Thursday, February 28, 2008

Correlations That Make You Dumb


From BooksThatMakeYouDumb.virgil.gr, click to see it large.

This chart takes the ten most frequent "favorite books" listed on Facebook from students at every college and maps them against the college's SAT/ACT scores. Of course it is supposedly just for "hilarity incarnate", but it draws some questionable conclusions. I agree that colleges have different test scores for their students, but trying to lump books that their students read is a bit far-fetched. Most colleges have a diverse mix of students and do not have predominantly one cultural or racial make-up. Books listed by Facebook members however, often do reflect cultural and racial characteristics. When you look at the scores for the colleges, you can see that CalTech is ranked first, where my Alma Mater (MIT) is only in sixth place. And the creator of the chart is from, big surprise, CalTech. Nothing like a bit of superiority as frosting.

Calling this "Books That Make You Dumb" is great for generating traffic, but sends the wrong message. Does reading books favored by "super nerds" make people smarter? Probably not. Does reading the books on the low end make people dumber? Probably not as well. One of the unspoken messages of this chart, especially since it is grouped by genre, is that books about African-American culture are read by dumb people. And Lolita taking the smartest book spot? Obviously those nerds aren't getting any (it was originally categorized as erotica and then moved to classics)... Most people will dismiss this chart as an interesting correlation. But saying that reading or enjoying those books that "will make you dumb" will simply create a rift between cultures. If people avoid the books on the low end, it will only promote less understanding, more alienation and more discrimination.

I'm not saying that I don't find the chart fascinating, but I hope people don't draw the wrong conclusions from it. There is also a chart which correlates music and test scores. OK, I'll lighten up now. Maybe it's just sour grapes that MIT was in sixth place!

5 comments :

Melissa said...

I've seen this...the entire list is really interesting.

The thing i thought was the most amusing was the "The Bible" and "The Holy Bible" were two seperate books. And you were smarter if you read "The Bible". Or was it the other way round? Anyeay, it was still funny. :)

Gwen said...

Do you think people will really believe this stuff? I've read nearly all the books on the list (except for Nicholas Sparks;none of him for me, thank you very much), so what does that mean?

I would have ranked MIT higher, too, just based on perception, even though I know some very very smart people who went to CalTech. For what that's worth.

Teachin' this mommy new tricks! said...

Oh I feel so smart..I love The Alchemist and it did pretty good :)

Virgil said...

For what it's worth, I actually didn't know that Caltech had the highest average SAT score in the country until after I crunched the data myself. However, I confess I was pleasantly surprised to see Caltech on top.

Angela said...

Well, yes I did know that Virgil didn't know that CalTech was on top until afterwards.. I read the entire site! Now, to get to reading those books...

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