The internet is talking about a report that says 10% of American college graduates think reality TV star Judge Judy serves on the Supreme Court.
The 10% factoid comes from a report called A Crisis in Civil Education produced by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, but if you look at the actual question that appeared in the survey, you’ll see that’s not really true, at least not in the way everybody seems to think. The survey asked
Which of the following people serves on the U.S. Supreme Court?
Participants then had to choose one of the following four names as their answer:
Lawrence Warren Pierce
(Note that “Judge Judy” doesn’t appear anywhere on this list. Nobody picked out “Judge Judy” by that name as a Supreme Court justice.)
If you’re familiar with multiple choice testing, it’s not hard to figure out how people came up with their answers. Some of them simply recognized Elena Kagan as a Supreme Court justice and gave that answer. In fact, Kagan was the most common answer, chosen by 61.6% of college graduates and 44% of the general public. In other words, almost two thirds of college graduates got the right answer, as did almost half of the general public. I guess that particular factoid didn’t fit the narrative.
People who didn’t recognize Elena Kagan’s name would have had to guess an answer. If they happened to recognize any of the other names as someone not on the Supreme Court, they could use process of elimination to narrow down the list. They might, for example, recognize John Kerry as the current Secretary of State, former Senator, and former Presidential contender. Note, however, that eliminating Kerry does not depend on their knowledge of the U.S. Supreme Court, but on their knowledge of the Obama Administration, the Senate, or Presidential election politics.
The same is true for “Judge Judy.” Unless survey participants knew enough about reality TV shows to recognize Judith Sheindlin as the real name of “Judge Judy,” they would have no basis for eliminating her name as a possible answer. And if they couldn’t eliminate her, then Judith Sheindlin is just one of several unrecognized people who might or might not be a Supreme Court justice.
In other words, the most we can say from this survey is that of the 38.4% of people who didn’t recognize Elena Kagan, at least 1/4 of them also didn’t recognize Judith Sheindlin as “Judge Judy.”
It’s not as funny that way, though.