Books that make you dumb: chart


Artur Bergman says:

"Wikiscanner hacker Virgil Griffth told me a while ago about his latest data mining project, to visualise the relationship between books and SAT scores. Today he released his findings at Booksthatmakeyoudumb.

He does this by cross referencing the 10 most popular books at every college, as given by Facebook, and the average SAT score. He then presents it all in this nifty little visualisation."

Link (Thanks, Chaya!)


  1. Given that most undergraduate programs have at least one required seminar with an English (language) fiction title as required reading I would say this could at least partly be titled “curricula at dumb schools”. Not that all the favorite books of people will be on the mandatory curriculum, but they will all be exposed to them and so there will be a higher proportion that considers them favorites. That said, correlation vs. causation can be some tricky stuff.

  2. While this is a fun little project, I don’t see how the verb “make” can be used. That verb implies causation, and–if I understand the methodology–this is really a demonstration of the statistical measure of correlation.

    Also, as pointed out in the first poster, SAT scores are a controversial proxy for intelligence.

  3. That purple cluster at the “dumbest” end? Those are all the books that are classified as “African-American.”


  4. or perhaps the title should be,

    “books that college students pretend to read because they think that they can get a facebook hookup out of it”

  5. I call data shenanigans. This is nowhere near a statistically random sample.

    The only group that is represented here is a) those that are on facebook, b) who also install every third-party app / report every miniscule piece of data on their existence in their profile (depending what data source they used), and c) didn’t set their profile as private.

    Not sure about the rest of you but the people that incessantly send me invitations for trivia quizes, poker, and the new Super-Duper-Bestest-Evar-Wall!!!1 aren’t often the people whose reading lists I’m particularly interested in following.

    Just sayin’.

  6. Not only is Atlas Shrugged considered philosophy, but it is ranked as smart. That was pretty much all I needed to see.

  7. Apparently “The Bible” gets you 150 points over “The Holy Bible”, and “The Da Vinci Code” gets you 75 points over “Dan Brown”.

    As well as being poorly curated, the overall ranking is highly suspect. To be smart enough to understand “One Hundred Years of Solitude” you’d also be smart enough not to read it (“Chronicle of a Death Foretold”, now…) And having read “Altas Shrugged” correlates with high SAT scores? Huh?

  8. Next project: hobbies that make you dumb. Then music that makes you dumb. You can pull all kinds of random things on Facebook and correlate them with average SAT scores.

  9. Interesting –

    “The Holy Bible” clocks in at just north of 900 – this is the KJV
    “The Bible” clocks in just south of 1050 – this is the NIV

    The reasons for the distinctions between the two can be found (as well as explanations re ‘make’ etc.) on his website.

    Also, keep in mind that the first thing on his FAQ page is the answer to why he did this… “I aspire to be the #1 hit on Google for the query ‘ virgil ‘. I am currently #5 or #3, depending on how you count it. I seek Google linkage-love to ascend to #1.”

    So don’t don’t get too bent out of shape re his methodology…

  10. This is just insulting. This just justifies the elitist crap we hear from the right wing all the time.

  11. Did somebody really think that this was intended to be hard science? Oh, sorry! I interrupted your reading.

  12. I just think it is hilarious that….

    1.) people take this simple little statistical intrigue so seriously. Lighten up people, geez.

    2.) people comment here impulsively without taking a moment to actually read the site. Many of the comments up above are easily answered if you just took a moment to click through a few links and trouble your mind with a few half paragraphs instead of straining your wrist in a mad dash for the “Post Comment” button.

  13. Antinous, this is what he has to say

    “Well, like any good scientist, I decided to see how well my personal experience matches reality. How might one do this?

    Well, here’s one idea.

    1. Get a friend of yours to download, using Facebook, the ten most popular books at every college (manually — as not to violate Facebook’s ToS). These ten books are indicative of the overall intellectual milieu of that college.
    2. Download the average SAT/ACT score for students attending every college.
    3. Presto! We have a correlation between books and dumbitude (smartitude too)!”

    Virgil may be many things but “scientist” or even “intelligent” is not one of them. If he is a working scientist then I really have to question his understanding of even the most basic ideas of science and of statistics. He doesn’t even have a weak case for what he claims to be “a correlation between books and dumbitude”.

