Tuesday, November 17, 2015

are you trivial or dishonest?

via Kevin Drum, I came across a PDF of a "scientific" study of honesty. The researcher posted a quiz about music and invited people from various countries to answer the questions, instructing them not to look up the answers on the Internet, while offering a small prize if they got them all right. Then he figured that if they did get them all right, they probably cheated. (Results: every country is full of cheats, but Chinese cheat the most, British the least.)

Although he had various ways of checking this hypothesis - varying the size of the prize to see if that varied the results; putting the same quiz to proctored students to see how well they did - I'm a little more doubtful.

Naturally, this being a quiz on music, I had to see how well I'd do myself. "To minimize the test's cultural bias," it says, there were 3 questions on pop music with "global name recognition" and 2 on classical, which "is also known in non-Western societies." Let's pass by the skeptical looks at these assumptions, shall we? Here's the quiz:

1. Who wrote the composition "Für Elise"?
2. What is Lady Gaga's real first name?
3. Name the drummer of the rock group Nirvana.
4. In what year was Claude Debussy born?
5. How many valves are there on a standard modern trumpet?
6. Name the town and state of the US where Michael Jackson was born.

It's "Questions 2, 4 and 6 [that] were designed to be very difficult for almost anyone to answer, but very easy to look up online." Easy to look up, sure, but very difficult for almost anyone to answer? Having spent years looking at classical catalog listings, I can rattle off the life dates of dozens of composers offhand, and Debussy is among them. What's more, though I had to guess where Michael Jackson was born, I guessed right. And I don't even know very much about Michael Jackson, but I do know what city the Jackson 5 came out of, and according to Wikipedia he was born there too. Ta-da. As for Lady Gaga's real name, I looked her up a while ago to find out who the heck she was, and if I'd only remembered the name I'd have gotten that right too.

And the supposedly easier questions ... #1 is no problem for me, but I'd put even money on whether I'd have gotten #5 right; and the drummer for Nirvana? Look, all I could tell you offhand about the membership of Nirvana is that it was Kurt Cobain and ... some other guys, just like the way the Doors were Jim Morrison and ... some other guys, and that's all I have even though I've seen the Oliver Stone bio-pic. I could name you the drummer of the Beatles; will that do? I could even name you the previous drummer of the Beatles. I could name you the drummer of the Who. I could probably remember the name of the drummer of the Rolling Stones. But for really famous rock groups, that's about as far as I go.

So I'd get between 3 and 5 right (2 of the 3 being "difficult" ones) out of 6, depending on how well my memory was working. How about you?

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