Study Linking SAT Scores to Music Tastes Claims Beyonce Makes People Stupid, Is Blasphemous

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 20: Singer Beyonce attends a rally honoring Trayvon Martin outside One Police Plaza in Manhattan on July 20, 2013 in New York City. Demonstrators have gathered in various cities across the country to protest the acquittal of neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman and press for his federal prosecution in the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
Source: Kena Betancur/Getty Images News/Getty Images

There are bad studies, there are really bad studies, and then there are studies that diss Beyoncé. It seems someone out there wanted to determine which types of music correlated with higher intelligence, because obviously that was something the world desperately needed. And it turns out that Queen B is on the undesirable end of the spectrum. Blasphemy!

In all reality, though, this "study" by software writer Virgil Griffith is pretty useless, not because it badmouths Beyoncé fans (expect a visit from the Beygency, dude), but because it's methodology is ridiculous. Griffith's highly scientific process here consisted of determining the average SAT scores for accepted students at various American universities, then using Facebook to determine the favorite music of students at those same universities. Finally, he put all the results in a chart labelled "Music That Makes You Dumb" and posted it on the Internet. 

The Internet, naturally, proceeded to go crazy. 

There are so many problems with this methodology it's hard to list them all. There's the fact (that Griffith himself acknowledges in his original post) that correlation does not equal causation. Plus intelligence and SAT scores are nowhere close to the same thing. And gathering information via Facebook really tells you about the type of music people post on Facebook — or the type of students who post on Facebook. And the college-age segment of the population is not a good sample of the population as a whole. And the list of problems could go on. 

The vertical axis doesn't mean anything, but notice Beyoncé up there way on the left side, apparently making us all stupid. Screw that. 

Of course, beyond the shoddy methodology, the graph actually does reveal something very telling, though it has nothing to do with music affecting a person's intelligence. 

It probably isn't a coincidence that the graph that uses SAT scores as a indication of intelligence would also have black artists and traditionally black music styles as the five "dumbest" examples (Lil Wayne, Soca, Gospel, T.I., and Beyoncé), while its five "smartest" artists are all white men (Beethoven, Sufjan Stevens, Counting Crows, Guster, and Radiohead). 

It has long been known that SATs are biased against black students. For one thing the tests do things like favor vocabulary more commonly used in suburban (mostly white) areas. But even more blatantly, while creating new SAT tests, the test-makers judge questions mainly by whether or not "high performing" test takers — aka white males — do well with potential questions. In other words, the SATs are made specifically for white students, not black ones. 

And we won't even get into the fact that there is no option for taking the test in African American Vernacular English, despite the fact that AAVE is just a legitimate a dialect as Standard American English. 

What all of this means, among many other things, is that using SAT scores as a measure of intelligence is inherently biased. And yet, people still conflate the two. So really, Griffith's chart does reveal something, though it has nothing to with music or intelligence. Really, it's an excellent example of how our society continues to prop up racist metrics, despite the fact that they aren't even very good at measuring what they're supposed to, let alone determining anything as complex as human intelligence. 

Also, this whole episode should teach us not to mess with Beyoncé. Just don't. For one thing, her latest album might be one of the most interesting and complex pieces of pop culture to happen this century, and for another, she is Beyoncé.  

Long live the Queen!

Images: Virgil.gr; Giphy (2)

Must Reads