The Smartest US Cities?

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Every year, Central Connecticut State University puts out a list of America’s most literate cities, which media from CNN to The Huffington Post immediatly morph into headlines announcing the list of “America’s smartest cities.”

Poppycock. Literacy and intelligence are radically different. And for that matter, counting bookstores isn’t a great way to measure literacy either.

From Central Connecticut’s website:

Drawing from a variety of available data resources, the America’s Most Literate Cities study ranks the largest cities (population 250,000 and above) in the United States. This study focuses on six key indicators of literacy: newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment, and Internet resources.

Drumroll, please. Here’s this year’s list of most literate cities.

CITY FINAL RANK
2011
2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005
Washington, D.C. 1 1 2 3 5 3.5 3
Seattle, Wash. 2 2 1 1.5 2 1 1
Minneapolis, Minn. 3 3 3 1.5 1 2 2
Atlanta, Ga. 4 4 5 6 8 3.5 4
Boston, Mass. 5 12 8 8 10 11 7
Pittsburgh, Pa. 6 5 4 12 9 6 8
Cincinnati, Ohio 7 11 9 10.5 11 7 9.5
St. Louis, Mo. 8 9.5 11 9 6 12 15
San Francisco, Calif. 9 6 12 5 7 9 5
Denver, Colo. 10 8 10 7 4 8 6

And here’s the list of the 10 least literate cities:

San Antonio, Texas 66 62 61 64 62 63 64
Aurora, Colo. 67 74 70.5 66 66 67 55
Glendale, Ariz. 68 66 65.5 65
Anaheim, Calif. 69 72 69 67 67 64.5 66
Mesa, Ariz. 70 65 68 61 61 58 52
Fresno, Calif. 71 64 65.5 59 58 60 63
Stockton, Calif. 72 75 72 70 69 70 69
El Paso, Texas 73 69.5 75 71 68 69 68
Corpus Christi, Texas 74 69.5 74 69 65 68 67
Bakersfield, Calif. 75 73 73 68 64 66 65

By the way, Money Talks TV News airs in none of the top cities on the list, but in all of the last three.

Is this really literacy?

There’s no way to link bookstores, newspaper circulation, and educational attainment to native intelligence, so these results have nothing to do with “America’s Smartest Cities.” But do they even represent America’s most literate?

Here’s Merriam Webster’s definition:

1lit·er·ate

adj \ˈli-tə-rət also ˈli-trət\

a: educated, cultured
b: able to read and write

I could make the argument that the stuff these guys are counting doesn’t even establish a city’s literacy, especially by the second definition. After all, Washington, D.C., may have tons of libraries, but it could also have thousands of people who can’t read at all. Every single person in Bakersfield, on the other hand, may be able to.

What do you think? Is Washington really “smarter” or more “literate” than Bakersfield – or your city? Take a second and give me your educated opinion on Facebook.

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