ANOTHER LOOK AT THE PAPER BY D. R. Anderson, “Does Utah Really Lead the Nation in Per Capita Production of Scientists?”

By Richard T. Wootton

This is in response to the D. R. Anderson paper (DRA) published at

A brief answer to the title question is “ yes”, based on my studies of randomly chosen biographies of scientists with doctorates listed in the 1938, 1945, 1960, 1990, or 1999 volumes of American Men and Women of Science adjusted per capita population at the approximate years of their birth.

In contrast, the brief answer to the title question is “no” based on scientists in the 1993 National Science Foundation (NSF) SESTAT (Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System) study of non-doctorate scientists adjusted per capita to the year 2000 populations of states.

If you have a study and then do another study of a different group and use a very different population figure for per capita calculations, it should not be surprising if the results of the two studies are different from each other.

This happened between the DRA and TZH&W studies. We could suppose both were sincere but with different premises. However, DRA is very critical of LDS who answer “yes” to the title question.

I did a study using SESTAT (Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System) of the National Science Foundation (NSF) from which DRA obtained his data. I noted the significant fact that the NSF scientists on which DRA reported were scientists of a significantly lower educational level than the AMWS contains, and on which Thorndike, Zabel, Hardy, and Wootton (TZH&W) reported. None of DRA had doctorate degrees. (He neglected to mention this difference in his quote below.) This and the misuse of the year 2000 in figuring per capita explain the apparent contradiction between the TZH&W claims and those of DRA.

DRA chose the year 2000 for figuring per capita production rate of some groups he found in his studies to provide a date deliberately unfavorable to Utah (by his own assertion). The year 2000 is obviously neither near a birth nor rearing period for these scientists. It has no correct use in crediting a state for birth or rearing of scientists almost two generations before 2000. It is not only honestly worthless for these studies but misleading against Utah.

In a year closer to the rearing of the scientists in the TZH&W studies Utah had a population of 890,627. In 2000 Utah had 2,233,000. Comparing the production of scientists to population almost two generations after them is an effort to dilute the reality of the high number of scientists produced by a far smaller population.

Almost every instance where DRA uses the year 2000 populations to calculate scientist production rate is useless for assessing a state for the production of scientists which occurred almost two generations before 2000. This invalidates most of his reports and goes to explain some of his inaccurate conclusions which otherwise may seem to be contradictions of the TZH&W studies.

This may be all of the response to DRA that some readers would need or want. But here is more as background and analysis, if one wishes to read on and can endure.

My studies of the ranks of the states in per capita scientist production were stimulated by an article in Science News Letter, August 31, 1940, by the late Columbia University Professor Edward L. Thorndike which reported that Utah was the top state, by a wide margin, in per capita white population of scientists listed in the 1938 volume of American Men of Science (AMS).

Boston Transcript ran an article headlined “Utah Rated Leading State in Producing Smart People” reporting Thorndike’s study. I later did three follow-up studies repeating the Thorndike work from AMS and AMWS for 1949, 1990, and 1999. The study from the 1949 AMS was part of my doctoral dissertation at the University of Utah. (Incidentally, the chairman of my committee and its majority were not Mormons).

My three studies found Utah well ahead of all other states in per capita white production of the kinds of scientists listed in AMS, defined as (1) being employed in science, (2) recognized by peers as producers of new scientific knowledge, and (3) having achieved, with few exceptions, doctorate degrees.

A University of Minnesota professor, H. E. Zabel, independent of Thorndike and me, did a similar study of the 1962 AMS (“Statistical Abstract of AMS, 10th edition”). He also reported that Utah was the first place state in per capita production of scientists. Following him was Dr. Kenneth Hardy in a more recent Science issue (August 9, 1974) with the same results of Utah being Number 1 in per capita production of scientists. Hardy reported, “The most productive state is Utah, which is first in productivity for all [academic] combined in all time periods.”

