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Most literate cities

Quibbles with the methodology used by Central Connecticut State University to rate the nation's most (and least) literate cities. Go to the post to learn what means...

 The trouble with the "Most Literate Cities" list is the overreliance on per capita measurements, which inevitably creates a bias in favor of smaller cities, and doesn't accurately reflect what living in a particular city means for a reader. Say City A has a population of 200,000 and three bookstores for every 10,000 population and City B has a population of a million and one bookstore for every 10,000. The reader in City A has access to 60 bookstores and the individual reader in City B has access to 100 bookstores. Or take newspapers. The Seattle Times reaches a higher per capita number of readers in its city than the Los Angeles Times. Does the Seattle Times reader have a better newspaper to read? No, because even with the per capita handicap the Los Angeles Times has four times the circulation and many more advertisers to draw on, so its resources are far greater. The most impressive performer in these surveys is probably San Francisco, which I believe it is the highest population city to compete successfully on a per capita basis.

It is certainly true that Los Angeles has a literacy problem that Seattle doesn't have, but calling that city "more literate" is not a particularly useful way of framing it. It's not as if Seattle had been faced with the task of educating tens of thousands of desperately poor and often non-English speaking people and succeeded. If Los Angeles ever does succeed at this it will have far more to teach Seattle about literacy than vice-versa.

Robert Fiore
Century City

 I could just scream. Let's not send our children to Central Connecticut State University for their social-science education. (I kinda think that Dr. John W. Miller doesn't deserve his $214,274 annual salary.)

Maybe these guys cut their teeth formulating the twelfth Soviet Five Year Plan.

What do I mean? Well, for starters, omitted from the list of categories (see left column) are... oh let's see... "book publishers " and "universities"...

1. But maybe I'm being too parochial. Let's go with what they have. Take a look at "Internet Resources" -- when you read the first page, it seems sensible enough:

Internet resources

Internet resources were indexed as four variables. These numbers were then divided by the city population in order to calculate ratios of internet resources available to the population.

Number of library Internet connection per 10,000 library service population

Number of commercial and public wireless Internet access points per capita

Number of Internet book orders per capita

Percentage of adult population that has read newspaper on Internet

2. Fair enough, I guess -- though lots of "Internet book orders per capita" might just mean there are no physical bookstores to buy from, and if you asked me I'd include some measure of the number of residents with an at-home connection to the Net. In any event, L.A. is #33 -- but what about those lame, disconnected cities in 51st through 70th place? We see some of our neighbors (Anaheim, Bakersfield, Santa Ana, Long Beach, Riverside) -- woe, woe are they!

3. But what about the fine print, under "Methodology"?

Internet Data

Figures for the Internet accessibility database were obtained from Intel Corporation's 3rd Annual "Most Unwired Cities" survey, which ranks the top 100 U.S. cities and regions for the greatest wireless Internet accessibility. Figures for the "number of internet terminals at public libraries" were obtained from the Fiscal Year 2004 Public Libraries Survey from the National Center for Education Statistics website. Figures for "read a newspaper online" and "purchased a book online" were obtained from Scarborough Research's August 2004-September 2005 USA+2005 Release. Cities were ranked according to the index figures provided by Scarborough. Please note that Scarborough did not have data for the following cities: Long Beach, CA; Mesa, AZ; Plano, TX; Corpus Christi, TX; Bakersfield, CA; Aurora, CO; Arlington, TX; Colorado Springs, CO; New Britain, CT; Anaheim, CA; New Orleans, LA; Omaha, NE; Riverside, CA; Anchorage, AK; Santa Ana, CA; and Newark, NJ. Hence, all of those cities were ranked last.

4. Oh, I see... the survey didn't have data for all the cities I named a minute ago (Anaheim, Bakersfield, Santa Ana, Long Beach, Riverside), so the surveyors just ranked them dead last. Why not? It serves those damn places right for being inconvenient.

P.S. Next up from Central Connecticut State University: "Places Around the World with the Best Weather" -- I hear that Tahiti and Honolulu tie for last, with an average temperature of 0 degrees Kelvin.

Scott McAuley
Angel City Press
Santa Monica

January 3, 2007 5:15 PM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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