Einstein’s Intelligence Quiz: Bogus number and Phony statistic
Somebody posted this link on reddit. It’s a logical quiz called “Einstein’s Intelligence Quiz”, it’s challenging, I had fun solving it. Try it; it should keep you busy 20 minutes or more.
This test is also known as the Zebra Puzzle. And there is no prof that Einstein wrote it.
At the top of the page and you can read:
[Einstein] said that 98% of the people in the world cannot solve the quiz.
I guess this sentence was added to challenge the reader, being in the top 2% of the world population is something most would proud of. Oh … this is also a typical example of doubtful statistic.
Prefixing a statement with “Einstein said …” makes it true
Attributing this sentence to Einstein is a deceptive way of making it authoritative.
“Einstein was soooo smart, this is certainly true!”
Sorry but Einstein was a physicist; not a statistician or a psychologist. He was not qualified to give such number. One could argue that the statistical background to calculate reliably such a number is basic, and that Einstein could have mastered it very easily. That may be true, but to support this number, a representative sample of the world population is needed. And you can’t give such a precise number with only 10 or 20 people.
For example when giving the test to 10 people the maximum failure rate you can have is 90%. If all 10 fail, then the failure rate is 100%, which is too high. If only 9 fail it’s 90%.
The get a rate of 98% you need at least 50 participants: 1 who succeeds and 49 who fail. Einstein was a loner, it’s unlikely he would have carried such an experiment.
I don’t believe Einstein pulled this number out of his ass either. He was a scientist, he knew that such number would be bogus without a proper evaluation. He would probably have said “Most people” instead of “98% of the people”.
“OK, maybe Einstein did not say such thing. That does not necessarily make this number bogus.”
The number is bogus no matter who is behind it. There is no context, which raises several objections about its validity:
There is no time limit to the test. I am not aware of any test measuring intelligence which does not have a time limit. This alone makes this number irrelevant.
The world population’s intelligence tends to raise. Access to a better education system makes a big difference. So when was this sentence supposed to be true? If this test was “validated” in the 50’s, it’s clear that this number does not hold anymore. IQ test are “normed” every 20 years or so. To be relevant today this quiz should certainly be changed to make sure 98% of today’s world population fails it; or the number itself should be changed.
The sample “98% of the people in the world” is dubious. Did the sampling really included a significant amount of people from poor regions of India, China, or Africa? Even now reaching these people is difficult. A sample composed mainly of Europeans and Americas is much more likely If anything was done to validate this “98%”.
Of course there is no statistical details about the number. What was the margin of error or the number of participants for example? Today’s world is very found of numbers without context, such details are usually omitted. They are nonetheless important, each omission of those statistical details should raise suspicion.
My guess is: this number was invented to stimulate readers to do the quiz and was not supported by any actual data. I wonder how many people successfully completed the quiz are proudly claimed to be in the top 2% of the world population.
Statistics are more and more important in today’s world. Lots of decisions are based on them. It’s still difficult to make good decisions based on good statistics, let alone those based on bad ones…
I am not a statistician, and my knowledge is limited. But aberrant numbers like this one are easy to spot. I recommend you to read How to Lie with Statistics, an excellent introduction to statistics for the layman. If you are a programmer I also the recommend Zed Shaw’s article Programmers Need To Learn Statistics Or I Will Kill Them All.