    Virgil adds this:
    “Yes, I’m aware correlation ≠ causation. You can stop sending me email about this. The results are awesome either way. Thanks.”

    No honey, it isn’t teh awesome, it’s so stupid it burns. This is so bad, it isn’t even wrong.

  14. It is obviously not in any way scientifically agreed upon by the readers and maybe even the creator. But I must not have a sense of humor because this isn’t remotely funny to me either. I would be interested in a more in-depth..or heck even a surface-depth..project regarding books required by colleges and the outgoing intellect. Most teenagers are rather dumb so there’s yet another reason SAT scores aren’t at all reliable for a project like this. Anyway, a nice try.

  15. @7 – and The Bell Jar is not a biography, it’s a highly autobiographical novel. A lot of the color-coding (primarily as it deals with ‘classics’) is questionable, and some of the overlaps (Bible vs. Holy Bible, Shakespeare vs. Hamlet, &c.) are also rather peculiar. Interesting to look at, hard to take anything out of.

  16. i’d like to point out that “I Dont Read” is fairly low on the list, but not as low as other titles.

  17. Wow!
    Alchemist is pretty high up there.
    I was expecting it to be in the same range as Life of Pi and Kite Runner (and expected those to be in the same range as Tuesdays with Morrie)

    Also, I’ve read 4 of the 6 upper right books.
    YAY ME!

    Seriously tho, it seems the books I have read from that list, are more or less padded around my SAT score. So this must be an affirmation of something

    On a side note:
    SAT’s DO NOT measure intelligence/IQ. They measure your chances of not flunking 4 years of college.

    So if you’re this super-smart and don’t need to study much to get PASSING grades – the SAT will reflect that.
    But also if you’re sorta average but can cram all night and take your studies seriously and you get passing grades – the SAT’s will rate you just as high.

  18. Clever, silly idea – fun!

    It pains me to say that several of the earlier posts lead me to predict that “FIRST POST!!!!!!” and “Clearly photoshopped.” are in the not too distant Boing Boing commenting future. Sigh.

  19. It’s a shame the graph sucks so much. Huge and unreadable, and the key uses colours that are too close together, and you can’t easily reference it because the graph’s so huge. Otherwise a cool idea.

  20. I think in retrospect that I was too harsh. I didn’t need to be so snarky and I’m sorry about that. Virgil deserves much respect for his previous efforts with wikiscanner. But yeah, this chart is sooo photoshoped.

  21. The first tipoff that this was bull, after the crap correlation/causation mixup title, was that Dune is ranked lower than Ender’s Game on the intelligence axis.

    Ender’s Game is a great book, but putting it above Dune is just ridiculous.

  22. Antinous, yes, that’s the one. I hope it wasn’t too hard for you to find: I did link to it directly.

  23. I’d just like to add that I think it’s damn cool to have an actual domain name out there called

  24. I was just noting that The International Journal of Charts is a rather, um, grand name for a single post with almost no content except that jacked from the chartmaker’s site, a partly gutted graphic and no comments. I guess that I was actually expecting an International Journal of Charts.

  25. Good for a laugh, maybe… but seeing that “African American” literature makes you dumb is a sad sign indeed. I’m waiting for a chart on statistical research practices that make you dumb.

  26. Freakonomics is decent, but Krugman’s weekly column is superior.

    Who reads mentions Lolita post-2001? I guess people real close to their age of consent.

  27. If your favorite book is one that routinely appears on mandatory reading lists, you probably don’t read much.

  28. how about a BoingBoing Canon? A list of one hundred must-reads compiled by BoingBoing contribution and vote?

    Have to think very, very hard before naming my one title. Only one per person to make it hard.

  29. And if somebody’s favorite book doesn’t make the list? Wailing and gnashing of teeth, cries of fascism and heavy handed moderation, accusations of Cory being biased toward American literature…

  30. Dracula

    Though I’m against canons (how can we limit ourselves so much and all the other theory that goes into them) I also really love lists (unfortunate for so many reasons).
    (And I really really really want someone to say The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

  31. 100 is tougher than the proverbial desert island one. Plus, after you’ve made your single choice, you have to suffer the suspense of seeing what else makes it – fingers crossed for second thoughts.

  32. Any number of those books could also be on the list of ‘favorite books of intelligent people.’ This strikes me as the kind of chart intended to make an intelligent person angry.

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