College Quiz Reflects Actual Research; Student Freaks Out, Blames “Liberal Spin”

Ohio State, it seems to me,
Despises Christianity;
The answers to this latest quiz
Are biased toward the way things is,
Instead of, if I might be blunt,
A bias toward the things I want—
And so I’m going on the hunt.

I’ll call the press, and force the prof
To take this truthful question off!
This “science” can’t be in our book
(I must admit, I didn’t look,
Or I’d have seen the study there)
Or if it is, I do not care!
It makes me mad, so it’s not fair!

I don’t care what the study shows—
It’s crap, as everybody know!
Liberal bias, it’s plain to see
Pervades this “University”!
But I know best—I won’t be fooled!
This “published study”? Overruled!
You can’t teach me! I won’t be schooled!

This one is really quite funny. An undergrad at Ohio State University saw a question that reflected some uncomfortable research findings, and the shit has hit the fan:

An Ohio State University (OSU) class has apparently determined another fundamental difference between Christians and atheists: their IQ points.

An online quiz from the school’s Psychology 1100 class, provided to Campus Reform via tip, asked students to pick which scenario they found most likely given that “Theo has an IQ of 100 and Aine has an IQ of 125.”

The correct answer? “Aine is an atheist, while Theo is a Christian.”

Except that the OSU class had nothing to do with the determination; the question is from an online quiz that is part of the book’s ancillary package, apparently. Chapter 10 of the class’s textbook examines intelligence, apparently including some of the empirical evidence on correlations between IQ tests and various demographics (The other possible answers seem to show that the book also mentioned correlations between IQ and political conservatism/liberalism, and between IQ and earning power, but those answers were phrased to be the opposite of what the studies actually show, and thus were clearly incorrect).

According to a student in the class who wished to remain anonymous, the question was a part of an online homework quiz. Students were required to complete a certain amount of quizzes throughout the course but were encouraged to finish all of them in order to prep for the final exam.

“I understand that colleges have a liberal spin on things so it didn’t surprise me to see the question, which is a sad thing,” the student told Campus Reform in a phone interview. “But how can you really measure which religion has a higher IQ?”

Well, my guess is that this question is answered in the textbook the student apparently did not read. A recent paper, likely the source of the information asked about in the quiz, was a meta-analysis of 63 studies that apparently were able to do what this student finds impossible. (The paper proposes a number of different causal mechanisms, none of which boil down to “Christians are dumber than atheists”, as the CampusReform article headline puts it.) The question also has a “report this question” button, but I suppose calling Campus Reform is more fun. Besides, martyrdom:

“Colleges will tolerate pretty much any religion other than Christianity,” the OSU student said. “If colleges really want to give everyone a fair shot, they should stay away from making comments about any religion.”

Oddly enough, Cuttledaughter worked in an OSU lab–a biological research lab, with some heavy hitter profs. She was the only atheist in the lab, and felt she had to keep quiet when various discussions took place around the lunch table (at which, btw, grace was said. every day. in a science lab. because colleges tolerate pretty much any religion other than Christianity), like talk about the War against Christmas or the Jackson, OH school portrait of Jesus. I also have friends who are faculty at OSU; every one of them is Christian.

In sum… the question reflected real research, and was fair game to ask. The student, uncomfortable, chose to go to newspapers rather than through available channels. And whether or not a University opposes or panders to a given religion may well be mostly in the eye of the beholder.


  1. busterggi says

    “But how can you really measure which religion has a higher IQ?”

    Well, religions don’t have any IQ’s – they aren’t people but are collections of interwoven concepts.

    And for not understanding that, our religious student provides further evidence that what he objects to is true.

  2. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    (The paper proposes a number of different causal mechanisms, none of which boil down to “Christians are dumber than atheists”, as the CampusReform article headline puts it.)

    Of course not. That’s the effect. It would be nonsensical and/or tautological (depending on phrasing) to say it’s the cause.

    Dependent vs. Independent variables and all that.

  3. aziraphale says

    The question did not ask students to pick which scenario they found most likely, but “Which of the following statements do you expect to be true?” Since atheists are rare in the US, I think the correct answer is “None of the above”, since none of them is more likely to be true than not, given only that information. It’s a badly designed question.

    Of course that’s not why the Christians dislike it.

