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Literacy and voting patterns
December 28, 2007 7:22 AM   Subscribe

Library usage, newspaper circulation, and educational attainment are primary factors used by researchers to determine the 'most literate cities.' Minneapolis has regained top honors from Seattle, though both cities have ranked at the top since the original study in 2003. Other studies here and here show minor shifts in the intervening years. Most relevant now is that there seems to be a correlation between literacy and voting patterns.

Literacy measured for a city's population overall (= amount of reading going on in a region) is different from the personal literacy promoted by a federal agency (= ability of individuals to read) or endeavors like Google's Literacy Project.
posted by Rain Man (42 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Why are "Internet data/resources" and "number of journals published" included in the index? The fact that academic journals are published in a particular metro area wouldn't seem to mean that area's citizens more literate. This isn't a remotely scientific study.
posted by raysmj at 7:31 AM on December 28, 2007


This study made a bit too many strange choices (for example, how many people visit the daily newspaper's website) for my tastes.
posted by drezdn at 7:35 AM on December 28, 2007


Are you saying that illiterates can produce academic journals, raysmj?

Wait, don't answer that!
posted by Pollomacho at 7:35 AM on December 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


The fact that academic journals are published in a particular metro area wouldn't seem to mean that area's citizens more literate

Given that academic journals are often associated with universities or professional societies and that they employ editors, writers, fact-checkers and others who pretty much define "literate" I can see why they should be included. As to how scientific the study is, that is a criticism that can be leveled at much of social science.
posted by TedW at 7:38 AM on December 28, 2007


Also, suck it San Diego and Chicago.
posted by drezdn at 7:39 AM on December 28, 2007


They completely forgot to include "FOX News broadcasts" in their so-called "literacy" survey.
Completely unscientific.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:43 AM on December 28, 2007


Completely.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:43 AM on December 28, 2007


Library usage, newspaper circulation, and educational attainment are primary factors used by researchers to determine the 'most literate cities.'

So it's racially and economically biased to begin with then.
posted by three blind mice at 7:44 AM on December 28, 2007


With the circulation scandals many newspapers faced a few years ago, the fact that free newspapers or newspapers sold for a penny were counted into circulation, the study would be flawed, indeed. What about book store sales per capita? The number of textbooks sold? What about the number of bloggers or independent media outlets?

I think the criteria needs to be re-thought in a world where we are reading more witings than ever before -- it's just those words happen to be on a computer screen more often than a piece of paper.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 7:49 AM on December 28, 2007


It's not all *that* bad of a study. It doesn't really measure literacy, but it does seem to measure the degree to which the cities are 'literacy-friendly'. In other words, the cities ranked the highest may not have the most literate populations, but their populations have the most resources to achieve a high level of literacy. Not the same thing, of course, but it's something. Nice to see my city doing pretty well; made it into the top ten anyway.
posted by jamstigator at 7:52 AM on December 28, 2007


Given that academic journals are often associated with universities

... which can lead to the unsurprising fact that university towns are more literate and politically accurate than non-university town.
posted by smackfu at 7:59 AM on December 28, 2007


So it's racially and economically biased to begin with then.

Yeah, I guess that's why the Chocolate City only came in 5th.

What, poor black people can't go to the library?
posted by Pollomacho at 8:01 AM on December 28, 2007


What about book store sales per capita? The number of textbooks sold? What about the number of bloggers or independent media outlets?

That data isn't as easy to get as calling Scarborough Research, probably. They do mention a couple of circulation scandals on the methodology page and point out which newspapers were being censured by the Audit Bureau of Circulation, but then note for those papers they just used the previous ABC report - i.e., one that most likely had inflated numbers as well. You do your best with the crappy data sources you have, I guess, but that still doesn't make up for the shitty way this plays out:

Please note that for 2007, Scarborough did not have data for the following cities: Long Beach, CA; Mesa, AZ; Plano, TX; Corpus Christi, TX; Aurora, CO; Arlington, TX; New Britain, CT; Anaheim, CA; Omaha, NE; Riverside, CA; Anchorage, AK; Santa Ana, CA; and Newark, NJ. Hence, all of those cities were ranked last.
posted by mediareport at 8:06 AM on December 28, 2007


Academic journals may be published in a particular area, but they are not typically produced strictly locally, but by teams including a governing board made up of faculty from a large geographic area (a multi-state region, the United States or Earth). The most that will be done locally is some work by one or two faculty editors and some grad students, who are probably transient residents at best (and may still formally be residents in another city or state).
posted by raysmj at 8:06 AM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Interesting that many of the cities in the top 10 have more than one daily newspaper.
posted by photoslob at 8:15 AM on December 28, 2007


which can lead to the unsurprising fact that university towns are more literate and politically accurate than non-university town

"politically accurate" kinda hit me wrong, smackfu -- is that like "politically correct"?
posted by pax digita at 8:21 AM on December 28, 2007


I think it was supposed to be politically active. Sometimes my fingers just get carried away when I'm not paying attention.
posted by smackfu at 8:25 AM on December 28, 2007


The thing that got me (in the correlation link) was the way they selected and analyzed their data.