DRA applied the adjectives “baseless” and ”gross exaggeration” not only to my studies but to all of the above studies using AMS and AMWS as the data base. What did DRA use as data to back his extreme adjectives? It is the SESTAT data associated with his statement on page 11 of the article,

which reads “Utah is not the leading state in terms of per capita number of individuals born there and having college degrees in science and engineering. It lags behind Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Hawaii and Idaho.”

Even so, his own NSF non-doctorate count per capita, using reasonable (not 2000, but 1960) population figures showed Utah ahead of 43 other states. Does this showing of Utah as number 7, instead of number 1, based on a different kind of scientist, show figures of TZH&W as “baseless” and “gross exaggeration”? Hardly. DRA has misused words. Our figures are merely “Not quite” the same as the DRA because of the difference in scientist populations reported.

I suggest that his choosing the more extreme ”put down” words in this context reveals bias against letting the LDS Church look good. Could DRA have such a bias? Yes. His autobiographical notes in use a most extreme word along with other negatives against Mormonism.

And DRA for some reason gets off the track. Which statements by TZH&W does he thinks he is refuting with his studies? He proceeds by not talking about the same issues as we were.

Note that DRA starts by stating the issue as being: Is Utah the top producer of scientists per capita in the U.S.? This is, in fact, an issue raised by the TZH&W studies. The “put downs” of the TZH&W studies of AMS and AMWS biographies, calling them “baseless” and “gross exaggerations”, do not apply rightly to this issue.

For instance to justify his derogatory adjectives “baseless” and “gross exaggerations”, he goes to another track and (I know I am changing metaphors) shifts the debate to different issues than those addressed by the TZH&W studies.

Judging by the data and text DRA presents, the issues he addresses are instead as follows: (1) Do bachelor and master degree scientists taken from the 1993 NSF figures show Utah as No. 1? (The answer is “No”, but the real issue to apply to TZH&W concerns the people listed in AMS and AMWS who almost all have achieved doctorates.) (2) Do some universities outpace those of Utah in awarding higher degrees in science & engineering? (The answer is “Yes”, but, again, this is not the issue. Many of the AMS and AMWS scientists born in Utah and educated in Utah went out of state for their doctorates; (3) Does Utah outrank all or most other states in production of patents and scholarly papers? (The answer is “No”, but, again, this is not at issue. Careful reading will reveal that none of these is the issue stated in the title.)

While making an appearance of scholarship by writing around these issues, he ignores the real issue underlying his title of “Does Utah really lead the nation in per capita production of scientists?” The real issue is the reliability of the many studies which give the answer “Yes”.

 In his article he ignores the following facts which suggest reliability: (1) All of the four researchers who reported “Yes” to be the answer are university professors of professionally recognized research standing; (2) They each did the studies and said “yes” independently of each other; (3) Each had a peer review before publication; (4) They represent six agreeing replications of the study, each concluding “yes” and covering a period of more than sixty years; (5) Their base data is from the standard library biographical source of information about mostly doctorate degree scientists, the AMS and AMWS from 1938 through 1999; and (5) Two of them have no reason for bias in favor of Utah or Mormons.

The reliability of DRA himself is unclear by comparison. For anyone, let alone DRA, to ignore and/or depreciate these studies on this issue is to reveal about themselves a doubtful adherence to the scientific method.

RTW has gone to SESTAT and found the same results as DRA. However, the data that comes closest to the issue of scientist production per capita by state does not report those with doctorates. In contrast the AMS and AMWS scientists have almost all achieved Ph.D.’s. None of those of the 1993 NSF group had.

Down at the concluding section of his paper, DRA moves from the words “baseless” and “gross exaggeration” to the words “commendable” and “respectable”. When toward the end his nose was right in the NSF data He seems to have used more reasonable language.

The first 10 pages of the DRA article, which are mostly his opinions, is replete with unsupported statements. However, the latter part, after page 10, consisting of NSF figures, is apparently sound although not on the real issue, as shown above.

