Nasa / Space

Sci-fi and fantasy books that "make you dumb"

Here is an insipid little chart published by a CalTech student that purports to correlate SAT scores with favorite books, effectively determining which are the books for the "dumb" kids, and which tomes are hallmarks of the "smart" students. Our friends at SFSignal have pared down the list to include just the sci-fi and fantasy entries. Get ready to be insulted.

booksthatmakeyoudumb.gif

One the the recent memes to plague the blogosphere is an insipid little chart published by a CalTech student that purports to correlate SAT scores with favorite books, effectively determining which are the books for the "dumb" kids, and which tomes are hallmarks of the "smart" students. Our friends at SFSignal have pared down the list to include just the sci-fi and fantasy entries, which we've reprinted above.

What's dumb is the original chart, and anyone who takes it as something more than a quaint conversation piece. As a former literature and sociology double-major, the whole thing rankles me on several levels. First, the CalTech kiddo gathered his data from Facebook, the online social network that used to be just for students but now is open to anybody. Facebook lets you list your favorite books if you want to, and the chart's originator used that to match up reading habits with the published average SAT scores of the school that the Facebook member claims to attend.

More SF booksThus, what you really have here is a crude SAT correlation of the reading habits of those students that A) use Facebook and B) included favorite books in their Facebook profiles. Even assuming that the profiles were filled out honestly and that the published SAT data is accurate, there is absolutely no way this approaches anything like a representative sampling of college student readers. It might be a representative sampling of collegiate Facebook users, and I'll leave it to you what that implies about the data set.

If you look at the original chart, there are more books listed near the middle of the bell curve SAT distribution, which illustrates just one thing--that there are more readers (and students) at the middle of the bell curve, which you'd expect. You'll also note that a lot of the books that appear in the center of the bell curve are known to appear in Literature or Humanities 101 courses, as in the kind of general education requirements that every student must suffer through on the way to a degree (I liked these courses, but then I was a Lit major). Wow, so kids list books that they've been forced to read as favorite books. To me, this speaks more to a lack of voluntary or elective readership--the only books I've read are the ones I've been forced to read--than anything else.

SF booksI mean, do you actually expect me to believe that the average Hamlet reader is dumber than the average Eragon reader? Or is it more likely that the average person who claims on Facebook that Hamlet is their favorite read is dumber than the average person who claims that Eragon is in their top books list? Are people that love Fahrenheit 451 really less intelligent that people who brag that they don't read at all? Given that the premise of Fahrenheit 451 is that the populace is better off in a police state without books, this is a chilling notion.

Besides, if the chart is to be believed, a lot narrower constituency of 18 to 22-year-olds have read Harry Potter than have read Cat's Cradle. Yeah, right. Let me show you some New York Times bestseller numbers of recent vintage, and then let's talk about whether this data is honest and accurate. I'm pretty certain it's more socially impressive to claim to be a Vonnegut fan than to swear your devotion to J. K. Rowling. But that couldn't possibly have affected the students' professed reading habits, could it?

If the chart has any redeeming value--and I'm skeptical--it's in suggesting which books make for effective status symbols (I'm cool because I read this) for which SAT group. Some books have more social purchase with the "smart" kids than do others. Almost nobody in the chess club would brag about liking Flyy Girl, even if it were true.

I hate junk data. I really hate junk data taken at face(book) value. Anybody want to tell this statistical humbug he's wrong? If not, I'll be outside the local student union conspicuously reading The Alchemist.

About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

199 comments
NWeber
NWeber

Personally, my favorite books are Terry Pratchett books. I notice none of them are in this list.

loz1
loz1

Ok, so I read all of them, so what?

mandrake64
mandrake64

I like reading all of his books but enjoy Sci-Fi as well. Reading helps place us within the story. The more it tugs on our imagination the better but there is a world of difference between a plot line that appeals to a child and one that requires a deal more worldly experience. Books that encourage the reader's mind into different ways of thinking should be synonomous with higher scores, as opposed to those books that merely entertain. Reading too many books of an entertaining kind will reinforce the same ways of thinking, and that will not be optimum in itself for brain development unless there's an opening in the new HP movie.

ej
ej

I actually do like this list, though it doesn't contain my favourite books, and I do not like Fahrenheit 451, though I've read it. And being as offended as you are is not a sign of extraordinary intellect. In fact, reading habits usually only show your area of interest, and I can believe that sci-fi readers would be more succesful in high-tech areas.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

there are a whole lot more 'psychobabble' books and 'New Age' philosophy books out there that will 'make you dumb'. Science Fiction and Fantasy give wings to the imagination. I find it incredibly difficult to believe that they have the capacity to indicate anything less or more than a level of active imagination.

