Monday, January 08, 2007


The center of the universe

A Google/YouTube video's become popular recently, depicting a supposedly real clip from the French version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" in which both the contestant and 56% of the audience think that the sun, not the moon is what revolves around the earth. (One link is here (about 3 minutes long).)

The comment posted with the video in the link above says, "This really happened on 13 July 2006 on the first French TV channel, seen by millions of people, and it is alarming..."

In the video, we see the contestant agonizing over the question, "Qu'est-ce qui gravite autour de la Terre?" — What revolves around the Earth? — as the host tells him to take his time. Presented with the choices (A) La Lune (the moon), (B) Le Soleil (the sun), (C) Mars, and (D) Vénus, he seems to have not the slightest idea. He decides to ask the audience for advice. The audience is polled, told to answer "if you know", and the result is that 56% respond that it's the sun, 42% say it's the moon, and 2% choose Mars (and, well, no one is stupid enough to think it's Venus!).

With this input, the contestant is willing to rule out (C) and (D), but still isn't sure, as the host points out that it's pretty even, pretty much 50/50. He says, tentatively, that he'll go with (B), the sun, and the host asks if that's his last word. He chews on it a bit more, and finally says, yes, the sun, that's his last word, at which point there's a notable titter from the audience. Were they trying to hose him with their answers?

The host turns to Sophie, apparently the contestant's fiancée, if I understand the end correctly, the only person in the audience who appears to be wearing anything with any colour (which seems suspicious), and says that she doesn't look happy. No, she isn't. He asks why. Because I don't think that's it, she says. She thinks it's the moon. Good for Sophie. And the host reveals that it is indeed the moon. "Merde," responds the contestant. He goes off with his winnings of 1500 euros, and one wonders what sorts of questions he had to answer to get that.

So my question is this:
Did it really happen on TV like that, or is it a bogus video? Or if it did happen, was it some sort of put-on? It's easy for me to believe that the contestant is a moron. It's not easy for me to believe that 56% of the audience are morons too.

Does anyone know how to confirm this? Web searches I've tried have only turned up many copies of the video, but nothing that would help attest to its authenticity. Any ideas out there?

(Hat tip to Paul for pointing out the video.)


Paul said...

I had a discussion about this with a friend. We both felt that there may have been several factors that contributed to the result. First, the wording of the question may have confounded some people. Second, the correct answer was the first selection, which people may have been cognitively biased against choosing. People may have believed that the show would not have put the correct answer first. Add to that the fact that the audience is only given a few seconds to vote, and I am not surprised by the result. Nor do I think the result would have been different in the USA.

Yes, I believe this is an authentic clip.

Bertrand said...

1) I'm French (nobody's perfect)
2) As far as I can tell the clip is authentic (this is really the usual host of the show)
3) The show is sneered at by the cognoscenti and is well known for the complete lack of scientific culture of its participants.
4) This kind of show is boring if you know more than the contestant, hence the public is likely to not know much better.
5) Or the public is evil and wanted the contestant to lose.
6) In any case it seems a bit far-fetched to jump to conclusions about the French from one 3-minutes TV clip without background. Looking at american TV one could find 3-minutes extract demonstrating that Americans are violent, or sexually obsessed, or stupid, or ignorant, or all together, including extracts featuring recent president or vice-presidents.
7) I'm not sure the American public at large (including the part which doesn't use internet, which is still mostly used by educated people) would have a very different answer about such astronomy questions.
8) It is obvious that Americans love to hate the French (they make nice villains (Indiana Jones, Independance Day, Ocean's 12)). Of course, the French, who are just a bunch of arrogant cheese-eating surrendering monkeys, don't give a damn.

Barry Leiba said...

Well, unlike many of the commenters to the video clips, I never had any thought of using this as intellectual ammunition against the French. I certainly think the US public would do no better than the French public on such questions, but, rather, was just incredulous that any sizable group of hoi polloi would get it so wrong.

But Bertrand's got very good points on that with (3) and (4) — this isn't a representative sample of the (French) public, and is self-selective toward the morons.

I'll buy that.

Thanks for the comments, guys; I appreciate it.

Maybe the next question for the show should be “Quelle est la plus petite planète dans le système solaire ?”