DRA can, nevertheless, take heart. Wootton’s study of AMWS for 1999 shows Utah only 7% above Delaware while it was 21% in the lead in 1990. Delaware could pass Utah soon. Then the answer to DRA’s question, even based on AMWS, will be “No” and he can be happy.

Or will he be miserable over the fact that Utah and the Mormon Church rang up such per capita science records for sixty years and that the preponderance of those scientists declared themselves in four replications of the study to be strong believers in the essentials of Mormonism?

Some effects of DRA’s anti-Mormon bias (or merely mistakes if you wish) upon his article may be seen in at least the following instances:

1. DRA claims RTW’s studies are “baseless”(p.7) Fact: the volumes American Men and Women of Science are the standard reference biographies of scientists in American libraries. They were also the bases for the studies by TZH&W referred to above.

2. DRA calls our positive claims about Utah’s scientists “gross exaggerations”. (p. 7 & 8) Fact: DRA himself, however, (p.13), states that Utah’s rank is “respectable” and “commendable”, thus contradicting his earlier extreme adjectives. And the TZH&W studies all show that the claim that Utah was the top in per capita rank in scientists is no exaggeration but is the truth.

Fact: DRA’s NSF figures, even using a different group of scientists than TZH&W, show Utah above 43 states including the states of New England. Surpassing New England, the long established intellectual home of the U.S, on a per capita basis is some accomplishment.

And it is an accomplishment by a state, handicapped according to DRA, by a population 70% under the influence of a church (again according to DRA) “hopelessly inconsistent with science, with key LDS doctrines and scriptures directly contradicted by scientific evidence”. Here, if true, would arguably be a miracle. But no miracle is required: It simply is not true.

Utah did produce under some conditions significantly less favorable than those in some other states. A study by Cattell (once publisher of American Men of Science) showed that cities produce more scientists in proportion to their populations than do rural areas. (But Utah produced mainly from rural areas.) This study also showed that 43% of scientists in the nation as a whole came from homes of business or professional people. (But only 27% of Mormon scientists had parents of college education or professional vocation compared to 50% of non-Mormon ones from Utah.) The Cattell study found that farm homes were the least conducive to scientific achievement. (And most Mormon scientists came from farm homes.) Some influences more than overcame the above deterrents to scientific achievement in Utah. The distinctive and singular influences in Utah when the scientists were being reared were most apparently those of the Mormon Church.


3. DRA highlights that Utah is below the median state in absolute terms (actual count) Fact: Here DRA reports an obvious truth, but one utterly irrelevant to his title question or to our claims. This ignores state population size.   Why did he even mention this except to give a poor impression of Utah? Isn’t this all it could do?

4. DRA says our data was “largely out of reach” as compared to his. Fact: One may go to SESTAT and the Internet for his. One may go to almost any large library or the Internet for ours. Wherein is this “largely out of reach”?

Also Fact: Our Internet site ( which he says he read, offers “Copies of the completed questionnaires and the program entry matrix are available to other researchers by arrangement with request to It also has a menu choice reading “Contact the Author”. Clicking brings up my E-mail address on a sending form. How much more “in reach” can one be?

5. DRA says we were remiss for not counting black populations in the per capita calculations. Fact: Including black populations in the per capita of states in past years would have resulted in Utah being even higher than many states in per capita standing, thus making his case even less tenable. RTW followed Thorndike’s sensible method by omitting blacks from those earlier population figures. The reasons should be clear to anyone aware of earlier Southern sociology.

6. About the Church being anti-science, DRA says “The LDS also believe in a literal, universal flood…And Mormons adhere to a literal doctrine of a special creation, etc.” (p,4) Fact: DRA has left out the significant word “some”, using instead “The”, which makes his statement false. Of course, he could not use “some” if he wanted his premise to give teeth to his logic.

Also Fact: He has avoided any reference to statements by some Mormon presidents and apostles which are emphatically pro-science. He has avoided the extensive history of education in Utah which promotes science. And the returned questionnaires (available in the Wootton collection in Marriott Library) from the scientists in RTW’s study establish that many LDS in fact reject DRA’s list of unscientific beliefs supposedly held by “the LDS”. (Also see Saints & Scientists, tables 21 through 33.)

