This is brilliant, and stupid

Books that make you dumb. (via Kottke)

You troll Facebook to find the books people list as their favorite. Then you correlate that with the average SAT scores at their institution of higher learning. You’ve found the “books that make you dumb.”

Of course you haven’t, not really, and it’s quite clear that the page author, Virgil Griffith, knows that.

If you accept the suggestion of the chart’s title, the “smartest” people read Lolita and Crime and Punishment, while the “dumbest” people read the The Holy Bible and The Color Purple.

As Virgil notes, correlation isn’t causation. Reading the The Holy Bible doesn’t make you dumb. Virgil says “The results are awesome regardless of direction of causality. You can stop sending me email about this distinction.” Heh.

So what does this chart mean? Mainly, I think, it sorts people by the books they think are impressive. If you’re at Harvard, it’s impressive to say you like Lolita, but not so impressive to say you like Fahrenheit 451. Every Harvard student read Fahrenheit 451 in the eighth grade. They are so over it by now. If you’re at Podunk Polytechnic, by contrast, it’s impressive that you know Fahrenheit 451 is not a movie by Michael Moore.

Notice there are two separate listings: The Holy Bible and The Bible. Reading The Bible “makes you smarter” than reading The Holy Bible. This makes sense — by calling it The Holy Bible you’re adding your review of the book right into the title. Only idiots do this — it’s like saying “the HAWT Paris Hilton.”

That’s all I have to say about that.

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2 Responses to This is brilliant, and stupid

  1. Pete says:

    It also assumes that the dumbest person at Harvard (or Yale, an example of which we’ve elected President – twice) is smarter than the smartest person at Podunk Barber College. Which, based on the Yale example, isn’t necessarily the case. It’d be one thing if the researcher used the actual SAT scores of Facebook users, but interpolating someone’s intelligence level (which the SAT doesn’t even really measure, or at least not convincingly) based on the college they attended is a very dubious method.

    And what of the person (my wife, for example) who’s read both 100 Years of Solitude AND The Color Purple?

  2. Anne says:

    Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction is all about this. He comes to similar conclusions as you do, and the results are fascinating. He is studying France in the 70s, where national education makes his task a lot easier. It also means he had a sample with widely varying levels of educational attainment. It turns out that people choose as “best” the book the “classic” that they would have read if they’d gotten educated to the next level. “Favorites” were what they actually read in their last year of school. (So the 8th grade graduates aspired to the h.s. texts, the h.s. graduates aspired to the college texts, etc.)

    It’s not that the books make you stupid, but that books are cultural capital and we deploy them on facebook, etc., as shorthand for marking our place in the social world ($ & status).

    Nice to see you pop in here, Dave!

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