beavwarius
beavwarius

These books are FANTASY books not sci-fi. If you want sci-fi you read asimov , a.c clarke , fritz leiber ect. not crap about dragons and trolls.

escher
escher

Before commenting, I just want to point out that I am a Member of Mensa (158/161 Stanford-Binet). Or at least I *was*, until I quit paying my dues. Plus, I have been a Sci-Fan fan for so long that I remember watching Star Trek when the episodes were NEW. As as a network engineer, I'm pretty sure I qualify as a nerd. Now for my nit-picking critique: 1) I find myself wondering how many of those books made that chart based on the fact that people wanted to look cool on FaceBook, so they CLAIMED that they read the books in question; regardless of whether or not they actually read them. 2) Did I somehow fail to see any of the works of Douglas Adams on there, or are they simply not there? 3) Asimov? Heinlein? How could these luminaries of Sci Fi NOT be on the list. Of course, maybe it's just that as a person with a surprisingly low SAT score (1150), I just don't get it. Oh well... That's enough of my pointless griping I suppose.

GeoXXX
GeoXXX

This was clearly done tongue in cheek. What is hilarious is the author of this piece and posters have had such a hysterical reaction to it. From detailed posts pointing out it's flaws to clowns trying to impress people with their own reading lists. Seriously some people need to buy a sense a humor!

PrinceGaz
PrinceGaz

"Besides, if the chart is to be believed, a lot narrower constituency of 18 to 22-year-olds have read Harry Potter than have read Cat???s Cradle. Yeah, right..." I'm pretty sure the chart is showing something like the error range of the mean SAT scores for a given book, meaning the more people who claim to have read it, the narrower the range will be as more scores were used to determine the mean. So if ten people read book A and the average is 1100, the statistically significant range might be 1000-1200 (made up figures, but bear with me). However if ten thousand people had read it and the average was again 1100, it would be much more reliable and the range would be much tighter, such as 1090-1110.

stan
stan

The chart in the article covers only a small part of the range of SAT scores. So I went to the full chart. One of the favorite books listed was "Shakespeare". I always thought he was an author (who whote a number of things) and not a book... And people who listed "The Bible" scored 150 points higher than people who listed "The Holy Bible"! But the really suprising thing is that there is nothing above 1350. So do smart people stop reading? Or just don't have a favorite?

jzou
jzou

I can not believe this guy actually took this chart seriously. Does it ever occur to him that when the CalTech students made this chart, it is just a joke?

WillieMcTell
WillieMcTell

Hmm...Seems to me that the list is eliciting a lot of discussion. Isn't that the only purpose of things like that? I haven't read Wicked or The Alchemist. I've read all the others. My SAT scores back in 1963 were a bit to the right of the upper boundary of the graph. Where does E. E. Smith's Lensman series fit in? I've read that at least 4 times. Can you get into a decent college with 1250?

somethinggood4
somethinggood4

Sounds like somebody's favourite book is on the "Dumb" list.....:P

mross011
mross011

As a degreed statistician, I would say the study is wrought with errors and does not take into variances that are quite obvious. I absolutely despise how people use numbers to back a thought, but don???t look at all the variables. But looking at the books and the correlation, I have to say the people I know who would say which sci-fi books are their favorites and the reasons they would say it, this list matches their intellect more than just a passing manner. At least an interesting observation but that's all. And no I don't consider my favorite sci-fi book to be The Alchemist. I do love the Ender's series though. I recommend them to most people with a decent intellect, but it would be scary for, let's say, less intelligent people to read it. Would be like the hot head coming out of Rocky and thinking they can take on anyone. Does make you wonder what Jay's favorite sci-fi book is and how he compared. (if posted I missed it)

nighthawk808
nighthawk808

Never has, never will. This does not mean that these books make you dumb; it just means that many dumb people like these books. This chart is no surprise in any case: you'd have to be an idiot to like C.S. Lewis or Mitch Albom. Conversely, I love Nabokov, and I have read One Hundred Years of Solitude both in Spanish and in English. That said, since this is about favorite books, of the ones on this list, mine is The Great Gatsby, yet this chart is no where near how I did on the SAT (the chart's value is *way* lower than what I actually scored). So this chart is nothing more than a general observation, not a predefining "If you like The Color Purple you'll be working at McDonald's" kind of thing. If it were, then I either wouldn't have read everything Grisham ever wrote, or the fact that I have would have kept me out of a good grad school. Again I say: correlation does not imply causality. There is no such think as junk data, only junk analysis. (I'm disregarding fraud or other blatant "massaging" of data.) That the average global temperature has increased while the number of pirates has gone down is just data. Claiming that global warming is caused by the decline in pirates is junk analysis. See the difference? My biggest problem with this is that I have a hard time taking seriously any SF category that doesn't include anything by Heinlein. And kudos to 50-50 for bringing up Surely You're Joking. It's not on the list, but that is in a three-way tie with Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach and Pinker's How the Mind Works for my favorite.

