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Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

Internet browser users’ IQ subject of local hoax

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2011 First published in Business in Vancouver August 23-29, 2011 issue #1139 High Tech Office column

In late July, a Vancouver psychological testing firm was reporting that Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) web-browser users had lower IQs than users of other browsers.

AptiQuant Psychometric reported that it had tested more than 100,000 English-speaking adults, correlating their web-browser use with IQ results. Given an average IQ of 100, users of the obsolete version 6 of Internet Explorer averaged just above 80; IE 8 users came in around 95. Users of alternatives to Internet Explorer – Safari, Firefox and Chrome – were all a bit above average, with users of the Opera browser scoring highest.

Moreover, the report said, the average IQ of IE users had dropped by 20% since the company’s 2006 survey.

A charitable explanation: since Internet Explorer is the default on computers running Windows, one might speculate that users who seek out an alternative are overall mentally perkier than people who accept whatever is handed to them.

Only one problem: as revealed a few days later, it was all a hoax. No study, no AptiQuant.

Kudos to the BBC; after initially joining the media frenzy to report the “results,” the news agency followed up on critical comments added to their online news item, and took a moment to read the report posted on AptiQuant’s website – apparently the first media outlet to do so. (Until recently, you could download and read the report yourself at www.aptiquant.com/IQ-Browser-AptiQuant-2011.pdf. Now that link - and all links to aptiquant.com point to http://www.atcheap.com/)

The short PDF document should have set off lots of warning bells, starting with the company’s purported address: 498 Richards Street, in downtown Vancouver. Stroll to the corner of Richards and Pender: no such address.

The report stated that the Weschler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) test was given to 100,000 test subjects over a four-week period. The WAIS is a standard test used to measure intelligence, but it takes several hours to administer and can’t be given online. Using it to test 100 people (one on one) in four weeks would be arduous, to say nothing of 100,000.

It claimed that AptiQuant was founded in 2006 and was now “a world leader in the field of online psychometric testing.” Yet the company had (prior to the hoax) no online history, and its web domain had only been registered in July 2011 by Surrey resident Tarandeep Gill.

Jump past several pages of charts to the conclusion: two brief paragraphs, the first claimed that people with lower IQs seem to resist changing their browsers, but that more research is needed before making any broad generalizations.

The second read: “It is common knowledge, that Internet Explorer Versions to 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.”

Aptiquant.com later owned up to the hoax, stating that Gill, a web developer/entrepreneur, was aiming “to create awareness about the incompatibilities of IE6, and not to insult or hurt anyone.” He explained he “got this idea when adding some features to our comparison shopping website, www.atcheap.com, we found out that IE6 was highly incompatible with web standards.”

(Note that Microsoft, too, is anxious to move users away from IE6 and older versions of Internet Explorer.)

Listing “signs that should have uncovered the hoax in less than five minutes” Gil said that he was “really surprised that it took so long” for people to figure it out.


(Full disclosure: I, too, didn’t read the study until after it was revealed to be a hoax; when I first heard that the report was credited to a Vancouver company, I emailed asking for an interview. No one got back to me.)

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