How Are Q Scores Calculated?

Kristian Dowling / Getty Images
Kristian Dowling / Getty Images

When celebrities go off the deep end, we’ll hear folks say they've “damaged their Q rating.” What does that really mean? What is a Q Score in the first place? Let’s take a look at the mysterious numbers.

How are Q Scores calculated?

The methodology behind the mysterious ratings is actually fairly straightforward. Marketing Evaluations, Inc. polls a representative national sample about performers, brands, TV shows, or some other property. First, it asks respondents if they’ve heard of the performer or show. If a respondent has heard of the relevant entity, the survey asks if they would rate it poor, fair, good, very good, or one of their favorites.

From there, calculating the Q Score is just a quick bit of division. Divide the percentage of people who peg a performer or show as one of their favorites by the percentage of people who have heard of the entity in the first place, drop the decimal points, and you’ve got your Q Score.

For example, according to a 1992 New York Times story, Jaleel White – yep, Steve Urkel – was the day’s top dog when it came to Q Score, narrowly edging out incumbent champ Bill Cosby. While only 53 percent of all respondents were familiar with White, 26 percent of all respondents listed White as one of their favorite performers, which racked up a stout Q Score of 49.

What does the Q stand for?

This simple division is also what gives the score its name. The “Q” stands for “quotient.”

Why do networks and advertisers care so much about favorites?

For all the reasons you’d guess. The Q Scores website explains that consumers or viewers who are exposed to one of their favorite performers or personalities are more likely to be attentive, will have higher recall, and will retain a more positive image of the brand, product, or show in question.

Is there just one Q Score?

Not even close. Marketing Evaluations, Inc. maintains several different Q Score databases, including ones for personalities (both living and dead), sports personalities, characters and licensed properties, TV shows, and consumer brands. There’s also a Cartoon Q that polls a nationwide group of 1800 kids every six months. These databases can be further sorted by age, income level, and similar variables.

Who uses these numbers?

Advertisers and media execs pay big cash for access to the Q Score database. Apparently the numbers can really come in handy when it’s time to cast a new show or sign a new spokesperson.

Any oddball firsts on the list of Q Scores?

Definitely. In August 2000 IBM announced that its chess-playing supercomputer Deep Blue had become the first computer to earn a Q Score. Interestingly, Deep Blue was still on the national radar even three years after the computer’s highly publicized victory over chess Grandmaster Gary Kasparov. IBM’s press release announcing the score revealed that Deep Blue had earned a Q Score of 9, which put the computer in the same league as Larry King, Carmen Electra, Howard Stern, and Carson Daly. (Since we know you were wondering – that figure also put Deep Blue a tick ahead of Gilbert Gottfried and Count Chocula.)

Even better for IBM, Deep Blue’s score put the computer well ahead of the 6 rating earned by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and Sun Microsystems co-found Scott McNealy.

Who else has a particularly high Q Score?

CNN’s coverage of Deep Blue’s pioneering Q Score in 2000 listed a few other people and characters with particularly high ratings. At the time, Albert Einstein boasted a stout 56, Mickey Mouse was good for a 44, and Elvis’ Q Score was a decidedly not-dead 33.

What’s the best way to crater your Q Score?

Ask LeBron James. After the basketball star announced he was leaving Cleveland for Miami in his televised “The Decision” special last summer, his Q Score plummeted from 24 to 14. The good news for LeBron is that his Q Score has recovered slightly; reports from last month indicated that his score had crept its way back up to 17.

What is Mercury in Retrograde, and Why Do We Blame Things On It?

NASA
NASA

Crashed computers, missed flights, tensions in your workplace—a person who subscribes to astrology would tell you to expect all this chaos and more when Mercury starts retrograding. For 2020, that means February 17 through March 10; June 18 through July 12; and October 14 through November 3. But according to an astronomer, this common celestial phenomenon is no reason to stay cooped up at home for weeks at a time.

"We don't know of any physical mechanism that would cause things like power outages or personality changes in people," Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, tells Mental Floss. So if Mercury doesn’t throw business dealings and relationships out of whack when it appears to change direction in the sky, why are so many people convinced that it does?

The History of "Mercury in Retrograde"

Mercury retrograde—as it's technically called—was being written about in astrology circles as far back as the mid-18th century. The event was noted in British agricultural almanacs of the time, which farmers would read to sync their planting schedules to the patterns of the stars. During the spiritualism craze of the Victorian era, interest in astrology boomed, with many believing that the stars affected the Earth in a variety of (often inconvenient) ways. Late 19th-century publications like The Astrologer’s Magazine and The Science of the Stars connected Mercury retrograde with heavy rainfall. Characterizations of the happening as an "ill omen" also appeared in a handful of articles during that period, but its association with outright disaster wasn’t as prevalent then as it is today.

