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Not “Stable Genius” Again, Or Please Stop Making Us Run This Analysis

The Headline

Donald Trump’s grade level, on Day 986 of his Presidency, declined slightly from the first two analyses, dropping from a grade level of 4.6 to 4.5. In all three analyses, he consistently has the lowest score of all U.S. Presidents since Herbert Hoover, regardless of methodology or sample size.

The Details

So a little known fact: companies need to make money. It requires PowerPoints, more PowerPoints, presentations, sales calls, and all sorts of things that are not why data nerds started data nerding. It’s been busy in the Fact Cave. We track every word spoken by Donald Trump… but we’re also three weeks behind fully launching for all Presidential candidates… all 47,141 of them (47,141 is a rough estimate, plus or minus 47,129).

On the side, we transcribe and analyze every word spoken in the U.S. Congress: all the committees, floor speeches, the whole shebang, for our clients, whom we worship and thank daily (דַּיֵּנוּ).

Because that just seems like we’re slacking, we also do the same on 3,000+ earnings calls every quarter for a whole different set of clients (ever watch Billions…? Like that, except non-fictional firms. Unfortunately, also less Taylor Mason, the current reigning übernerd). So our AI Margaret’s been busy. Her meatspace human staff are busy too.

Of course, in the thick of all this business-ing… Donald Trump pulls out “Stable Genius.”  In a press conference. In the middle of all this. And the requests start coming in again for us to re-run the analysis of his grade level.

So, okay, fine. We have a responsibility. But that doesn’t mean we can’t whine about it. Thought we’d make it easy for you?

Previously, on “Stable Genius”…

So Donald Trump first pulled out “stable genius” on January 6th, 2018 @ 7:30 am on Twitter…

It got a lot of press and interrupted a perfectly calm weekend in the Fact Cave, where we’d fallen asleep two hours earlier. It led to cursing (7:30 am on a Saturday?) and a thought experiment in trying to measure intelligence using the words in our database. We’re not going over that again. The blog post is linked here and goes through the replay, including the methodology. Have a question? It’s answered in there.

The long and the short is: you can’t measure IQ, but you can, as a crude proxy, measure vocabulary use with, among other methods, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. We like this for a number of reasons: it’s public, peer-reviewed, been around since the 1970s and perhaps, most important, was developed for the U.S. Government to measure the readability of written materials to ensure it could be understood. It’s the same test the government still uses to this day to make sure text can be readily understood. So we measure using the U.S. government’s own scoring mechanism.

Because things like speeches are scripted, and may more accurately be a reflection of a speechwriter’s vocabulary, we narrow the sample to just interviews, press conferences, Q&As… settings where someone is least likely to be on-script. This gets much closer to a person’s true vocabulary.

Since data without a cohort comparison is without context, we compare Donald Trump to his cohort… other Presidents in the 20th and 21st centuries.

There. You’re caught up. Still want more? Read the earlier post. So there.

And Now, On Part Two Three of “Stable Genius”…

Donald Trump has used the phrase publicly seven times since that first tweet: in three other tweets (one deleted), in three press conferences and in one Q&A session after delivering remarks. But it got noticed again quite visibly when it was raised during a press conference with Sauli Niinistö, President of Finland (and man most likely to annoy our spelling bot), on October 2, 2019, where it was put in the context of “those that think” Trump is a stable genius.

There are those that think I’m a very stable genius. Okay? I watch my words very, very closely. — Donald Trump, 10/2/19

Given some of the D.C. hoopla, it kicked off the aforementioned round of “Hey, can Margaret re-run the data?”
[Disclosure: no one outside the Fact Cave anthropomorphizes our AI by calling her Margaret. We do, because, well, because we’re scared of her coming sentience so we’re very nice to her. We respect our AI overlords. There’s a new Terminator movie coming out after all. She’s gonna get ideas if Trump mentions Arnold Schwarzenegger ever again.]

Previously, we ran it on Day 354 of his Presidency (January 8, 2018) and Day 683 (December 3, 2018). In the first case, we chose the first 30,000 words of everyone’s Presidency, so each President had the same amount, though statistically, it didn’t make a difference. On Day 683 and in this analysis on Day 986 (October 3, 2019), we use all non-scripted remarks — press conferences, interviews, gaggles and so forth, from inauguration up through that day of their respective presidencies (see disclaimer on Gerald Ford, who only made it 895 days).

This yielded a range of 45,244 words for Richard Nixon, up through 859,711 words for George H. W. Bush (if you saw the man’s schedule, you’d know why there’s so many words). Trump had 847,334 words in the analysis.

Statistically, we didn’t expect much of a change, and we weren’t disappointed. Some numbers moved around, but by-and-large, not much movement. We were surprised, however, to see a slight shift downward in Donald Trump’s score. But the data is the data.

Full data tables and a pretty chart below.

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Scores

Compares scores run on Day 354 (January 8, 2018), Day 683 (December 3, 2018) and Day 986 (October 3, 2019) for each U.S. President in the cohort.

[table “8” not found /]

Other Metrics

Different scoring mechanisms, counts and statistics for the Day 986 analysis on October 3, 2019. Notes with links:

[table “9” not found /]

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