Did you hear about the big study on browser use and IQ? As reported by CNN, BBC News, the Telegraph, Forbes and other major news outlets, a Canadian web consulting firm named Aptiquant released the results of a survey of 100,000 internet users, revealing that, perhaps unsurprisingly, users of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) browser had lower IQs than users of Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari and other browser alternatives.
The real surprise was just how unintelligent IE users are. The Guardian reported that “The results suggested that Internet Explorer surfers had an average IQ in the low eighties.” Whereas a score between 90 and 110 represents “normal or average intelligence,” a score of 80-90 signifies “dullness,” and 70-80 “borderline deficiency.” Ouch.
Checking to see which browser you use? This would be a good time to check the facts as well, because this “study” turned out to be an elaborate hoax! The Aptiquant website was less than a month old and had stripped most of its content from another company’s site so as to appear legit.
There’s a lot of things I find variously funny, sad and revealing about this, so let’s just hit a few of the major ones, shall we? (By the way, according to our Free Keyword Tool, “is internet explorer a web browser” is a pretty commonly searched keyword – hard to say, though, if this is largely due to Microsoft haters googling longer phrases like “is internet explorer a web browser or a piece of crap” …)
Hindsight Is 20/20
Naturally, many of the news outlets that ran stories on the study originally have replaced those stories with updates on the nature of the hoax. Doug Gross, who originally reported on it for CNN, did say at the time that “Those numbers … probably aren't very scientific.” But that didn’t stop them from running the story, now, did it? The updated hoax article quotes a Sophos consultant on the matter:
I think most people just assumed that the research's findings were dubious or unscientific, but it turned out the website was a sham too.
So what does this say about CNN’s reporting? Either they thought the study was credible (in which case, shame on them) or they didn’t care whether it was credible (in which case, shame on them). It’s one thing if you’re playing the story for humor value – see The Awl’s summary of the story, titled “If You're Using Internet Explorer You Might Not Understand This Post,” in which Alex Balk asserts “The fact that this article no longer appears on the Daily Mail's website does not mean that this assertion is incorrect.”
But these news outlets likely just didn’t have anything better to write about, and controversy always gives good page view. As Michael Hanlon wrote on the Daily Mail’s science blog, “Beware the summer science story.” Still, Hanlon too figures it’s probably true anyway:
Although it sounds utterly bonkers (and a couple of commentators have claimed it may be a hoax, but who cares?) a picosecond’s thought shows that there probably IS some sort of correlation between IE and IQ – simply for the reason that 99% of PCs sold have this browser preinstalled and to use another one you have to go to the bother of downloading it – a faintly geeky task that probably self-selects for people in the top half of the IQ bell-curve.
Not everyone is claiming to have always been the wiser, though – kudos to PC Pro for admitting they were had: “We'd like to offer a tip of the hat to the hoaxers for a job well done and to our readers who pointed out flaws in the story - and apologise for running the story in the first place.”
Beware of Studies that Confirm Your Beliefs
A little thing called confirmation bias ensures that humans are more receptive to evidence that supports what they already believe to be true. If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably on the techy/geeky side, and you probably don’t use IE (or, if you do, you use the newest version which supports HTML5). And you’re probably a little superior about your technology choices (I’m looking at you, Mac people). But let’s not forget that there are brilliant people who don’t care a whit about technology. Let’s also not forget that biased researchers tend to produce biased results, hence the need for double-blind studies – I’m sure that if some Firefox users wanted to prove that IE users are dumb, they could finagle the “data” to show it.
Beware the Mainstream Media Version of “Science,” Period
Indignant readers are the ones who investigated the source of the study and noticed something smelled fishy. In this fast-flying, page-view-seeking age, most articles don’t get put through the legitimacy wringer before going to “print.” So just because the words Study Shows appear in the headline doesn’t mean you should turn your bullshit detector to airplane mode.
More Web Marketing Highlights This Week
Want to screw up your A/B test so the results are absolutely meaningless? Great! Here are five ways to do that, courtesy of the Unbounce blog.
Tired of seeing the same blog articles over and over? I know I am, and so is Michael Erin Strong of Blueglass, who has some good tips for “pre-writing,” i.e., making sure your blog posts aren’t just more of the same.
At Search Engine Watch, Alex Cohen shares 10 key things he learned from working at a search startup, including the importance of conversion rate optimization and “being awesome at sharing.”
Speaking of conversion rate optimization, Search Engine Land offers some unconventional ideas about boosting conversions through creative 404, thank you and support pages, among other opportunities.
There’s a long, interesting article in the New York Review of Books about “how Google dominates us,” drawing insights from four recent books about the search giant.
Have a great weekend, folks.