mgordon
mgordon

"As a former literature and sociology double-major..." "...the only books I've read are the ones I've been forced to read..." I've chosen to read hundreds of books from the "dumb" end to the "smart" end; Dr. Robert L. Forward's books ought to be way out at the scientific end of things. I do see a trend however; the "left" side of this chart tends to be books that appeal to emotions and the "right" side of this chart tends to have more science and complexity.

rbdragon
rbdragon

It would be interesting to know if Mr. Griffith would make similar correlations about movies people watch.

networthy
networthy

What else would we expect from modern academia... they're pumping out the Liberal Gauche Dullards by the thousands every year!

freaknout
freaknout

Enders Game was a great book! Film for 2008 is in pre production. Only hope it will be 1/2 as good a the book was

freaknout
freaknout

Enders Game was one of my all time favorite books. The rest in that series were so so as I recall. Enders Game is to be released as a movie in 2008 and is currently in pre-production.

michael.tindall
michael.tindall

Good Omens is one of my top favorites...but my favorite of all time is the ILLUMINATUS! trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson (RIP) and Robert Shea. I would also have to list Shrodinger's Cat, Masks of the Illuminati, the Historical Illuminati Chronicles, and Cosmic Trigger. Add to that Jack Kerouac's ON THE ROAD, Eco's Foucoult's Pendulum, Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, Job: a comedy of Justice, and Friday. John Milton (PARADISE LOST and Samson Agonista especially). Shakespeare. Harry Potter, of course. the Hitchhiker's Guide series. I loved Conan. Mack Bolin books. Stephen King. HP Lovecraft. The Bible. The Book of Mormon. The Apocrypha (especially the Book of Enoch) a number of the works of Aleister Crowley. GEB: Godel Escher Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid. The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense. Psychology textbooks. and a WHOLE LOTTA nonfiction and history. I seem to remember getting either a 1350 or 1450 on the SAT...it would have been higher but I was almost completely DEAF from being at an Anthrax concert the night before. I know with certainty that I scored 32 out of 36 on the ACT (and once again, I had been almost totally deafened through my attendance of a club the night before...I suppose I shouldn't have done that, but the ringing in my ears made for a nice white noise effect...)

half
half

I am slowly working through the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, by Stephen Donaldson. I say slowly as it has been going for about 25 yrs and is still going. Loved the Gap series, by the same author

ej
ej

IMHO Fritz Leiber is not an exceptional sci-fi writer and best his creation (IMHO) is "Fafhrd and Gray Mouser" fantasy saga. Problem with most fantasy books out there is that they are actually love novels/superhero/action crap, just set in imaginary world.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

[i]If you want sci-fi you read asimov , a.c clarke , fritz leiber ect. not crap about dragons and trolls.[/i] Fritz Leiber not a fantasy author? The author of Swords and Deviltry, Swords against Death, The Knight and Knave of Swords, Swords in the Mist, Swords against Wizardry, and The Swords of Lankhmar? Oh, you are too funny!   edit: spell

JCitizen
JCitizen

Sometimes I wonder if they should still be in force in lower stage testing as part of the "No child left behind" model. After all I didn't feel left behind and this was the host of most secondary school testing back then. My IQ tested 149 but I feel that was artificially high as I wasn't really "intelligent" by my standards anyway; I was just intensely curious; which caused me to study voraciously many subjects but never develope a discipline towards expertise. This made up for a generally slow response to new problems and horribly slow math skills. I don't think I strayed off topic too much as this is the jist of the article! Back on the subject: I always was a Asimov fan, but Stanley Kubric made me that way. Others complained about Douglas Adams(me too) as well; it is definitely hard to please everyone. Reading titles as a yardstick to intelligence? Joke or no joke, I really wonder about that.

