Does Utah really lead the nation in per capita production of scientists?

by Duwayne Anderson

Abstract

This document examines claims by some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, or Mormons) that Utah is the leading per capita producer of scientists, and that "the high percentage of Latter-day Saints in Utah largely accounts for Utah's distinctiveness in these studies." In view of these claims, this article examines a broad assortment of statistics related to birthplace, education, patents, and employment of scientists in hopes of understanding better the general relationship between Mormonism and higher education in science and engineering. And, it probes directly the validity of the studies that Mormons promote.

The statistical comparisons in this report are mostly between states, on a per capita basis (normalize to number per thousand population, based on year 2000 US census figures). Almost all these studies use publicly accessible government databases. Metrics include the birth states of people having college degrees in science and engineering, college degrees granted (both graduate and undergraduate), patents granted, employed doctoral scientists and engineers, college enrollment, and some references to primary and secondary education. There are also some minor references to Universities in Utah, and how they compare with other institutions in terms of Nobel Prize-winning scientists, and production of scientific papers in peer-reviewed science journals.

Contrary to LDS assertions and claims, all statistical metrics studied in this report show Utah lagging well behind the leading states.

This report contains references to many Internet sites where data is available as of September 2001. Understanding that Internet sites are not permanent, however, I’ve also tried (where possible) to supply government report numbers and reproductions of relevant data in the attached appendices.

Contents

  1. Background discussion: Origin of the Debate
  2. Methodology
  3. Definitions of terms
  4. Summary of Results
  5. Detailed summary of statistical data
  6. Appendices

Background Discussion: origin of the debate

The issue about Utah scientists is not a simple, factual debate. It is, rather, an emotionally charged discussion with unstated implication and hidden agendas. This section discusses some of the stances and arguments taken by both sides, in an effort to frame the discussion with better perspective. This is an important introduction before examining directly the statistics involved. If, however, you are already familiar with this background mosaic, you may wish to skip directly to the section on methodology.

Mormons commonly claim that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints actively stimulates a scientific and inquisitive nature that shows up in Utah’s demographics in the form of above-average production of scientists by the heavily Mormon state. Consider the following example:

"An outstanding achievement of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) is the extraordinarily high level of professionally recognized scientists born in Utah where this church is predominant. "

[Found at http://www.angelfire.com/az2/saintsci/ on 9/8/01.]

This Internet site goes on to say:

"Utah leads all of the states of the union in number of scientific men born there in proportion to population, it is revealed by an analysis of American Men of Science, 1938", (Science News Letter, August 31, 1940) based on research done by Dr. Edward L. Thorndike of Columbia University for the Carnegie Foundation. The lead was forty-four percent over the second place state, Colorado. Thorndike reported his study as per capita white population, and the other studies reported here have followed this method.

In the 1949 volume Utah was still number one with a lead of thirty-two percent over the second place state, which had come to be Idaho. This study was made by the current researcher, Richard T. Wootton, (now Arizona State University Professor Emeritus). For the 1962 Volume Dr. H. E. Zabel of Minnesota found Utah still to be the first place state, again with a large margin over Colorado, which had moved to second place.

For the 1990 volume, American Men and Women of Science, Dr. Wootton did the research (by CD-ROM of the volume plus the facilities of the database search engine DIALOG, which he also used on the 1998-99 volume) again and reported that Utah was still first, 21% ahead of Delaware.

He has just completed (1999) a similar search of the 1998-99 AMWS and reports that Utah is still number one, 7% over Delaware.

Thus, for sixty years Utah has led the nation in per capita production of scientists. To many people, likely, the fact that a distinctive "religious" state was also notable for scientist productivity, was remarkable, a challenge for some explanation.

Consider also the following article from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

"As the LDS community stabilized and became part of mainstream America in the twentieth century, these attitudes began to bear fruit in scientific endeavor. A 1940 study established that Utah led all other states in the number of scientific men born there in proportion to the population (Thorndike, pp. 138-39). A thorough analysis of state-by-state contributions to science from 1920 to 1960 found that Utah led all other states by a wide margin in the proportion of its university graduates who eventually received doctoral degrees in science (Hardy, p. 499). Unpublished research indicates that this high productivity continued through the 1970s, though Utah dropped to second place among the fifty. It is generally recognized that the high percentage of Latter-day Saints in Utah largely accounts for Utah's distinctiveness in these studies. Researchers find that the LDS beliefs described above correlate strongly with positive attitudes toward science, as they also distinguish Latter-day Saints in this regard from most other Christian groups." [See an on-line version of this at http://www.lds-mormon.com/EncMormonism_Scientists.shtml.]

