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So, a big and controversial story circulating at the moment is a study by Aptiquant, where 100,000 people were invited to take an online IQ test, and their results correlated with the make and model of Web-browser that they were using. The results played into popular prejudices, indicating that users of Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 had IQs in the ‘moron’ range.

A juicy story indeed, with graphs and charts and all-sorts. Except that it took less than one minute to determine that the company behind the study, Aptiquant, doesn’t appear to exist.

Aptiquant’s domain name was created on the 14th of July this year, just three weeks ago, and while its registered address is 498 Richards St, Vancouver, there appears to be no listing for it in any telephone-directory.

Also, all of the other articles on the Web-site come from the Web-site of a psychometrics firm called Central Test, as are all of the products and services that Aptiquant promotes.

All red-flags. All trivially easy to check. It took me less than a minute to catch this. And two more minutes to spot other discrepancies.

For example, just look at Aptiquant’s team. Yes, they’re all the same photos and biographies as the Central Test team, only with the names changed. None of the names given appear to exist.

I can sort of forgive Mashable for being fooled when it picked this story up – this sort of thing was tailored to be a popular and contentious yet-what-we-suspected-all-along kind of story. It certainly isn’t the first time that a fake business has been set up with a fake report designed to fool the media into circulating it.

But the BBC, and News Limited, whose Herald-Sun ran this image under the headline “It’s official! Internet Explorer users are totally dumb” should have done better:

You could have done a simple minimum to check the story. You apparently didn’t even make a minimum effort to check it. I think the dunce-cap would be more appropriate on your own heads now.

While this little stunt ultimately doesn’t say anything about the IQ of Internet browser users, perhaps it does teach us a little something about professional journalists and news editors.

Update: A few hours after throwing a note to the BBC, and posting this piece, the BBC has come to the same conclusion. Would have been nice to get a mention from them, but too much to hope for, I suppose.

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Categories: Journalism, Opinion.

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