In the last week, several people have asked my opinion on a recent study proclaiming that Hip-Hop, among other music, “makes you dumb”. This is the first part of my two part response. Today, I will dissect the study itself and tomorrow I will defend hip-hop against those who would use the study to show it is an intellectually lesser form of music.
According to Virgil Griffith, a 26-year old student at Cal Tech, certain genres of music can be associated with the average entrance exam scores of college students.
To quote Mr. Griffith’s methodology
1. “Get a friend of yours to download, using Facebook, the ten most frequent “favorite music” at every college via that college’s Network Statistics page on Facebook (manually — as not to violate Facebook’s ToS). These ten “favorite musics” are perhaps indicative of the overall intellectual milieu of that college.
2. Download the average SAT/ACT score (from CollegeBoard) for students attending every college.
3. Presto! We have a correlation between musical tastes and dumbitude (smartitude too)!
Music <=> Colleges <=> Average SAT Scores
4. Plot the average SAT of each “favorite music”, discarding those with too few samples to have a reliable average.
5. Post the results on your website, pondering what the Internet will think of it.
Ok, so if this scale was made specifically from data from my alma mater (Florida State), and the average SAT/ACT score at Florida State was 1600, and the only music listed among Florida State Facebook users was “the sound of toddlers banging pots and pans”, then “the sound of toddlers banging pots and pans” would rate as a 1600. If another school’s students listed “the sound of toddlers banging pots and pans”, but only received an average score of 800, then “the sound of toddlers banging pots and pans” would drop to an average test score of 1200. Hence, “the sound of toddlers banging pots and pans” would rank somewhere between Bob Dylan and U2.
(Actually, FSU ranked 265th out of 1352 colleges with an average test score of 1154 across 31,347 students with listening preferences of Jack Johnson, Sublime, Coldplay, Bob Marley, The Beatles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pink Floyd, John Mayer, Weezer, and The Fray.)
Points of Contention:
As I explained, what Mr. Griffith listed was the listening preferences of the smart colleges versus the listening preferences of less academically prestigious colleges. First of all, he does not go into academic study. Of course, colleges specializing in classical study will have more kids who listen to Beethoven, the music linked to the “smartest scores”. On the flip side, colleges specializing in urban anthropology may have more students listing to Lil Wayne (889 average score) and Nas (1071 average score).
Second, looking at Mr. Griffith’s chart, I immediately noticed most of the music on the lower IQ side derives from African beats and influences. Of course, the most basic instinct would be to label this as yet another study supporting racism and minority intellectual inferiority. The website ThisIsRealMusic.com blasts Mr. Griffith along this assumption. However, TIRM fails to mention where or how Mr. Griffith got his information. They just proclaim he is a closet racist. I don’t think that is fair, nor is it a good way to do a counterpoint.
Where I do believe Mr. Griffith dropped the ball is in his title and its associated media blitz. In labeling his study “Music that makes you dumb”, he is opening himself up for comments and negative attention. The proper title of his study should have been “Music Preferences of Facebook-Using College Students Based on School Average SAT/ACT Scores”. But that wouldn’t have garnered him any attention.
Also of note is that several Historically Black Colleges are listed in the bottom quarter of Mr. Griffith’s school data along with their students’ music tastes. I have little doubt Mr. Griffith saw this trend emerging as he graphed his data. Here again I fault Mr. Griffith’s presentation of the data.
What does it say then about Historical Black Colleges that they score so low? Either HBCs are letting in students who are not stringent in their academic requirements or the students of HBCs are not as smart as students in the top schools. The latter theory can of course be countered by the idea that minority students (assuming they make up the majority of HBC student bodies) are not being prepared well enough to score well on college entrance exams. Some even go as far as to label the tests racist. So where does the bigger fault lie: in the music HBC students listen to or the school systems they come from?
The bottom line is that Mr. Griffith was irresponsible in releasing his findings in the manner that he did. He should have known the societal repercussions of his display. The fact that he attempts to cover up his naivety in the cloak of statistical impartiality does not hold water. And honestly, instead of playing with numbers and pinning music to test scores, he would have been better off trying to devise a statistical way for students to do better on their entrance exams.
By the way, as for Mr. Griffith and his personal music tastes, according to the FAQ he listens to Daft Punk (not on the list) Tool (1083), Radiohead (1220), and Metallica (1063). Averaging the available scores, and using his musical tastes as an indicator of his own intelligence, Mr. Griffith probably received an 1122 on his entrance exam. However, this would put him nearly 400 points below the average Cal Tech student, who received a 1520.
So either Mr. Griffith is far below the academic standard at his university or, if he did score among the average test taker, his musical preferences are not indicative of his intelligence. If he then is an outlier in his own study, why should we attach his system to any other test taker in any other school?
Saying we are supposed to correlate attributes to people when the creator of the attributes is such a drastic outlier is like saying a Wookiee, an eight-foot tall Wookiee, would want to live on Endor, with a bunch of two-foot tall Ewoks. It obviously does not not make sense.