These are heady claims indeed, and the uninitiated reader might be left impressed with the notion that the LDS Church is a veritable dynamo of intellectual production.

LDS critics, on the other hand, point out that the Mormon Church is hopelessly inconsistent with science, with key LDS doctrines and scriptures directly contradicted by scientific evidence and studies.

For example, the Book of Mormon claims to be a literal history of the ancient Americans, saying they were Hebrews from Jerusalem via trans-oceanic voyage roughly 2600 years ago, bringing with them numerous Old World plants and animals. It describes these immigrants growing into huge nations that covered the land from sea to sea, smelted steel swords, domesticated cattle, swine, and goats, and used horses to pull their chariots. It’s hardly possible to imagine a description of ancient American that is more inconsistent with known scientific evidence than the Book of Mormon. Indeed, Michael D. Coe, professor of anthropology at Yale University has said of the Book of Mormon:

"Let me now state uncategorically that as far as I know there is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing the foregoing to be true [i.e., that the Book of Mormon is an authentic document describing a New World civilization], and I would like to state that there are quite a few Mormon archaeologists who join this group … The bare facts of the matter are that nothing, absolutely nothing, has ever shown up in any New World excavation which would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon, as claimed by Joseph Smith, is a historical document relating to the history of early migrants to our hemisphere." [As quoted in Stan Larson, Quest for the Gold Plates, Freethinker Press, Salt Lake, page 69. The reference in Larson is Coe, "Archaeology," 42, 46.]

There are also the serious problems of the Book of Abraham – a book Joseph Smith claimed to have translated by the gift and power of God, and which the LDS Church accepts as Holy Scripture. The problem is, the opinions of Egyptologists on the meaning of the papyri from which Smith supposedly "translated" the book, as well as the meaning of the various Egyptian characters copied into the Book of Abraham itself, are all at hopeless odds with Smith’s fanciful "translation." [See, for example, Charles M. Larson, by his own hand upon papyrus, Institute for Religious Research, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1992.]

There are also problems with specific LDS doctrines. For example, the Pearl of Great Price (official LDS scripture) says that our sun gets its light from a distant star called Kolob. As a result of this doctrine, some LDS scientists have argued in favor of an accretion model for the sun’s energy (Cook, M., Science and Mormonism, Deseret News Press, 1967, see chapter 4). For example, regarding the second Facsimile in the Book of Abraham, Joseph Smith said:

"…. Enish-go-on-dosh; this is one of the governing planets also, and is said by the Egyptians to be the Sun, and to borrow its light from Kolob through the medium of Kae-e-vanrash, which is the Grand Key, or, in other words, the governing power, which governs fifteen other fixed planets or stars … (all) receiving light from the revolutions of Kolob." [This is one of the figures Joseph Smith copied into the Book of Abraham, from a piece of Egyptian papyrus that some people in the Church bought. You can see a copy of it at the official LDS Internet site at http://scriptures.lds.org/abr/fac_2, along with the above quoted explanation.]

There are also specific LDS doctrines that the earth’s temporal existence is only 7,000 years (see D&C 77, and for an on-line copy go to http://scriptures.lds.org/dc/77/6#6). The LDS also believe in a literal, universal flood, which was the earth’s baptism. And, the Mormons adhere to a literal doctrine of a special creation and a literal Adam and Eve (http://www.lds.org/library/display/0,4945,11-1-13-9,00.html, and http://www.lds.org/library/display/0,4945,11-1-13-10,00.html.)

Given these many significant problems with science, is it really possible that Mormonism is a leading producer of scientific talent, and that these problems with science have actually been resolved in the minds of thousands of world-class LDS scientists? Or, are the claims of Utah dominance in per capita production of scientists nothing more than hubris; propaganda distributed by the faithful to quell uncertainty in the masses?

Before going further, let me be clear that no amount of democratic voting among scientists gives credibility to religious or mythological ideas that lie outside the scope of science. All theories and hypotheses must be evaluated on the strengths and weakness of the specific claims they make. The aim of this report is not to somehow prove or disprove Mormonism based on the statistical profiles of scientists that may or may not espouse the Church’s doctrines. That would be as illogical as the LDS who attempt to give Mormonism more credibility than it deserves by citing suspect statistics about Utah’s production of scientists. Scientists are not immune to irrational thought – especially outside their field of expertise, and particularly where such emotional, traditional, and familial issues as one’s religion are concerned.

