The study published last week that purported to show Internet Explorer users had lower IQs that those who use other browsers turns out to have been a complete hoax.
Not only was the study faked, so was the company that pretended to have published it.
The story was put out as a press release July 29 by AptiQuant, which described itself as a Vancouver-based psychographic profiler that would test job candidates to evaluate their fitness for specific jobs.
Most of the press outlets that cover anything related to tech – faced with the usual dearth of real news during mid-summer – picked it up and ran with it as both a reasonably legitimate study and provocative human interest.
Readers of the BBC apparently uncovered the hoax, discovering AptiQuant's site had only been up for a month and everything on it, including the staff photos, bore a striking resemblance to a French company known as Central Test.
CentralTest.com denies any knowledge or affiliation with AptiQuant, and has nothing on its web site that makes it look as if it had anything to do with the hoax other than having its pages copied to give the Potemkin site more credibility.
It's not clear who put up the fake site and publicized the fake report; so far, sites such as T3.com are citing "speculation" that it was the work of a PR company wishing to lower the reputation of Microsoft's web browser.
Since that's not technically possible, we'll have to look for other explanations.
ITworld.com bloggers, of course weren't fooled.
James Gaskin was amused by the outre headlines in British papers ("It's official: IE users are dumb as a bag of hammers.")
I didn't believe the study for a second, and went to great lengths to explain why, focusing on details of the study methodology and ignoring the whole 'this is completely fake' aspect. Obviously being able to spot a conclusion as fishy is not the same as being able to spot it as a hoax.
No one – including the WSJ, Forbes, BBC, CNN, Fox and other mainstream news outlets – apparently called AptiQuant to confirm any of the information. Someone should have, though we that wrote about it will all, no doubt, pass the responsibility of "should have" to someone else.
The site itself looked credible; certainly nothing like the shallow, one- or two-pager hoaxers typically post.
So did the press releases and follow-up information. There were no red flags that would have prompted every single writer picking up the story to have checked out some aspect of it in person, especially after so many other outlets had run with it.
So everyone wanting to write about it (which was everyone) did so thinking someone else had confirmed it.
I'm sure we'll find out soon enough who was behind it (Iranian officials are already accusing Israel; Tea Party delegates to Congress would already be accusing liberals, but are typically not allowed by their staffs to use the Internet unsupervised due to the danger they would introduce legislation outlawing crop circles, black helicopters or declaring Alpha Centaurians illegal aliens who should be deported at their own expense.)
In the meantime, the hoax is a good introduction to what used to be called "Silly Season" in the era of newspapering I studied as history in journalism school. It's the time of the summer when everyone is on vacation, no real news is happening, and reporters desperate for something to write about would glom onto anything – UFO sightings, two-headed calf births, "psychic" phenomena – presented by sources with even the tiniest shred of credibility, especially if the story were juicy enough to get readers to look up from their vacation guides long enough to read past the headlines on page 1.
The 'IE readers are dumb' story is apparently along the same lines; it doesn't appear to have done any harm except to the credibility of those of us who wrote about it.
Still, we should have checked it out. Sorry for the confusion.
(Please explain all this to your friends who use Internet Explorer. Some of the words may be too long for them to understand. Thanks. )