January 27, 2008

Books that make you dumb. The title is misleading, because it's a list of the most popular books on Facebook, listed according to the users' college network, compared with average SAT scores for those colleges.

Interesting that readers of the Book of Mormon have significantly higher SAT scores than readers of the Bible, but there are a lot of factors I can think of that would skew that and make it look bad.

  • Lolita is classified as erotica? I guess at least it's erotica for braniacs. It's an interesting snapshot of what's being read where, but as you say there are lots of factors that aren't taken into account or controlled for. Atlas Shrugged is the only one of these books that I'm certain does make people more stupid after they read it.
  • Interesting that the highest scoring colleges had a much smaller number of books. I wonder if that's an indication that the smartest people don't use facebook, and therefore aren't represented?
  • Maybe a Facebook user can clarify for me - when he scraped the book titles, were the books posted by Facebook users as "What I read this year," or "My favorite books"? World of difference between those two. It's the difference between someone telling you "I read the Bible this year" and "The Bible is my ALL-TIME FAVORITE BOOK EVER." The author just says "most popular," but I'm curious what that actually means.
  • Ladyknight, I wonder that, too. My guess is that the smarter the college, the wider the variety of book titles. He says he "discard[ed] books with too few samples to have a reliable average."
  • Odd, I feel dumber after reading this list...
  • Hmmm, notice the most endumbing books are classified as "African American"? Oh dear.
  • The trouble is that "books on Facebook" don't correspond to any particular application. I have a limited number of Facebook pals... somewhere around 25-30, a mix of high school friends and longtime 'net friends... and between them, they use at least three different book-tracking apps. (Maybe I should say the tip of the trouble iceberg, because there are other things that bother me about these results.) Also: every college? I doubt it. Even with these flaws, the results don't surprise me that much... if you've gotten around to reading One Hundred Years of Solitude and Lolita at that age, you probably do have pretty high SAT scores and some degree of cultural privilege that would allow you to be exposed to those books to begin with. They're books that you come to through other books or through high-level literature classes, not usually books that you pick off the shelf while browsing in a bookstore or library. Much of the stuff in the mid-range of scores is either commonly assigned to the average high school and college student, or very successful commercial fiction. Some of it is miscategorized: Pride and Prejudice belongs in Classics, not Chick Lit, Memoirs of a Geisha is tarted-up Chick Lit if anything is (yes, I've read it), The Perks of Being A Wallflower is a YA novel, and not a single one of the "Philosophy" books is actually a philosophy book. (Tuesdays With Morrie my ass. Critique of Pure Reason and The Republic are Philosophy books. Ayn Rand's books are novels, whether or not they express her philosophy.) Basically, it seems like the perp of this diagram was actually too ignorant and biased to even set it out correctly. They do make me wonder where the racial bias comes in... are the people most likely to read Zane also the least likely to receive decent SAT prep and exposure to more serious literature, but still make it into college? All of the books associated with African-American lit (there are problems w/ that terminology right there to begin with) are associated with average (median? mean?) test scores of 1000 or below. ("I don't read" has a higher average score than all of these books with the quasi-exception of the Hurston.) It makes me think and wonder about which factor is primarily responsible for that result, if it's even accurate.
  • They are dum.
  • PS - further illustration of what I'm talking about, in both senses (the ignorance of the person who compiled the survey and the results that seem very skewed for books primarily read by African-American students): Zane is the author of both Nervous and Addicted. So the "erotica" category is almost entirely made up of Lolita, on the high end (for the moment - it's being changed to "classic" but the charts aren't out yet), and on the low end, books by a single author whose audience is famously, overwhelmingly black. Interestingly enough: when white women read straight-up porn, with the exception of The Story of O, we usually call the books "spicy/sensual romance novels." (This is not to say that there are no novels for black women in the romance category, but since "romance" didn't come up in this survey at all, and Zane seems to be a lot more popular with young women, and I have an approaching deadline that means I really shouldn't be messing around on MoFi at all today... this will have to do.)
  • Is it even legitimate to correlate average SAT scores to most-mentioned books? Given that the pool of "average SAT scores" is "the entire student body," while the pool of "most popular books" is limited to the sub-set of Facebook users who self-reported book titles on their Facebook account. I can't find any numbers about how many respondents were (unwittingly) polled per school. What if only one person posted a books list for Yale, while 5,000 Alabama State University undegrads did so? I should be working, too. :-(
  • Why is there both a "The Bible" and a "The Holy Bible" on the list? Aren't they the same book?
