All you diehard Internet Explorer users can relax this morning, because it sounds like the story that suggested users of Microsoft’s browser had a lower IQ than those who chose other browsers was an elaborate concoction. Maybe you saw this thing last week, when the media went a little hog wild with reports like InfoWorld‘s “Just how stupid are Internet Explorer users?”, Seattle Weekly‘s “Use Internet Explorer? You’re Probably Dumb, Study Says,” or Forbes‘ apparently not debatable declaration “Internet Explorer Users Are Stupid.”
The coverage catalyst: a so-called study by a company dubbed AptiQuant which claimed to measure “the effects of cognitive ability on the choice of web browser.” The company said it offered free online IQ tests to upwards of 100,000 people and “then plotted the average IQ scores based on the browser on which the test was taken.”
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“And the results are really not that surprising,” opined the company in its odd-sounding press statement. “With just a look at the graphs in the report, it comes out pretty clear that Internet Explorer users scored lower than average on the IQ tests.” Users of Camino, Opera, and “IE with Chrome Frame” had “exceptionally higher IQ levels,” claimed AptiQuant.
The title of AptiQuant’s press release: “Is Internet Explorer For The Dumb? A New Study Suggests Exactly That.”
And that sort of rhetoric, frankly, should have been all the media needed to laugh these guys out the door.
But no, it took the weekend into today for serious news outlets (like the BBC) to circle back and report on the likelihood the whole thing was a sham. It seems AptiQuant’s website was only just pulled together, and that several of its images were facsimiled from another business in Paris. The BBC reports that staff thumbnails of AptiQuant’s staff are in fact identical to those of a French research firm (the only difference: the names were changed). That, and when the BBC contacted the French company, it acknowledged being aware of the image theft, but disavowed any relationship with AptiQuant or the “study.”
Who’s really behind this apparent ruse? Let’s hope it’s just a prank and not some underhanded scheme by a rival. It’s certainly an object lesson in why rigorous source-checking—or at least more skeptical reporting—is paramount when confronting controversial claims by brazenly biased “research firms.”
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Matt Peckham is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @mattpeckham or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.