JCitizen
JCitizen

...properly applied of course. Never took that in college, much to my chagrin. Science research showed me the value of such.. Your perspective that the article would reflect actual scientific consideration is amusing at the very least and interesting at best.

tgray
tgray

That was my point in a post further up a few minutes ago! Congratulations on being the only other person so far (I think!!!) to spot that! Apologies to anyone else who has - I didn't read all the posts! I like this 'research'! I think I'll incorporate it into my life philosophy! ;) If you look at his graphs sorted by genre, you can clearly conclude that readers of religious books are dumbest of all, followed closely by readers of American Literature (lets not go there!!!) and the smartest of course are readers of SF and classics. Cool!!! Give me a few more minutes and I'll let my twisted brain find another way to interpret this 'data' and I'm sure I can find another socio-economic group to insult. Hey - why is there no race infomation in there? I have a strong urge to conclude some very politically incorrect things about race and reading. Ok, having WAAAAY to much fun now ... outta here!

WillieMcTell
WillieMcTell

Nowhere near the worst book I've ever read but it's formulaic and has hilariously dumb dialogue. You could forgive that if the book contained any ideas.

mross011
mross011

Nice catch. Excellent and interesting observation.

cjshelby
cjshelby

I'm an old fart (49) who started my reading hobby with "Doctor Doolittle) in the sixth grade. I'm a big Heinlein fan. And having read "Enders Game" some 20 years ago, I always thought it would translate well to the big screen. There is also a project Tim Minnear (Firefly, Serenity) is working on to try to write a screenplay based on "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" I've read that he's scrapped it and started it over at least once. Not an easy title for a movie, complex politically to say the least. For those of you who commented that you couldn't find time or didn't like to read, I can only say this. The theater of the mind is far superior to anything Hollywood can or will ever produce. And if you've never "seen" a novel this way, I do feel sorry for you.

cjshelby
cjshelby

Based on your statement........ "I was just intensely curious; which caused me to study voraciously many subjects but never develop a discipline towards expertise." I didn't know if you had ever read this one, but it definitely applies to me..... "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." Robert Heinlein I hope you're enjoying your experience in Antarctica. Raytheon is always looking for contract people here in the Denver area. Something I'd definitely be interested in if I were single.

seanferd
seanferd

Good list, surfer-dude gets a cigar. Bugs me that I haven't run across that theory yet. Thanks.

dest
dest

Just because you didn't like it doesn't mean it sucked. I loved Ender's game.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

"The theater of the mind is far superior to anything Hollywood can or will ever produce."

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

.. known this was coming for some time. I hope they don't screw up, like I Robot. Not optimistic, Les.

JCitizen
JCitizen

that Benjamin Franklin was my all time hero; although he may not have been the best dad in the world. I very well rounded intellect in many areas. Probably has one of the longest Wikipedia references for one man. I've always heard there's rocket science in Boulder; have had relatives checking for me for some time. Haven't had any luck left to my own devices. Maybe I can talk my brother into starting our own aircraft design company. Thanks cjshelby and boxfiddler!

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

"Specialization is for insects." lol

JCitizen
JCitizen

The new collider has made some astounding news already if I remember the last NOVA episode I watched. Don't recollect the exact subject though. Many new experiments on the super cooling end of quantum experiments are being planned as a result of the new math also; with Bose?Einstein condensate attracting much interest lately.

seanferd
seanferd

Experiments: The Large Hadron Collider is coming on-line at CERN in the coming months. Ooooh. Tera-scale! Should provide some experimental data to gauge which theories are the best models, or if we need to be trying something else.

JCitizen
JCitizen

He helped prove that the five equations of quantum theory were related and intertwined with each other; also confirmed to be equal if resolved separately. How he solved the gravity description has escaped me; but it is pretty new yet. This also established inter-dimensional aspect of quantum science fully describing at least 11 dimensions(if I remember correctly); and harden the brane geometry arguments. The neat thing is, there are now a plethora of experiments planned at various facilities aroung the world to discover if other goals can be achieved with this new information. Supposedly they will not only be able to describe what happend all the way up to the event of the big band but perhaps thru to the pre-event process! Pretty exciting stuff; I hope it pans out!

seanferd
seanferd

which sometimes seem to be lumped with string, M-set, and other theories. Many seem to involve related mathematics. So, are you saying that the "surfer dude's" theory belongs to the brane category? I think I am going to have to pull out some books and surf the 'net some more on this subject. Thanks.