  • You know only the King James version is real! And verbminx, I love you!
  • The Colour Purple is pretty damn good book. And apparently Little Women is also chick lit. Nice to know that I was a "chick" at the age of 10. And Jo? A chick? Ever? Maybe if she had been born a chicken. Contemporary fiction = (largely) books by men, whereas books by women are Chicklit or something else. The Life of Pi, a prize winning novel, is redefined as philosophy.
  • I think you guys are taking this a little too seriously.
  • It's because they left my favorite book off. And dissed other ones I like.
  • And verbminx, I love you! *heartbreak*
  • Now, Cap, there's enough Laralove to go around. (oo er missus! no not really. i mean, "not really the innuendo.") as far as taking it too seriously... nah. But when results are presented faux-scientifically, I do think they bear some analysis. I think the reason you see the most books in the middle, and they are mostly college-prep curriculum books and commercial bestsellers, is that most schools have average SAT scores in that span anyway. It doesn't mean they don't have any students with 1400+ scores, but that they have tons with scores around 1000-1200. A large state university may have students in one program who just scraped in with a 900 or so and are legacy students who are also paying full tuition, and scholarship students, maybe National Merit Scholars, with 1350s and up, in very advanced/difficult programs that are much more selective.
  • And what about those "xxx for Dummies" books? Do they make you dumb?
  • ladyknight and mechagrue - the FAQ page indicates that how this chart was done was to take each incident of a book being listed in the top ten for a school (> 1300 schools), weight for how high in the top 10 a book ranked, tie the school to a number of students and an average SAT score, and sum for each book. Given that, any book that is mentioned a lot will probably be in the middle. For example, things that everyone reads (Shakespeare and Harry Potter) fall dead center, while things that fewer people read (Lolita and True to the Game) may be to the left or right. However, a book that few people read may be in the center if the people who read it attend schools with average scores. So this graph is mostly informative at the extreme values, and is just as useful for telling you what people dont read as what they do, e.g. black authors are not well represented at 1300 score universities (probably following the poor representation of black teachers at those universities) and white folk "classics" not commonly assigned in high school/college curriculum aren't seen as often at 900 score universities (perhaps because the students are still on the first batch of classics and didn't read them all in prep school).
  • They say that reading cookboks can corrupt your molars.
  • Basically, what happens is that there is a Interests, Favourite TC Shows, Favourite Books section etc, in the main profile. From the page that represents the entire college, say Keene State College, you can find what the most popular favourite book (by numbers) is in that college.
  • The problem is that we're not getting information on "what people read." What we're getting is information on "what people have read, AND reported on their Facebook pages." The set of "students attending college X" is larger than the set of "students attending college X who are also Facebook users." And the set of "students who attend college X and are also Facebook users and also bothered to post a book-related list on Facebook" is smaller still. The ratio between those three sets aren't necessarily consistent between colleges. The last set could be 1 for Yale, and 5,000 for PLU. We don't know, since he hasn't said. Without knowing the sample size for each college, we can't say if they're being represented fairly. To compound the problem, we don't know what "top 10 books" means. Is it books people listed as their favorite book? A list of purchases? A list of books purchased AND read? Or just a mish-mash of all three? I can think of at least six scenarios which would explain why black authors are under-represented at "smart" colleges on his graph. Maybe people read them, but didn't list them as "my favorite book." Maybe they were people's favorite books, but the crawler only scraped "books I read this year." Maybe there were more respondents for "stupid" schools, and those books bubbled to the top with a larger sample size. Maybe people at "smart" schools feel peer pressure to list "Lolita" as their favorite book, even though "The Color Purple" is actually their favorite. The results of his study are interesting, but essentially meaningless. It's a bad combination of unknown sample size and self-reporting bias. Garbage in, garbage out. (Hell, we don't even know if it's true - the whole thing could be easily faked.)
  • I wouldn't be so skeptical and outspoken about this, if his results weren't so shocking. Stupid students like black authors? Smart schools like - of all the books in the world - "Lolita"? The author's own school is the #1 smartest school on the list? Like the man says, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. His graph is only about half a step from saying "black people are stupid." This thing is like a classroom exercise for The Mismeasure of Man.
  • Yes, but I didn't see My Pet Goat listed anywhere. Surely political science majors would have listed that one.
  • Websites that make you dumb: http://www.facebook.com/ http://booksthatmakeyoudumb.virgil.gr/ ...
  • http://www.whitehouse.gov http://monkeyfilter.com OH NO SHE DIDN'T