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April 25, 2016

Proceedings of the Natural Institute of Science | Volume 3 | HARD 2

Yes We Canities Update! Fact-checking Obama's prediction that he would resemble Morgan Freeman in 4 years

PNIS Editorial Staff1
1 - PNIS

Back in April 28 2012, at the annual White House Correspondent's Dinner, U.S. President Barack Obama made a joke that, at his current rate of going gray, he would resemble silver fox extraordinaire Morgan Freeman in four years. Being the serious, scientific journal that we are, we statistically analyzed the amount of gray in Obama's hair from photographs and determined that: 1) he has gotten 136% grayer from 2009 to mid-2014, and 2) based on his current graying trend and fluctuations in this trend, there was a 51% chance that he would reach full Morgan Freeman hair color sometime before April 2016.

Well, it's April 2016 now, and the next White House Correspondent's Dinner is on Saturday, April 30th. So, we couldn't think of a better time to update our statistical analysis of Obama's canities and determine if he, indeed, reached 100% Morgan Freeman Hair at some point between 2012 and 2016.

A full description of our methods is available in our originial article. In short, we found a photograph of Obama for every month since the start of his administration, and measured the amount of Gray Value in his hair using Adobe Photoshop. We did the same thing for four photographs of Morgan Freeman, and then divided Obama's Gray Value by Morgan Freeman's Gray Value to get a percentage (100% means that Obama's gray hair is equal to Morgan Freeman's).

Our original analysis ended in August 2014, so we found photographs from then until April 2016 to update the analysis. Our dataset, including links to the photographs we used, can be found here.

Results and Disucssion
So, did Obama ever reach 100% Morgan Freeman hair? First, let's take a look at crops of Obama's hair from January 2009 to April 2016 (click on image to enlarge):

Crops of Obama's Hair

He's clearly gone grayer, especially noticeable after 2012. For a more quantitative view, we convert each one of these hair crops into a number representing the percent similarity to Morgan Freeman's gray hair, and plot these numbers over time (again, click to enlarge):

Gray value over time

In the graph above, each point represents one month, and the dotted line is the best-fit regression line showing the trend in grayness over time. The slope of that line is 0.542, meaning that every month since Obama took office, his hair has gotten about 0.542% closer to Morgan Freeman's.

The gray line represents the 100% Morgan Freeman threshold, and you can plainly see that Obama never does reach it. He got very close several times, though. In August 2015, Obama reached 91% Morgan Freeman Hair, and reached 89% MFH in September 2014 and April 2015. There's still a chance that he could reach 100% MFH by the end of his presidency, but he won't reach it by the end of this month, thus breaking his prediciton.

So, that's that. The Obama's can scale back a bit on the Just for Men budget and Fox News has another inane, trite example of when Obama got something wrong. End of story, right?

Well, not quite, and this is an example of when going a little bit further into the data can reveal a pretty interesting story.

When we were getting figures ready, we noticed something in the Obama timeline figure (the second graph). Fluctuations aside, it looks as though Obama's graying trend is a bit flatline from 2009 through somewhere around 2011 and then starts to really accelerate around 2012.

There is a nifty statistic that can analyze this observation, and it's called a segmented regression (aka break-point regression, broken stick regression, or piecewise regression). This regression can break an XY dataset into any number of segments of any length and generate your basic slope parameters (e.g., slope and intercept) for each segment. We can use this statistic to determine if there was a specific point in time in which the rate of Obama's graying suddenly increased.

We used the 'segmented' package in R, and specified just two segments (i.e., one break point), based on our observation of an initial flatline trend in Obama's graying followed by a rapid increase in the trend. This great R tutorial on segmented regression also helped out quite a bit.

There was a break-point, and it occurred about 22 months into Obama's presidency. For the first 22 months, Obama's graying trend was tiny: he got only 0.005% grayer during that timeframe. However, after 22 months, Obama's rate of graying increased dramatically: every month, he got 0.64% closer to Morgan Freeman. That's over a 100x increase in his rate of graying!

So what the hell happened around October 2010, 22 months into Obama's presidency? Well, according to Wikipedia, the Netherlands Antilles were dissolved on October 10, Limewire was ordered to shut down on October 26, the San Francisco Giants won their first World Series in 56 years on November 1, and scientists trapped antimatter for the first time on November 17. While this may have been a stressful period of time for a Dutch, music-loving, particle physicist who either dearly loves or hates the SF Giants, we can't imagine Obama going gray over any one of these events.

What else happened around this time that might be more applicable to Obama? Well, like most Americans, you probably didn't realize that November 2, 2010 was a mid-term election year. And this wasn't just any ordinarily forgettable mid-terms: the 2010 election resulted in the addition of 63 Republicans to the House of Representatives (the largest change in seats since 1948) and ended the Democratic control of both houses of Congress.

So, yes, it appears that the 2010 mid-term elections, and specifically the wave of Tea Party Republicans, accelerated the rate at which Obama's hair was graying. Here it is in graphical form:

Segmented Regression

Remember, after October 2010, Obama's rate of graying increased over 100x!!

Let's look at this another way. When Democrats controlled the House of Representatives, Obama's average gray value was around 37%. Below is what 37% Gray looks like on Obama:

In the six years since Republicans took control of the House, Obama's average gray value almost doubled to 65%!! Look at what that did to Obama:

Six years of obstruction, filibusters, and government shutdowns have turned a once youthful crop of black hair into the weary, wiry tangle of protein filaments now sitting atop Obama's head.

The lesson ought to be clear: Don't fuck with the Republicans. Donald Trump, are you paying attention? The bell tolls for thee and thy golden plume.


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