Here’s another story of weird news that leaves me shaking my head.

I’ve just read about The Psychometrics Centre, a Strategic Research Network of the University of Cambridge. The first thing I had to do was to look up the meaning of psychometrics: “Science of psychological measurement. Psychometricians design and administer psychological tests both to generate empirical data on mental processes and to refine their understanding of measurement techniques and the statistical analysis of results. Major concerns include test reliability and validity and standardization of results.”

In other words, Strategic Research Network = a new kind of spying. It turns out that Michal Kosinki and David Stillwell of the Psychometrics Centre at the University of Cambridge could accurately predict, with varying degrees of success, whether someone used drugs, smoked, had divorced parents and leaned liberal or conservative.

And they can accomplish this all from your “likes” on Facebook! And incidentally, this Psychometric Centre page on Facebook, which I often use as a barometer of success, has only 375 “likes”. I’m not sure that small number will add a lot of credibility to this whole weird concept.

The study took the Facebook “likes,” which stay embedded in a social network page, of 60,000 volunteers in the United States. It looked at “photos, friends’ status updates, pages of products, sports, musicians, books, restaurants or popular Websites. The volunteers had from one to 700 likes each, with the average at 170.

The team was able to predict with 95 per cent certainty what race a person was, 93 per cent for gender, 88 per cent for sexual orientation, 82 per cent for religion, 73 per cent for smokers and 60 per cent for divorced parents.

Their findings? “The best predictors of high intelligence include ‘thunderstorms,’ ‘The Colbert Report,’ ‘science’ and ‘curly fries,’” the study said. “To be honest, we were mind blown when we saw the results for the first time,” Kosinski told Lesley Ciarula Taylor, news reporter at the Toronto Star.

Oh, really.

So, what does it mean if I love thunderstorms but hate science? And don’t even get me started on Stephen Colbert. And if I like straight cut fries instead of curly fries, am I suddenly not so smart anymore? What kind of science do I have to like? The science of psychological measurement perhaps, or would that be too incestuous?

Or what does it mean if I like curly fries and I am Stephen Colbert? Has anyone asked Mr. Colbert this important stuff? Does he realize that his quest for stardom has just been moved ahead several points with these survey findings? How does he feel about curly fries?

Graduates of Cambridge University have won a total of 65 Nobel Prizes, the most of any university in the world. But Kosinki? Don’t buy your ticket to Sweden just yet.

The social scientist in Kosinki imagines a day when a person’s Smartphone will be able to predict what they want far more accurately than a spouse, something he finds exciting “but also creepy.”

Creepy. Right.


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