While other spiritualist hobbies like séances and crystal gazing gradually faded, astrology grew even more popular. By the 1970s, horoscopes were a newspaper mainstay and Mercury retrograde was a recurring player. Because the Roman god Mercury was said to govern travel, commerce, financial wealth, and communication, in astrological circles, Mercury the planet became linked to those matters as well.

"Don’t start anything when Mercury is retrograde," an April 1979 issue of The Baltimore Sun instructed its readers. "A large communications organization notes that magnetic storms, disrupting messages, are prolonged when Mercury appears to be going backwards. Mercury, of course, is the planet associated with communication." The power attributed to the event has become so overblown that today it's blamed for everything from digestive problems to broken washing machines.

What is Mercury in Retrograde?

Though hysteria around Mercury retrograde is stronger than ever, there's still zero evidence that it's something we should worry about. Even the flimsiest explanations, like the idea that the gravitational pull from Mercury influences the water in our bodies in the same way that the moon controls the tides, are easily deflated by science. "A car 20 feet away from you will exert a stronger pull of gravity than the planet Mercury does," Dr. Hammergren says.

To understand how little Mercury retrograde impacts life on Earth, it helps to learn the physical process behind the phenomenon. When the planet nearest to the sun is retrograde, it appears to move "backwards" (east to west rather than west to east) across the sky. This apparent reversal in Mercury's orbit is actually just an illusion to the people viewing it from Earth. Picture Mercury and Earth circling the sun like cars on a racetrack. A year on Mercury is shorter than a year on Earth (88 Earth days compared to 365), which means Mercury experiences four years in the time it takes us to finish one solar loop.

When the planets are next to one another on the same side of the sun, Mercury looks like it's moving east to those of us on Earth. But when Mercury overtakes Earth and continues its orbit, its straight trajectory seems to change course. According to Dr. Hammergren, it's just a trick of perspective. "Same thing if you were passing a car on a highway, maybe going a little bit faster than they are," he says. "They're not really going backwards, they just appear to be going backwards relative to your motion."

Embedded from GIFY

Earth's orbit isn't identical to that of any other planet in the solar system, which means that all the planets appear to move backwards at varying points in time. Planets farther from the sun than Earth have even more noticeable retrograde patterns because they're visible at night. But thanks to astrology, it's Mercury's retrograde motion that incites dread every few months.

Dr. Hammergren blames the superstition attached to Mercury, and astrology as a whole, on confirmation bias: "[Believers] will say, 'Aha! See, there's a shake-up in my workplace because Mercury's retrograde.'" He urges people to review the past year and see if the periods of their lives when Mercury was retrograde were especially catastrophic. They'll likely find that misinterpreted messages and technical problems are fairly common throughout the year. But as Dr. Hammergren says, when things go wrong and Mercury isn't retrograde, "we don't get that hashtag. It's called Monday."

This piece originally ran in 2018.

Why Are CVS Receipts So Incredibly Long?

cyano66/iStock via Getty Images
cyano66/iStock via Getty Images

If you’ve ever conducted business at one of the nearly 10,000 CVS Pharmacy locations in the United States and count yourself among one of the estimated 62 million members of the store's ExtraCare discount incentive program, you’ve probably been handed a receipt that is more scroll than slip. These transactional documents, which have been known to literally be several feet of thermal paper long and full of merchandise coupons, are often wadded or folded up like a bath towel and handed off to the consumer.

Is this an environmentally mindful practice? And do these coupons really keep people coming back for more?

CVS has stated that the lengthy receipts are intended to demonstrate the value of being an ExtraCare member by offering ExtraCare Rewards, typically a dollar or percentage amount off of a single item or purchase. Some of the receipt's oversized real estate is also taken up by a solicitation to participate in a satisfaction survey. (Though it’s not likely that one of the questions is about the length of the receipt.)

A woman is pictured holding up a CVS receipt
stephen boisvert, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Simply put, the chain wants to vividly illustrate the benefits of being an ExtraCare member, which also helps the company by allowing them to track your purchase history. The idea is that the Russian novel-length receipt will excite consumers who feel as though a surplus of savings are being delivered right into their hands.

The problem is that the coupons are often quick to expire or can sometimes exclude sale items, registering disappointment when a returning customer presents a slip for $2 off a bar of soap.

You can, of course, opt out of receiving a paper receipt through your ExtraCare account online or via the app, though the process requires a few steps to complete. The coupons will then be sent digitally via your smartphone. Since introducing that paperless option in 2016, the company claims it has saved 3 billion inches of paper that would otherwise have been squeezed into a ball and stuffed into your glove compartment.

Alternately, you can always use it to replace a broken window blind.

Which brings us to the other and possibly most important motivation for those long receipts: Social media engagement. The more people express dismay at those long receipts, the more exposure CVS receives. Considering their 2018 merger with health insurance giant Aetna cost more than $70 billion, some free publicity could come in handy.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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