  4. CatMat says

    I don’t think it would be constructive to prefix every question with “Based on the assigned source material, ”
    If the students think the quiz is actually a poll, that’s kind of indicative of something in itself.

    We have been strong
    Guarding so long
    With a fight
    Someone’s right
    To be wrong

    Surely you jest
    That was a test
    All it took:
    Read the book
    State your best

  5. Kevin Kehres says

    aziraphale is right.

    The question completely ignores the base rate. It’s more likely that both are Christian, given the predominance of that religion in the general (US) population. And only a 6% or so chance that either is an atheist.

    Very, very bad question. Which makes one wonder where the critical thinking skills of the test writer went.

  6. Cuttlefish says

    Heh. If any of my students could show that consideration of base rate data would both invalidate the desired answer as being reasonable, while simultaneously taking one of the other options and now making it the clear favorite, I would gladly give her (I can think of a grand total of two of my students who have done the equivalent of that, and both were women) credit. And of course, there was that “report this question” button.

    This is an introductory level class. They haven’t had statistics yet, which would likely not include Bayesian analysis in a first semester anyway. Depending on the book, they have probably not yet looked at social cognition, and have had no exposure to the base rate fallacy.

    Bottom line is, the complaint the student had was not at all the same (reasonable, if high-level) complaint anyone here is making. There is good reason to believe that anyone who read the chapter would have known what answer was called for.

  7. CatMat says

    @Cuttlefish #7,
    Good teachers are like that.

    It has been long since my school days, but I seem to recall that it was alright to disagree with the “correct” answer as long as you were able to
    1) demonstrate you knew what the “correct” answer was
    2) explain why it was not actually correct

    I did this a few times back in the days, mostly for Maths and Physics, a couple of times in English and once or twice in Biology. In all cases the effort was rewarded, not punished.

    The teachers are not there to force feed factoids, they are learning facilitators: the good ones actually get giddy when it’s the student that finds actual fault in the teaching materials, especally if it’s because of information they have acquired on their own.

    This does not scale to students that disagree with the answer because they don’t like it.

  8. Cuttlefish says

    Heh–I had one textbook I used, with a particular definition of one concept that was unbelievably bad. I told my students outright that if I asked for a definition of that concept and they quoted the book’s, I would count it as wrong. Of course, if they could explain it, they would get full credit back.

    no one even tried.

  9. Kevin Kehres says

    Well, you’re saying that they should have chosen the “least wrong” answer…which I still think is horrible teaching. Especially when you’re going to have to teach this same student the correct concepts later on…anyone with a memory is going to go “WTF”?

    Not condoning the whole “poor me” response from a Christian; just thinking that educators can do better.

  10. Cuttlefish says

    Without a lot more info about the course, I can’t either condemn nor condone it. There are very legitimate arguments one can make based on a scientific approach to teaching and learning; the best way to present a concept changes as students progress from fresh-out-of-high-school to seniors. (cf. It is possible that the question in question had been thoroughly tested and found a good predictor of understanding; it is entirely possible that it is only now in testing, or that it was just some test-writer’s odd notion.

    Again, you may well be spot-on here, but there is not enough information in the story to know.

  11. Randomfactor says

    This is a pretty unfair question to be asking. Previous studies have shown that insisting that the general population of America consider the existence of atheists results in a drop in their logical abilities.

  12. Someguy Really says

    “Tyrone has an IQ of 100 and John has an IQ of 125.”
    The correct answer? “Tyrone is an African American, while John is an European.”
    The above also reflects reality but PC liberal universities would never have something like that as an option. White atheist males have higher IQs compared to colored religious third-worlders.

  13. Cuttlefish says

    Really, Someguy? I have friends in the psych department; they tell me that the relationships between race and IQ have long been studied–perhaps more than any other demographic variable. The IQ gap you speak of is certainly there, though it is shrinking rapidly and substantially. Whether it shows a bias in testing (as the Black Intelligence Test of Cultural Homogeneity cleverly argued) or the effect of impoverished environment, the rapid change argues strongly against any sort of genetic reason.

    “PC liberal universities” are a convenient hypothetical; all the best counter-examples are always hypothetical, aren’t they? Did you notice the third option on the quiz? The data show that liberals score more highly than conservatives on average, too. Maybe there is something problematic about those tests, after all.

