A new, pseudo-scientific website suggests a way to arrive at a "correlation between books and dumbitude." Booksthatmakeyoudumb is the latest project of Caltech grad student Virgil Griffith, whose infamous Wikiscanner software revealed, this past summer, that somebody at Halliburton had deleted information from a Wikipedia entry on war crimes, while someone at Pepsi had altered Wikipedia’s entry about health problems caused by soft drinks. Griffith's latest provocation scans Facebook to link college students' favorite reading matter with the schools they attend, and then links this data to the average SAT/ACT score of students at those schools. The result: a list of 100 favorite books, ranked by standardized test score.
Despite its slightly obnoxious title, Booksthatmakeyoudumb isn't actually arguing that reading certain books will make you less intelligent. The chart that Griffith has posted instead suggests that college students who scored poorly on the SATs prefer (or claim to prefer, when describing themselves on Facebook) certain books; college students with high SAT scores, meanwhile, prefer (same caveat) a markedly different set of books. Which is interesting, right?
Books classified -- by the users of LibraryThing -- the social cataloging web application for storing and sharing personal library catalogs and book lists -- as Erotica ("Zane," "Addicted," "Nervous"), African American ("The Color Purple," "Flyy Girl"), and Religion (The Bible, "The Purpose-Driven Life") are at the low end of Griffith's chart. At the high end of the chart, we find books categorized as Classics ("Lolita," "100 Years of Solitude," "Crime and Punishment”); also, we find "Freakonomics."
Science fiction appears at both ends of the chart: Near the top, we find Ayn Rand's pro-capitalism dystopia "Atlas Shrugged," Kurt Vonnegut's apocalyptic "Cat's Cradle," and Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game," about a child whose mad video-game skills allow him to save the planet from real space invaders. Near the bottom, we find Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451." But Bradbury's book is a classic work of fiction, never mind the genre; "Enders Game" is uber-geeky drivel. Apparently there's just no accounting for dumbitude.
UPDATE: Aha! I may have figured out why "Fahrenheit 451" is on the list, and why it's near the bottom. Worried about declining reading rates in the US, the National Endowment for the Arts launched the Big Read a while back -- a program that encourages communities where reading habits are particularly poor to read and discuss a single book. In 2007, nearly 200 communities nationwide read one of 12 classic American novels... one of which was "Fahrenheit 451."
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