Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Music That Makes You Dumb

(click image for full chart)

Books and Music That Make You Dumb

Anyone who has ever sought to justify their own musical or literary taste may find some solace in the side project of Virgil Griffith, a 25-year-old Caltech graduate student known for embarrassing numerous corporations with his WikiScanner, the database that tracks the sources of anonymous edits to Wikipedia entries.

With his two Web sites (which have crashed from too much traffic), Booksthatmakeyoudumb.virgil.gr and Musicthatmakesyoudumb.virgil.gr, Griffith used aggregated Facebook data about the favorite bands and books among students of various colleges and plotted them against the average SAT scores at those schools, creating a tongue-in-cheek statistical look at taste and intelligence.

For example, the favorite musician of the smartest students was Beethoven, with an average SAT score of 1371. Also on the “smart” end of the scale were Sufjan Stevens (1260), Counting Crows (1247), and Radiohead (1220). And sadly for Lil Wayne, enjoying his music was associated with being the dumbest, with an average SAT score of 889.

On the book front, Lolita was favorite tome of the brightest students (a result which Griffith called “charming”), with an average SAT score of 1317. The lowest-scoring students liked the erotica author Zane, with an average score of 980. And strangely, the students who listed their favorite book as “The Bible” were smarter (1047) than those who said it was “The Holy Bible” (980).

Ironically, students who wrote “I don’t read” in the space for favorite books were only slots 14 from the bottom in terms of SAT scores, meaning that there were 13 other favorite books that theoretically made students “dumber” than not reading books at all.

Griffith came up with the idea as a way to show how to take two separate sets of data that were pretty straightforward on their own — in this case, the average SAT score and the favorite books among students at various universities — and combine them to become more interesting. Griffith says, “Their unity is hilarity incarnate. This is to inspire people to think creatively about the data sets that are on the Internet.”

“Of course there is the whole correlation is not causation thing, but, I mean, duh,” he added.

He did find that he had to adjust his measurements and weigh schools according to how populous they were, because small liberal arts colleges were dominating the rankings. For example, Caltech, where he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree, had the highest average SAT score, at 1520, and the school’s favorite band was Radiohead — but with only 913 undergrads, it doesn’t weigh as heavily, as, say, Texas A&M, with more than 35,000 students.

As for his own place on the scale, Griffith’s favorite band is Daft Punk, which didn’t make it onto the list, and his SAT score was “actually fairly low — 1370 out of 1600. I’m actually a little embarrassed by it,” he wrote in an email message, though he then noted, “My GRE was a very acceptable 1490 out of 1600.” The bands that are on the list that he likes? “I actually like Tool a lot, and I see Tool is one of the dumber ones on there. That’s pretty charming.”

Griffith is used to creating controversy, or at least being accused of trying to stir it up — as the founder of WikiScanner, a database that tracks the IP addresses of anonymous Wikipedia editors, he revealed that the CIA, the Vatican, and staff of various members of Congress (among others) had made edits on the site to remove potentially sensitive information.

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