Instead, the purpose of this report is to examine as objectively and openly as possible the claims of the LDS Church and its supporters to the effect that Utah is a leading producer of scientists. And, while I draw and present my own conclusions based on the evidence, to provide you with some important resources to draw your own conclusions.

Methodology

Abuse of statistics is often rooted in narrowly defined statistical metrics, often using undefined and ambiguous terms that make the metrics sound broader than they really are, and typically followed by unwarranted conclusion of unjustified breadth.

Richard T. Wootton seems responsible for most of the studies used by LDS apologists in their attempts to portray Utah as a dominant producer of scientists. Wootton received his Doctor of Education degree from the University of Utah and has served in high positions within the LDS Church. He is the former President of BYU-Hawaii University, and a past Institute Director of LDS Business College. [See http://www.angelfire.com/az2/saintsci/, click on "About the Author."].

While I have been unable to personally acquire a copy of Wootton’s published work (the citation being so old), certain published descriptions of his study are available.

First of all, Wootton’s study used some narrow and seemingly arbitrary definitions. For example, the definition of a "scientist" in his initial study was a white person listed in American Men of Science (http://www.angelfire.com/az2/saintsci/). This would tend to give a state with a largely white, male-dominated society (like Utah) a statistical advantage in the study, while placing states that promote scientific vocations among women and minorities at a comparative disadvantage. Such a definition might also strongly select certain individuals based on their tendency to return questionnaires. [Becoming listed in such books is up to the individual. To be listed, one receives a request for information from the book’s editor, and the recipient then chooses to take the time to fill it out and return it, or toss it in the garbage.]

The second issue is Wootton’s method of normalizing. For example, in his 1998-1999 study he assumed that the average age of scientists in the US is 40 years, and then normalized his 1998-1999 birth statistics to state population figures using the 1960 US census. This method tends to rate fast-growing states, like Utah, at an artificially high level. On the other hand, normalizing to present-day population statistics tends to put fast-growing states at a comparative disadvantage. [In this study, I normalized data on the birth states of college graduates with degrees in science and engineering (listed in the NSF database, as of 1993) using both 1990 and 1960 population figures. As expected, Utah did better when normalizing with 1960 population figures, but in neither case did Utah lead the nation – see a full discussion in the next two sections.] The use of such normalizing techniques, and the racial and gender profile Wootton used makes his study look somewhat contrived.

Third, as discussed above, Wootton chose to look at statistics based on state of birth, instead of the state in which the scientist was educated. This is a seemingly arbitrary metric that has little obvious correlation with the commitment by any particular state (and its dominant religion) to science and education. After all, if a person is born in a particular state, the parents have "produced" something, but the local community and dominant religion have been relatively uninvolved – particularly if the individual then moves out of state and is raised and educated somewhere else. On the other hand, if that individual goes on to be educated within the state, then the state and its support structures can justifiably claim some measure of credit. [In this document I look at a wide variety of metrics, including state of birth, but place greater emphasis on how states participate in the education of their citizens.]

Finally, the LDS who reference Wootton’s work step beyond the scope of his narrowly defined study by often drawing broader conclusions than the wording of the study justifies. Among the LDS, claims abound that Utah has a unique and superior association with science, and that critics misrepresent the conflict between science and LDS doctrine. For example, at http://www.angelfire.com/az2/saintsci/y2kupd.html, it says:

These facts do establish that anti-Mormon literature, which has attacked Mormonism from its earliest beginnings, has not prevented highly educated professional people from being strong believers in the Mormon church. They did not find anti-Mormon arguments to be convincing. These well-informed scientists used their broad knowledge and reasoning to uphold the Mormon claims and counter the prejudiced half-truths and misrepresentations used against the Mormons. Can anyone of similar ability and desire also embrace and enjoy the truths and activities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Yes.

This statement clearly illustrates the LDS motive in using statistics about scientists in Utah – to fight the evils of anti-Mormons who question the validity of LDS doctrines as they relate to science.

In contrast to Wootton’s work, this report looks at many different statistical metrics (as opposed to just one), all drawn from data collected by disinterested third parties (as opposed to Wootton, who essentially constructed a custom-made database). In doing so, I’ve searched through government data from the 2000 US census, the US Department of Education, and the National Science Foundation. What I’ve found is that the claims made by the LDS are not only baseless; they are often not even close. In other words, Utah is often found, in these metrics, falling behind the median in areas where the LDS boast supremacy. For example, in terms of per capita production of individuals with science and engineering college degrees (based on place of birth) no fewer than 31 other states have higher per-capita rates than Utah, based on data from the National Science Foundation (normalizing to 2000 population data). These data are in direct conflict with Wootton’s claims.

