The western press naturally bought this line, and it confirmed to Americans that Cuba was an evil savage place. <br>Oh yeah- we were talkin' about IE, FF and Safari here... sorry!
      PercySludge
    • RE: That Internet Explorer

      @HollywoodDog - I got a good laugh out of that story myself, by it's rather appalling that the media took it seriously. I mean, sure, IE users probably are dumber, but not even Canadians are stupid enough to waste time and money proving it! (Actually, Canadians are smart enough to know that I'm just kidding).
      Greenknight_z
  • Stereo Typical

    You posted it because it is stereo typical and you concluded it was therefore likely true. i.e. that dumber people are unlikely to seek out a smarter browser and since IE is the default, you generalized that dumb people would be more concentrated on IE.<br><br>Now the BBC has questioned it, because a reader has questioned it, you reprint the suspicion again because your plausibility meter tells you the debunking is plausible. Again you infer that it's false because the source is dodgy. However it is still likely true.<br><br>So if a competitor is due to report that higher IQ people are more likely to switch, you could deflect this by putting out your own survey saying exactly that, then debunking the source yourself. Use the way the media works to your advantage.

    The way news reporting sites turn off their brains and report everything all the time with a child like naivety amazes me.<br><br>When BSA report that x billion are lost due to piracy, by essentially extrapolating from a known *good* set of customers to the rest of the population (which by definition must be less-good), you don't even point out the flaw in that logic.
    guihombre
    • So you're saying that lower IQ people use IE?

      @guihombre
      I find it interesting that people even believe these things, as it's clearly a way of not having to admit that (in this case) a particular browser is far better then others on the market.

      By making up these type stories they try to deflect it's success away from the true reasons, and try to attribute it all to the "stupidity of the user".

      The fact that nobody dug deeper into the background of the site/data is the real issue here, not yet [b]another[/b] made up story from the anti-whoever crowd because they can't handle the fact that they are sad lot that can't accept the the truth, even though it's not in their favor.
      William Farrell