A tsunami of tweets, likes and +1s struck the web early yesterday evening as major news sites around the globe reported on a study conducted by Canadian firm AptiQuant that scientifically proved that Internet Explorer users have a lower than average IQ. News sites hummed, lawsuits were threatened, IE users moaned and everyone else chuckled away heartily, smuggly. Less than 24 hours later and it was revealed that the entire thing was an elaborate hoax, fooling even reputable organisations like the BBC. Shame.
“They’ve got IE6 users with an IQ of around eighty. That’s borderline deficient, marginally able to cope with the adult world.”
Professor David Spiegelhalter
Cambridge University’s Statistical Laboratory
In hindsight the research was pretty shaky right from the beginning and should have promoted a lot of probing and quizzical questions, regardless of how professional and legitimate both AptiQuant’s site and their downloadable study looked. As pointed out by Professor David Spiegelhalter of Cambridge University in the BBC’s original article (they have now removed it from their site), the results of the study were highly questionable, essentially portraying IE users as having a low enough IQ to be on the border of mental retardation. Curiously enough, Chrome and Firefox users were described as having normal, average IQs at around 100 whilst Opera users were deemed to be of superior intelligence with IQs in the 120 range.
Of course, much to relief of Microsft, the entire thing is completely bogus and fake, a clever hoax pulled off by the developer of a shopping comparison website. And here was me ready to gloat with glee to all of those people who derided my use of Opera for several years on end. Still, it raises the interesting question of why the study gained so much prominence in the first place.
The fact that Microsoft has been the subject of schadenfreude since it gained notoriety back in ’90s combined with the professional web circle hatred of old versions of Internet Explorer no doubt helped fuel the marketing fires and spread word of the ‘study’ as people around the world took delight in knocking IE users. However, perhaps the real culprits here are the major news networks that reported the information internationally to their millions of readers without actually verifying their sources. As the perpetrator of the hoax points out, it wasn’t that hard to spot.
So what’s the message we can take away from all of this? That journalism is no longer about digging or fact checking but rather about reporting trending, popular and shocking items? Quite possibly. Or maybe just it means that there are a lot of folks out who really don’t like Internet Explorer…