Why H. L. Mencken is popular with nerds

By Razib Khan | November 19, 2010 4:49 pm

The 800-Pound Mama Grizzly Problem:

Ms. Palin, in fact, draws almost as much search traffic worldwide as the man she would face if she wins the Republican nomination: Barack Obama. And her name is searched for about 30 percent more often than the President’s among Google users in the United States.

Some members of Ms. Palin’s family also draw as much attention has the other Presidential contenders. Todd Palin, her husband, gets about as much search traffic as Mr. Pawlenty. Bristol Palin, her daughter (and a finalist on “Dancing With the Stars”), gets several times more than any of them (as does her former boyfriend, Levi Johnston).

I thought of this News IQ Quiz from Pew. I got 12 out of 12, which apparently places me in the top 1% of quiz takers? The only question I hesitated on was #11 for what it’s worth. Check out how different demographics do in the aggregate and by question:


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  • Sandgroper

    I’m amused only 15% of people know who the Prime Minister of the UK is. I’d love to know how many people thought it was Angela Merkel.

  • Sandgroper

    Plus I’m very surprised so few people knew the annual inflation rate.

  • http://shinbounomatsuri.wordpress.com Spike Gomes


    I got that one wrong. Economics is MEGO territory to me. I got 9 out of 12. I suppose I should pay more attention to the economic news.

  • trajan23

    I got 11 out of 12. I missed the one about the name for the Google operating system for smartphones. Guess I’m a luddite.

  • Kip Ezra

    I also got 12 out of 12. A little hard to believe only 1% got that far. Not sure what it means though.

  • Sandgroper

    Spike, it’s boring to me. I have been forcing myself to take an interest since the GFC and witnessing a few real estate bubbles, purely for self-preservation, and the more I have learned, the less boring it has become, but it’s still a chore.

    I’m witnessing a slowly leaking pricked bubble right now.

  • Kiwiguy

    I got 11 & I live in NZ :-) I got the TARP question wrong (I guessed less than half had been repaid). I’m surprised that less than 30% of the college grads knew David Cameron was the UK PM.

  • hjufffd

    I gave the inflation rate as closer to 5% but that’s the only one I missed.

    As for the booboise, their numbers are really quite astoundingly low.

    I recently spent an evening with a family with 2 kids in school and none of them had any association at all for the year 1776 and didn’t know what I was talking about when I referred to the American Revolution.

    They did know who Obama was but didn’t seem to know who Palin was.

  • http://ironrailsironweights.wordpress.com/ Peter

    I got 10 of 12 correct and was in the 94th percentile. The two I got wrong was the name of the Google operating system for smartphones (had no idea Google was behind Android), and the top federal expenditure (thought it was interest not defense).

  • Sandgroper

    Compare that with China’s expenditure on defence, and wonder why America is paranoid about China. Americans should not be paranoid about China militarily, but economically – they own you.

  • Don

    12/12 correct. Great for my ego.

  • http://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile_canadian_initi/ Nick Rowe

    I am stunned that only 30% of *college* grads knew/guessed the inflation rate was 1%, rather than 5% or higher.

    It doesn’t really matter if few people can name the UK PM. They don’t need to know. But if most people think the inflation rate is 5%, they will be making lots of mistakes that matter.

    I got 12/12. But I also got lucky!

  • jb

    I got all 12 questions right, although I was a little uncertain about one or two.

    I see however that four percent of the respondents got every question wrong, and I’m at a loss to understand how that could happen! The thing is, if everyone taking the test had guessed randomly on every question, the percentage who got everything wrong should have been about 1.5. Since most of the people taking the test were not guessing randomly, and since anyone with even a minimal knowledge of current affairs is almost certain to get at least a few questions right, the percentage who got everything wrong should have been much lower than that. So how could four percent have gotten all the questions wrong? Maybe people who dropped out of the test in the middle were still counted? If so, that would depress the scores for the later questions.

