BUSINESS
01/24/2014 10:26 am ET Updated Jan 24, 2014

Facebook Bashes Princeton For Flawed Study, Gleefully Predicts Its Demise

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Doctoral candidates in Princeton's department of mechanical and aerospace engineering caused quite a stir when they released a study alleging that Facebook would lose 80 percent of its members between 2015 and 2017. After earning a bit of media hype, the study was thoroughly debunked.

However, Facebook wasn't just going to let the university off the hook without knocking it down a peg.

On Thursday, Facebook data scientist Mike Develin wrote a note called "Debunking Princeton," in which he predicted the university's dire future with some of the same methodology used by the Princeton students. "In keeping with the scientific principle 'correlation equals causation,' our research unequivocally demonstrated that Princeton may be in danger of disappearing entirely," Develin wrote.

The Princeton students compared using Facebook to a disease: When people join the site, they are "infected"; when they quit, they have "recovered." Looking at how often people searched Google for the word "Facebook," the two found the world would be "cured" of it in a few years using models that describe how diseases are spread. It's a flawed way to measure the site's popularity, since many probably bookmark it, type it directly into the address bar or use a mobile app to access it.

So in turn, the Facebook scientists looked at how often "Princeton" appeared in Google Scholar results and, based on its findings, predicted that Princeton will have no students by 2021. "As data scientists, we wanted to give a fun reminder that not all research is created equal – and some methods of analysis lead to pretty crazy conclusions," Develin wrote.

With 1.19 billion people logging on to Facebook every month and over 26,000 high schoolers applying to Princeton every year, we'd say neither is going anywhere any time soon.

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