You may have read the news reports a few weeks ago of a study conducted by a Canadian research company that “concluded” that Internet Explorer users have lower IQs than users of other browsers like Firebox and Safari.
The “news release” was peppered with authentic-looking charts and graphs that supposedly provided backup for the conclusions, which purportedly came from online IQ testing of ~100,000 individuals found randomly through searches and Internet advertising.
Not surprisingly, the news that IE users are somehow “dumber” than the “bright bulbs” who use the supposedly more “hip” Chrome, Opera, Safari and Firefox browsers hit the newswires like a brick.
I saw reports on the research all over the place – from the BBC and Huffington Post to Yahoo, the New York Times, Forbes and MediaPost.
… And then, a week or so after the story burst on the scene, it began to fall apart.
One intrepid BBC reporter dug into the story deeper, and discovered in the process that AptiQuant, the Vancouver-based organization billed as a “psychometric consulting company” that supposedly conducted the survey, is an entity with no traceable presence back beyond just a few weeks prior to the deployment of its research findings.
Not only that, the AptiQuant website had been set up only a few days prior … and the site’s professional-looking photos lifted wholesale from a legitimate Paris-based consulting firm.
Curious, I trolled around online to find the original research brief released by AptiQuant. It seems to me that anyone reading the study’s conclusions would smell a rat.
True, the statistical data appear impressive enough. But no research organization worth its salt is going to make comments such as the following a part of its research conclusions, and I quote:
The study showed a substantial relationship between an individual’s cognitive ability and their choice of web browser. From the test results, it is a clear indication that individuals on the lower side of the IQ scale tend to resist a change/upgrade of their browsers. This hypothesis can be extended to any software in general ….
It is common knowledge that Internet Explorer Versions 6.0 to 8.0 are highly incompatible with modern web standards. In order to make websites work properly on these browsers, web developers have to spend a lot of unnecessary effort. This results in an extra financial strain on web projects, and has over the last decade cost millions of man-hours to IT companies. Now that we have a statistical pattern on the continuous usage of incompatible browsers, better steps can be taken to eradicate this nuisance.Nuisance? I mean, really!
A few days later, the perpetrators of the phony research report came forward and admitted as much. AptiQuant’s purported CEO, a person using the moniker “Leonard Howard,” laid the cards on the table:
“The main purpose behind this hoax was to create awareness about the incompatibilities of IE6 and how it is pulling back innovation. So, if you are still using IE6, please update to a newer browser. We got this idea when adding some features to our comparison shopping site … we found out that IE6 was highly incompatible with web standards. IE 7.0 and 8.0, though better than 6.0, are still incompatible with not only the standards, but with each other, too.”
It was also noted that “telltale signs that should have uncovered the hoax in less than five minutes” included the following red flags:
• The AptiQuant domain was registered only on July 14, 2011
• The IQ test that was referenced in the report (Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale IV test) is copyrighted and cannot be administered online
• The company address listed on the report does not exist
• Much of the content on the website was ripped from other sites – including the photo images
• The website was developed using the WordPress platform, which would be highly unusual for any credible consulting firmBeyond the fact that “Mr. Howard & Co.” must have had way too much spare time on their hands … I think it’s interesting – and sobering – to witness how many reputable news organizations took this report and ran with it without so much as a minute of fact-checking – or even picking up the phone to get an additional quote from an AptiQuant company spokesperson.
… Especially since the topic and the conclusions drawn – namely, that some people are dumber than others – were bound to be controversial.
In the “old days,” a story like this would be lucky to be published in single outlet, if at all. But in today’s “brave new world” of online news, it took mere hours for the news to bound about the Internet and show up on dozens of legitimate news sites … thereby enabling the story to take on a “legitimate” life of its own.
I wonder what’ll be next. Because it’s sure to happen again.