  • http://www.iSteve.blogspot.com Steve Sailer

    I recall my economics professor asking a class full of economics majors in 1978 what had been the inflation rate in 1976. We almost all over-estimated it because we remembered the forecasts at the beginning of the year of high inflation but not the actually result of surprisingly low inflation.

  • rick

    12/12 as well, lucky guess on the inflation rate though for me.

    My age group performed fairly dismally overall; I guess I won’t be too excited in the future when I hear “young voter turnout was high in this election”

  • http://rxnm.wordpress.com/ miko

    I don’t know how anyone who has been spending money for more than 5 years cannot work out that there is no way that any of those inflation rates make sense except ~1%. That said, I missed the one about TARPs.

    Everything that is not social security, medicare, and military is peanuts (though I think interest is fourth). All this talk about earkmarks or cutting the budget anywhere else is electioneering nonsense meant to rile up innumerate morons. And of course, mortal fear of touching the military or entitlements. Thusly are we screwed.

  • jld

    I see however that four percent of the respondents got every question wrong, and I’m at a loss to understand how that could happen!

    That doesn’t necessarily mean anything, they might have done what I did, just browsing through without giving any answer, just to see the topics.

  • https://bluetenlese.wordpress.com M. Möhling

    I sucked with 8/12, but so did the website’s scripting, it should have been 9/12. Anyway, the European nanny state dumbed me down so I missed the econ stuff (though only by little), as I get my money from the bank.

  • Sandgroper

    I forgot to mention 12/12, me.

    But that’s no credit to me, I can’t afford not to watch America closely, given how hugely it affects everything that happens in the whole world. Post GFC, it’s suicidal not to. But then it’s suicidal not to watch what is happening in the EU also.

    I agree with Nick, the name of the UK PM is totally irrelevant, I just found it funny, given my feelings towards the British (not hugely positive, certain individuals excepted), but nothing else in the quiz is.

    I’m just interested that some tech moron like me outside the USA watches American politics and economics more closely than the majority of quiz-takers inside do. Australia has a big interest invested in America, given the ANZUS treaty and that you guys saved our arses in WWII (that’s somewhat debatable among military historians, the Japanese were over-extended in PNG and there was bitter disagreement between the Japanese army and navy, but you Yanks turned things around in the Coral Sea with us in a minor supporting role, while we turned them back on the Kokoda Trail – but it was just a matter of time, sooner or later they would have over-run us, and my Dad and his mates hiding behind the first line of sand dunes with their Owen submachine guns and grenades would have done their capable best but weren’t going to hold them for long), but even so, we’re talking money, not national defence.

    That’s why we’re there with you in Iraq and Afghanistan, BTW, we never forgot that you fought shoulder to shoulder with us in PNG, or the Battle of the Coral Sea. We’re tiny and irrelevant, but we’re with you, and I think always will be. But we’re selling our resources to China, because that’s where the money is. Don’t fear them militarily, they are not expansionist militarily. But economically, this is a big problem for the USA. It’s not for Australia, we used to be their farm, and now we are their mine.

  • pconroy

    12/12 – but had to guess #3

    I wonder how many US residents thought the UK Prime Minister was Tony Hayward – currently the top of the Most Hated Brit list!

  • Kiwiguy

    ***It doesn’t really matter if few people can name the UK PM. They don’t need to know.***

    I think it points to a worrying lack of awareness or interest in world events.

    Admittedly, as a NZ’er we’re so small that we do focus more on external political/economic developments.

  • Matt B.

    Woo-hoo! 12 out of 12. I’m surprised at Razib’s hesitation on #11–the military’s about 50% of the budget.

    I bet most people have no idea of the inflation rate, but I got it right because normal is around 3% and we’re in a recession now, meaning slow growth.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Woo-hoo! 12 out of 12. I’m surprised at Razib’s hesitation on #11–the military’s about 50% of the budget.

    hm. i think you’re surprised because you’re wrong ;=)


    it’s 50% of the discretionary budget. same order of magnitude as medicare, which isn’t discretionary.

  • Laura

    12 out of 12, which is surprising because I rarely read the news. And my dog’s name is H. L. Mencken…


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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