Barack Obama vs. Genetic Determinism

By Sean Carroll | January 24, 2009 7:35 pm

My theory is that Barack Obama, among his various superpowers, has the ability to reach out to groups of people across the world and subtly re-arrange their DNA. How else are we to explain this?

In the study made public on Thursday, Dr. Friedman and his colleagues compiled a brief test, drawing 20 questions from the verbal sections of the Graduate Record Exam, and administering it four times to about 120 white and black test-takers during last year’s presidential campaign.

In total, 472 Americans — 84 blacks and 388 whites — took the exam. Both white and black test-takers ranged in age from 18 to 63, and their educational attainment ranged from high school dropout to Ph.D.

On the initial test last summer, whites on average correctly answered about 12 of 20 questions, compared with about 8.5 correct answers for blacks, Dr. Friedman said. But on the tests administered immediately after Mr. Obama’s nomination acceptance speech, and just after his election victory, black performance improved, rendering the white-black gap “statistically nonsignificant,” he said.

The study hasn’t yet been published (or accepted), and doesn’t seem to be online; here is the press release.

Via DougJ at Balloon Juice, who says everything that needs to be said. Including that this is no surprise at all, at least to people who recognize the phrase “stereotype threat.” Studies have shown that simply reminding women or minorities that they are women or minorities causes them to do statistically worse on tests involving subjects that they are, stereotypically, supposed to be bad at.

One is almost tempted to conclude that scores on standardized tests might be influenced by factors other than one’s genetic background. Who could have guessed?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humanity, Science

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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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