First, they looked at the top Bush voters and the top Kerry voters- in effect, taking the most extreme quantiles- and coded a new variable from that: a binary variable of Bush or Kerry. Then they looked at this binary variable as a predictor of literacy rank. That's really weird, and I'm not sure what justification there is for such an analysis when a much more straightforward analysis is suggested by the data- use the raw literacy data (not ranks) as predictors in a logistic regression of Bush voting percentage, and of Kerry voting percentage.

I'm suspicious of all the massaging- throw away all but 30 cases, squish the predictor down to a binary variable, mash the literacy data into ranks. They don't say why they're doing this, but in the absence of such a reason, I'd like to see how the logistic regression fares on its own merits.
posted by Jpfed at 8:31 AM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


No, I think politically accurate makes more sense. I mean look at the Bush/Kerry stats!
posted by Pollomacho at 8:31 AM on December 28, 2007


If it makes anybody feel better, both of Seattle's newspapers are terrible. Then there's always the Stranger, which is also garbage, but they often write "fuck," so. There's also Seattle Weekly, which nobody has read since 1998, but is useful for mopping up household chemical spills. Anyway, reading is fundamental, motherfuckers!

THE MORE YOU KNOOOOW
posted by Skot at 8:49 AM on December 28, 2007


Yah, academic journal publication is silly to include.

I would bet that the sources they use show zillions of journals being published out of West Nyack, New York City, Malden MA, and Ames. Not because those are necessarily hotbeds of academic thought or literacy, but that happens to be where the US central offices of Cambridge and Blackwell are.

And for those who don't know, many journals are actually run by professional societies who make all read editorial decisions through a combination of decentralized boards spread throughout the country -- I'm in greater Buffalo and now on the editorial board for a journal run out of Springfield IL -- and small editorial teams that bid for editorships every few years.

But many professional societies use Blackwell or Cambridge (or other big journal publishers) for essentially production purposes. After the style and copy-editing is completed, they send the manuscripts to Cambridge who then produce the journal to their specifications. For AJPS or APSR or JOP, nothing "literary" happens in the publisher.

Even using where the editors happen to be would be silly, since academic journals are actually written by people scattered throughout the world and they frequently don't have any permanent staff.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:51 AM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


As long as we're being dorky:

use the raw literacy data (not ranks) as predictors in a logistic regression of Bush voting percentage, and of Kerry voting percentage.

Strictly speaking, that would be an OLS regression of a logistically transformed proportion*, not a logit.

In practice, many researchers would just present OLS on the raw percentages with a footnote saying "Yeah, you should do this is with a logit transformation. I did that too, and none of the substantive results changed, so I presented this since it's not a pain in the ass to interpret like logit coefficients are."

*after you transformed the percentages into log-odds, anyway
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:03 AM on December 28, 2007


Let's look at some of the criteria they used.

Booksellers -- Yeah, booksellers are nice to have. But a lot of the books they stock are crap. And much of the time, people who aren't all that educated or literate use bookstores just to hang out and drink coffee.

Education -- In this country, a lot of people just coast after college. They get the sheepskin and then they never crack open a book or change their minds about anything again. A committment to continuing, life-long learning should count for more than a degree you earned twenty-odd years ago.

Internet -- You know what this is? This is My New Haircut. You know what that means?

Libraries -- The best metric of the four. But I don't think that the researchers measured the complexity or difficulty of the books being borrowed. Quite a bit of the books you'll find on contemporary library shelves are trashy best-sellers and various "For Dummies" titles.

Not a bad study overall. I find it a little superficial but then, the process of self-education, of life-long learning doesn't lend itself very well to statistical measurement. I guess you could count the number of participants in continuing education classes in the overall population but how do you assign a numerical value to the depth and obscurity of the books an autodidact checks out from the library?
posted by jason's_planet at 9:04 AM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Interesting that Portland OR has dropped out of the top ten. Though I only have anecdotal evidence, I would blame Portland's decline on a quickly shifting demographic. The last few years have brought an incredible population boom. A population boom of non-readers, evidently.
posted by elwoodwiles at 9:52 AM on December 28, 2007


They completely forgot to include "FOX News broadcasts" in their so-called "literacy" survey.

Conservative Funded Study: Fox News Most Balanced Network.
posted by ericb at 10:14 AM on December 28, 2007


Is sleeping and bathing in the library included in "library usage?" If so, I can see why Seattle ranks so highly.
posted by "Tex" Connor and the Wily Roundup Boys at 10:20 AM on December 28, 2007


Jesus, say what you will about their criteria, I can't believe New York - or at least Brooklyn - isn't on the list!
posted by DenOfSizer at 10:42 AM on December 28, 2007


it's on the list, just not in the top ten
posted by edgeways at 11:04 AM on December 28, 2007


It would be interesting to compare these with per-capita Amazon book shipments.

