Mental Floss Magazine: The Dumbing-Down of Smart?

So I’m in the bookstore the other day, picking up the latest issue of “Skeptical Inquirer” (which is pretty good, by the way). Next to it I see this new (to me) magazine called “Mental Floss”.

It’s tagline is, “Feel Smart Again”. Well, I’ve enjoyed feeling smart in the past and would like to do so again, so I pick it up and flip through it. And I just don’t know what to think.

Here’s the website for the magazine (note: it’s got an annoying perpetual popup on it). Visiting this site only boggled me even more.

Is this “smart”? Does being able to rattle off factoids about a topic make one smart? If not, how are factoids in a magazine different from factoids in a graduate-level course?

The website says, essentially, “We take all the effort out of being smart.” This seems problematic to me. It even proudly puts up magazine reviews that refer to it as “Smarts for Dummies” and claim that you won’t want to go to your next cocktail party without having read it.

Now, I’m no genius here. In fact, I’m at a point in my life where I feel less smart than ever. And I admit that the whole thing seems kind of tongue-in-cheek. Maybe I’m thinking about this too much. I subscribe to ‘Discover’ magazine, which I enjoy and which is, I suppose, also a sort of “Science for Dummies” magazine.

What do you think? Is there any larger meaning here at all? Am I just a goofball for pondering this to any extent? Have you read the magazine and found it worthwhile or deplorable?

Gain without pain?

Lose weight without exercise?

Make money without working?

Teaching people what to think without teaching how to think is not a good idea.

Sure, parrots can speak. But can they say anything? Absolutely not.