Thursday, 12 March 2009

Listen to soca? Congrats, you're a moron

CalTech graduate student Virgil Griffith has come up with the very poorly conceptualized Music That Makes You Dumb, which, using SAT scores as a proxy, correlates music tastes with intelligence. His methodology is to compare test results with people's favourite bands as declared via social networking sites, and the result is, as would be expected, absurd. Griffith calls them 'hilarity incarnate': apparently, suggesting that listeners of non-American/non-White forms of music (who are themselves often non-American and/or non-White) are intellectually inferior is pure, knee-slapping fun. I would normally not comment on this kind of pseudo-intellectual, self-congratulatory nonsense, but I wanted to show my readers this: cast your glance towards the 'painfully stupid' end of the scale. Recognize that four-letter word? Yep. I'm sorry to have to be the one to tell you, but if you listen to soca music, you are stupid, stupid, stupid.

Now I'm going to ignore most of the problems with this analysis - which are many - as I'm sure you guys, soca-loving though you may be, can figure them out straightaway. They have to do with definitions, the problems of using self-declared data, sample sizes, assumptions, lion and tigers and bears. Oh my.

But even accepting the widely-contested notion that SAT scores are a decent indicator of intelligence, the fact is that most of the Caribbean students I know who took the SATs (and these were many, since I used to teach secondary school) enjoy soca, and they all basically dispensed with the SATs as if they were a word search puzzle. With very little preparation, they took the test, scored high (anecdotally, almost everyone I knew scored above 1250), and got on with life. One might argue that were greater percentages of Caribbean students to take the SATs - if it were to be considered an academic rite of passage there as it is in the US - the results would be different, since those who do seek the test out are already the academically-minded ones who plan to obtain advanced degrees. Perhaps so, but the numbers who do take it still represent enough of a sample to make Griffith's findings bullshitary.

And notice where reggae falls? And jazz? The boy done lost his mind. If you want to take an unscientifically-rendered piece of research, declare it as such, and then have a laugh about it in the proper context, great. But don't present it as science. That just makes you dumb.

1 comment:

  1. Fair on the self-declared data, however, the sample size is actually quite good -- if there's 10 datapoints per 1,300 schools that's 13,000 data points. Not bad!


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