  14. Someguy Really says

    IQ IS genetic. Colored 3rd worlders aren’t intellectually inferior because they are religious but rather they are religious because they are intellectually inferior. Religion attracts stupid people. No amount of secularism or atheism is going to save the backward 3rd worlders. We, as atheists, are working toward an atheist society where true social and scientific progress is possible. But unfortunately we have some liberal atheists in denial about this reality of IQ differences among different races, so they have no problem bringing in more religious low IQ 3rd worlders, who are nothing but parasites, to the secular west, making it even more difficult for us to achieve our goal.

    Following quotes are from liberal atheist scientists who explain why IQ is genetic and why races aren’t equal in their intellectual capacities:

    “[I am] inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa [because] all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours—whereas all the testing says not really.”

    “There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so.”
    — James Watson

    “It is an article of passionate faith among “politically correct” biologists and anthropologists that brain size has no connection with intelligence; that intelligence has nothing to do with genes; and that genes are probably nasty fascist things anyway.”- Richard Dawkins

    “The position of environmentalists that over the course of some 100,000 years peoples separated by geographical barriers in different parts of the world evolved into ten different races with pronounced genetic differences in morphology, blood groups, and the incidence of genetic diseases, and yet have identical genotypes for intelligence, is so improbable that those who advance it must either be totally ignorant of the basic principles of evolutionary biology or else have a political agenda to deny the importance of race.”-Richard Lynn

  15. Cuttlefish says

    I saw the creationist Duane Gish speak once. He was better at quote-mining than you are.

    You misunderstand genetics greatly if you think it works in the absence of environmental differences. Given your vocabulary, I suspect that misunderstanding is intentional. You’ve spoken your piece here, and now you are no longer welcome. For other readers, there is a literature spanning decades, available in peer reviewed journals you can probably access at your local library.

  16. says

    Oh nice. Mind if I field that?

    Yeah it’s a common belief. One small problem?

    Africa’s lack of development would give it a major drive towards higher potential IQ.

    Let us say a lack of development stunts IQ. It does. Bad diet and the like has a large negative effect on IQ. Kids simply don’t learn if they are starving. Then let us say that Africans in certain parts who lived Nomadic and Hunter/Gatherer and Slash/Burn lifestyles were subject to ecological pressure.

    They weren’t subject to ecological pressures to be stupid. Stupid Masai and San died. Those who made mistakes inevitably made fatal ones. Stupid Masai and San died. This was generally the way with us.

    So if IQ is genetic, then chances are it is us who are stupid. It is us who protect the lion pokers and snake prodders. If the IQ test of the sudoku is so important then imagine how important the IQ test of tracking is? Your Sudoku never ripped an arm off while it seems to be the raison d’etre of leopards.

    So we look at these people and go “Stupid San! They don’t have iPhones and Pumpkin Spice Latte and Justin Bieber.” but we forget that if we were dropped into their IQ test we would probably not make it.

    I don’t know about you but I do not know how to buil a bow and arrow, don’t know how to make hunting poisons and still go “HOLY FUCK! RATS!”. I suppose medical training makes me less squeamish about dealing with dead animals but frankly? I would die. And some 12 year old San kid would probably walk by going “Dumbass”.


  17. Chaos-Engineer says

    The correct answer? “Tyrone is an African American, while John is an European.”
    The above also reflects reality but PC liberal universities would never have something like that as an option.

    Well, yes. As the question was originally phrased, it works against common prejudices and encourages students to think more deeply about what they’re seeing: Are there any other factors that should be considered? For example, is it possible that educated atheists are more likely to be “out of the closet” than less-educated atheists? Or that people who consider themselves to be unintelligent are more likely to agree with the majority when they’re unsure about something?

    The problem with your phrasing of the question is that it works in support of existing prejudices and so doesn’t encourage students to think. There’s a certain type of person who would hear that, carefully write down “African-Americans are stoooopid” in their notebooks, with the word “stoooopid” underlined three times in hopes that it will cause the question to appear on a test, and then think no more about it until the night before the final exam,.

    I knew people like that in college. They’d spend four or five or six years there and somehow manage to graduate without having learned a single thing. It was sad.

    Also, based on his name, I’m guessing that Tyrone is a member of House Lannister and most likely has blond hair and green eyes.

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