JCitizen
JCitizen

in my opinion. That is why Einstein had so much trouble with math. As he understood the basics of physics his imagination allowed him to transcend the math by envisioning the unseen interactions of matter. Then he had to hire bright math students to help him form the math to describe it to other physicists who will only talk in the language of math and it's precision. I suspected when string theory started to lose ground that they were mathmatically seeing strings on edge - which is why they were fooled. However I am neither a genius or good at math; so who am I to say! The paper was well published on NOVA and the science channel. For us non-genius, I highly recommend reviewing those episodes if a guy wants to bone up on it. Look for links on "brane theory" as an alternative..

seanferd
seanferd

the biggest problems with the "string"-type theories (M and whatnot) is that they aren't specific enough. There are so many models because no one yet sure which particular model to go with yet. So many of them, as far as they are understood, describe physics accurately as far as they can be tested. The thing with gravity is this: When trying to reconcile Relativity with Quantum Mechanics, infinities arise. Apparently, the surfer-dude has avoided this snag. I look forward to seeing his work reviewed, and having some of the key points explained. I really don't do complex mathematics.

JCitizen
JCitizen

who turned the physics world on end; when he turned in a paper on some kind of cooperation that led to an end to the conundrum associated with the five formula of string theory. Consequently this simultaneously destroyed the theory as we know it and subsituted a more accurate "brane" theory of quantum dimensional thinking. The five formula are actually the same description of the theory of everything set in different dimensional approaches apparently; if I understand correctly. Oddly enough this also finally fully described gravity; which hasn't been satisfied before. It sounds like the theory of everything is finally at hand. It has a lot of experimental physicists excited, because they can actually properly plan experiments in physics to prove many untested theories with this new information. If these turn out; it will shoot down any naysayers very rapidly.

JCitizen
JCitizen

as the fact that math and experimentation has caught up to the conundrums of quantum dimensional theory, science fiction could become science fact. I hadn't seen those titles; but I read a review years ago on something similar; perhaps that was it. Sounds like a juicy subject for a new Sci-Fi movie!!

cjshelby
cjshelby

JC, Oh, I loved the movie. And I'm not knocking the book either. But I was all of 12-13 years old at the time and found the book to be overwhelming. If it had more electronics terms I suppose I would have got it (I was building a 5-tube radio around that time). You've got me to thinking that I should pick it up and give it another shot. Two books I did read at the time, and can't seem to find are.. "The Infinite Worlds of Maybe" by Lester Del Rey and "Dimension A" by L.P. Davies. There was another one which the title escapes me. It involved researchers freezing a cube of metal below absolute zero, and inadvertently punching a hole into a 4-spatial-dimension universe. In a later chapter there is work going on involving a "transporter" device which has the same effect. I'm mentioning this in case anyone knows the title and/or author as I'd love to re-read it. Or is there a site where I can recall the narrative to a bunch of other sci-fi geeks like myself? Yea, I was into the "dimensional travel" stuff in the late 60's. Total Geek stuff.

JCitizen
JCitizen

second to Alien. I was so tense in that movie I caught myself gripping the seat rails! The techno-babble was mandatory to make the movie realistic to us geeks. That is how they actually talk, in research facilities, that I've worked in anyway. I was a kid when it came out but I already had the lingo down pat. Please don't feel bad about it though.. Those kinds of movies fit a genre of viewer that goes for cold stark realism. If Stanley Kubrick had directed it, I wonder how you would have viewed it then? Just a thought!

cjshelby
cjshelby

Whether someone likes a particular book or not entirely depends on their frame of reference, and what they expect. I thoroughly enjoyed Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, and Xenocide. And yes as some of the detractors of these books have said, they are "simplistic" in some ways. But this "simplicity" is exactly what makes them wonderful to many of us. I once tried to read "The Andromeda Strain" in the early 1970's just after the movie came out. At the time I found it way too "complicated" and it lost me early on with all of the "techno-babble" that seemed to detract from the story line instead of enhance it. I would compare the Enders's books to "Harry Potter" in that they are more about the people, their characters, and their struggles, both against outside foes and with their own inner demons. Books as well as movies, are far better for me when they have human characters that I come to understand and emphasize with. This is why I love the "Firefly" series so much. My 11 y.o. son loved Harry Potter and is anxiously awaiting "The Spiderwick Chronicles" movie (he's read all of those, and not because a grown-up made him!) I believe that "Ender's Game" will make the perfect movie. Just look at the parallels of Ender playing "war games" and all of the video games you "young-ins" play nowadays.

WillieMcTell
WillieMcTell

I didn't like it because it was formulaic and poorly written. The characters were cardboard and the story had been around the block hundreds of times. Other than that it was fine. It's OK. Anybody can like anything I didn't like.

PrinceGaz
PrinceGaz

I enjoyed it, and have almost finished reading the next in the series, Speaker for the Dead and intend to move on to Xenocide straight after. They aren't suitable for everyone, but they have interesting plots and concepts (Speaker... much more than Ender's Game, though Ender's Game was sufficiently interresting). If they continue to improve, I'll probably end up reading all of them.

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