7. DRA tries to undermine the implications of Utah’s standing by his notion that small population “largely” accounts for high per capita standing in scientists by Utah. Facts: There are small population states with also small per capita production and very large population states with high per capita production. His use of the word “largely”(p.8) is unsupported by evidence.

8. DRA complains “I have been unable to personally acquire a copy of Wootton’s published work.” Fact: Saints and Scientists has never been out of print and is available through many LDS bookstores. Or he could obtain one from me by asking at

9. DRA suggests that my results may have been because LDS over-responded. Fact: The evidence points the other way.( He could have known this from Saints and Scientists.) Return addresses on envelops (which are available with other of my original material in Marriott Library, U. of U.) show an under-response from the heavily LDS areas of Orem and Provo compared to Salt Lake and the nation at large.

Fact: The response percentages to the study questionnaires from the scientists were almost exactly the same as for known rates for the average of social science studies nationwide, 63%. The response rate to the 1990 Census questionnaires was 62%. There are sections in the Appendix Saints and Scientists which address at length various cross-checking methods we used to detect any abnormal per cent of returns.

10. DRA labels our choice of states of birth rather than rearing for the study “a seemingly arbitrary metric”. Fact: Just “seemingly”. TZ & H all used it as did DRA himself. It has some merit. After all, one is born into a state culture. One’s parents, or at least a mother, were there at the time!

11. DRA is correct in saying “if that individual goes on to be educated within a state, then the state and its support structures can justifiably claim some measure of credit” (p.6) Well, DRA could have been pleased to note, if he had really read our text, that the 1990 and 1999 studies were of scientists who received bachelor degrees from a Utah University, not who were necessarily born in Utah, thus fulfilling his desirable “goes on to be educated within the state”, leaving him on this, too, with nothing to criticize legitimately.

Anyway, is it too much to suppose that most children are educated in their state of birth? In Utah the LDS Church is a predominant support structure in LDS lives. (See Hardy quote above. The facts are that a huge majority of the Utah born scientists were reared as Mormons. (See S & S)

12. DRA worked to find figures to show that Utah is not the greatest in everything associated with science. Imagine that! We have his look at patents and research papers. Fact: These are facts. But what counts more, which he conveniently ignores, is the degree to which patents and research paper ideas are transferred into profitable products. Here Utah universities are very high.

“Turning knowledge into potentially marketable technology” and ”start up companies formed per million spent on research”. In these B.Y.U. ranks No.1 in the nation and U. of Utah No.4. (They surpass Stanford, M.I.T. and Columbia, for instance. See Technology Access Report, Novato,CA,1996.)

B.Y.U. is also No. 1 in ”number of inventions disclosed per million spent on research”. (Chronicle of Higher Education, August, 2002.)

This is in spite of B.Y.U. and U. of U. not being located in traditional technology transfer hubs on the East or West Coasts.

If DRA were correct about Mormonism having “anti-science” influence, these and the high per capita production of scientists are “in spite of” such negative LDS influence. “Occum’s Razor” suggests a simpler explanation.

DRA’s theory is not correct.

The distinctive and singular influences in Utah when the scientists were being reared were most apparently those of the Mormon Church, overcoming the less favorable circumstances mentioned by Cattell. (Utah was also relatively poor financially).

Finally, the general influence of Mormonism, seen as a whole from an intellectually honest perspective, instead of an anti-Mormonism bias, is in harmony with the known positive results and with the studies by Thorndike, Zabel, Hardy, and Wootton showing irrefutably that Utah is, and has been for sixty or so years, the top producer per capita of scientists listed in American Men and Women of Science.

Book of Abraham
Book of Mormon
Church History
Joseph Smith
Following Mormons
Thinking Mormons
In The Media
What's New
Link Here
- Tell a friend about!
List of all books by author? When was a review written? What's currently being read?