In my view, a 'literacy' study would want to measure two things:

1) The amount of time people spend reading, and
2) The 'quality' of the stuff they are reading.

This study uses various proxies for those things, or at least the first one, but I'm not really sure that their proxies actually work that well. I mean, I buy books off amazon, but I don't often check them out from the library. I actually checked out a book from the library today for the first time in years because I wasn't sure if it was what I needed.

They could make a good case if they actually performed a rigorous study of a few cities and found that those things correlated well with #1. Did they do that?

And that totally leaves aside #2.
posted by delmoi at 11:11 AM on December 28, 2007


Too bad my cities' literacy doesn't help it build and maintain bridges very well.

Though the study is probably a load of crap, I'll definitely use it when making fun of St. Paul.
posted by localhuman at 11:24 AM on December 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


Hmph. My spelling there just discounted the results of that survey. Should have been city's.

Feh. Off to get some beer.
posted by localhuman at 11:31 AM on December 28, 2007


delmoi, I think they tried to get at number one through things like checking how often a newspaper's website is visited. The problem being that someone could be checking the website for the temperature or a sports score.

They could try asking Amazon for sales data about how money books are sold to each area, and to how many customers, but then again (as any avid reader knows) the number of books you buy is only slightly related to how many you actually read.

It's mentioned above, but it really does seem that people seem to read more in a place with periods of insufferable weather.
posted by drezdn at 11:32 AM on December 28, 2007


localhuman - no, I think you spelled it correctly the first time, given it's the Twin Cities...?

Yeah, the study is superficial and the data is really massaged but its interesting nonetheless. I wonder if increasing the minimum wage which would allow people not to have to work three part-time jobs would increase "applied literacy" or if it'd remain constant.
posted by porpoise at 11:49 AM on December 28, 2007


What, poor black people can't go to the library?

In Cleveland, the tagline for the library (one of the nation's largest, and best-circulated) for many years was "The People's University."

I think better circulation figures and usage make up for an awful lot... we don't have the "educational attainment" metric because so many people get the fuck out after graduation. Oh, sorry, I meant we have "brain drain." (Groan). But the people who remain read, and read a lot.

'Course, doesn't matter how we vote, they're not going to count it (correctly or at all) anyway...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:30 PM on December 28, 2007


What, poor black people can't go to the library?

I think it's quite likely in many places, that's exactly who goes to the library (along with other poor people, people of color, children and "undocumented" types) and thus the fight for resources and funding for libraries in many locations around the country. If rich, white people used libraries as much as poor, nonwhite people do, they'd be as well funded as posh suburban schools.
posted by Dreama at 1:49 PM on December 28, 2007


Literate residents of Minneapolis are no longer feeling Minnesota.
posted by Tube at 4:12 PM on December 28, 2007


Boston was number 10? Sorry, this list is bunk.

There are more than 30 colleges or universities in the metro area.

Who the fuck knows how many academic publications come out of Harvard and MIT alone.

Tons of booksellers (for all the college kids to get their textbooks from).

Close to 100 libraries, if you include university libraries, yet Boston didn't even make the top 10 for that list. Yet somehow Tulsa is up there.

I think fucking not.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:16 PM on December 28, 2007


Never have I been so proud to be a Minneapolitan.
posted by streetdreams at 7:44 PM on December 28, 2007


I was once a literate person. I subscribed to many periodicals and read the newspaper everyday. I also read many books every year. Now, however, I find my periodicals going unread because the damned internet has everything I need, coupled with the ability to quickly cross-reference anything that I don't understand or find dubious. Similarly, I no longer read books, preferring to listen to audiobooks on my daily commute instead. By their arbitrary and flawed criteria, I am no longer literate. Perhaps the cities they deem 'literate' are merely places that are slower to transition to new information sources?

I'd much rather see someone come up with an automatically generated multiple-choice quiz from Wikipedia articles, then rank and compare scores of people answering a few hundred questions on such a quiz. That would be a more accurate measurement of ignorance, and might reveal some more meaningful correlations.
posted by gregor-e at 9:05 PM on December 28, 2007


Boston was number 10? Sorry, this list is bunk.

Not to mention that the Boston Public Library is the largest municipal public library in the United States and was the first publicly supported library in the country.*
posted by ericb at 10:43 PM on December 28, 2007


Also -- Harvard Square (while technically not Boston, but Cambridge) has "more bookstores per square mile than any other place in America" * * and the world's largest number of bookstores per capita. *
posted by ericb at 10:52 PM on December 28, 2007


Is sleeping and bathing in the library included in "library usage?" If so, I can see why Seattle ranks so highly.

Damn those communist public libraries!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:41 AM on December 29, 2007


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