The paper is somewhat cheekily written, and we can offer Simkin the benefit of the doubt and assume he underwent this project merely as a thought experiment (though he appears to be making a career out of this sort of thing: In a previous paper, he "proved" there was no difference between Mozart and Salieri). Even so, given the attention it has received in the British press, the paper needs a serious debunking—and, more importantly, so does its underlying, apparently widespread assumption about the literary canon.
First, hardly anyone argues that Edward Bulwer-Lytton was the worst writer of all time. That someone could even think of making that contention in the age of Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey boggles the mind. Mediocre he may have been, but a joke contest inspired by seven words that he wrote cannot stand as the sole proof that he was the most awful author ever.
The method of collecting data seems just as shaky. For instance, here's how he backs up his claim that "even educated people can't tell Dickens from Bulwer":
We can address the education issue in a scientific way. Fortunately, the quizzing script records taker's [sic] IP address. From it, one can infer where their computers were located. I selected a subset of scores, which were received by people coming from English-speaking ... universities. ... The average score is 5.76 or 48.0% correct.
So we know we have an educated subset because of their location, even though we have no idea whether the person sitting at any given computer was a professor, a student, or a janitor.
But does the quiz itself have any merit? It's still available online. It's worth noting that only descriptive passages are used; there's virtually nothing involving plot or characterization, even though, as Simkin admits in his paper, these tend to be essential to novels.
This omission puts Dickens, known for strong and unique characterization, at a distinct disadvantage. If any passages had involved the brutal Wackford Squeers, or the grandiloquent Wilkins Micawber, or the grotesque Miss Havisham, quiz-takers just might have done better. Dickens's characters are very hard to mistake for anyone else's characters.
Nonetheless, I took the quiz, and scored 92 percent. Here's how:
Dickens personified things. He ascribed human, or human-like, characteristics to all sorts of objects and conditions. That's why this sentence is the easiest one on the quiz: "I had seen the damp lying on the outside of my little window, as if some goblin had been crying there all night, and using the window for a pocket-handkerchief. " That's so Dickensian, he might as well have autographed it.
Dickens loved repetition. Here's another passage from the quiz: "It was wretched weather; stormy and wet, stormy and wet; and mud, mud, mud, deep in all the streets." This reminded me of the opening of Bleak House, where the word fog is used 13 times in one paragraph; of "Blind, blind, blind!" in David Copperfield; of "Sadly, sadly, the sun rose" in A Tale of Two Cities. Repetition was one of Dickens's favorite ways to emphasize an idea.