In preparing this report, I’ve tried to accomplish several things:

  1. Maintain objectivity by using disinterested third-party statistical data (usually the US government) and broadly defined statistical metrics.
  2. Provide complete ability for verification. I’ve used only material available to the public, and usually on the Internet. Given the required time and determination, you can download all the databases I’ve used, and check every calculation from which I’ve drawn my conclusions.
  3. Define clearly all the metrics and definitions that I’ve used.
  4. Summarize the conclusions up front, making them clear and concise.

Definitions and terms

The most important definition in this report is the word "scientist." For the purposes of this report, I’ve chosen to define a "scientist" as someone who has a college degree of Bachelor or higher in a field related to science or engineering. This is a rather broad definition, and tends to include some people that real scientists would not ordinarily classify as such. In a literal sense, a scientist is someone who attempts to describe the world in which we live by using the methods of science. This might preclude many individuals who have degrees in science and engineering, but are employed as managers. Also, many engineers aren’t true scientists because they primarily use established methods that have already been developed by scientists. Just the same, I’ve chosen to include all these individuals in my rather sweeping definition of what is a "scientist" because a more restricted definition lends itself to the possibility of personal bias (in the form of a narrow, tailor-made description) that might skew the results. Additionally, there is the more practical matter that available databases using more restricted definitions are vastly more difficult to come by. In fact, this is one of the problems with Wootton’s study. His unnecessarily narrow definition of a scientist (a white person listed in American Men of Science) makes it inherently difficult to objectively verify the study’s results. With widely available public databases, this problem becomes a non-issue.

The second most important definition in this report is the word "produce." What, exactly, does it mean for a state to "produce" a scientist? I’ve taken the point of view that a state "produces" a scientist when academic institutions in the state are involved in educating him/her. While I’ve adopted this definition, it’s important to note that a key claim of the LDS and their supporters is based on place of birth, and not necessarily on the place of education. While I personally find this definition lacking, it is nevertheless the basis of their claims, and so I’ve also assembled statistics that deal with the LDS definition of "produce."

Summary of results

Using the definition I’ve given above for a "scientist," and whether or not you use my definition of "produce" or that used by the LDS, Utah is not the leading "producer" of scientists in the United States. In fact, Utah is often not even close. In virtually every category of science/engineering education, Utah falls behind the median when using the "born-in" definition of "produce" (and normalizing with 2000 population figures), and when using the "educated" definition of "produce," Utah is typically well behind at least 10 other states. Utah universities are most notable for their production of Bachelor’s degrees, with the production of Utah Doctor’s degrees being among the lowest in the nation when compared with their number of Bachelor’s degrees. [Note: this particular study did not discriminate between degrees acquired in science/engineering fields and those acquired in other fields.] Utah universities tend to be mostly average when compared on an academic footing with other national universities, and Utah’s universities lag far behind other institutions of similar size in terms of production of the highest-caliber scientists like those that win Nobel prizes.

Utah is consistently below the median in virtually all metrics when measured on an absolute scale, but rates higher in per-capita studies. This, however, is largely the result of Utah’s comparatively small population. Given these results, the claims by LDS apologists that Utah leads the nation in per capita production of scientists appears to be a gross exaggeration.

Detailed summary of statistical data:

Statistics related to scientists born in the state of Utah

This subsection deals directly with Wootton’s claim that more scientists are born in Utah, per capita, than in any other state. For my analysis, I’ve relied heavily on data collected by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a database and integrated system it has developed called SESTAT. According to the NSF:

"SESTAT is a comprehensive and integrated system of information about the employment, educational, and demographic characteristics of scientists and engineers (S&E) in the United States. In concept it covers those with a bachelor's degree or higher who either work in or are educated in science or engineering, although some data on the non-S&E are also included. SESTAT was created by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to provide data for policy analysis and general research. Maintained by the Division of Science Resource Studies within the NSF, SESTAT contains data from three NSF-sponsored demographic surveys. These surveys were conducted in 1993, 1995 and 1997. The 1999 survey is currently underway. These surveys provide data that have been integrated into a single system. The 1993 surveys include responses from about 200,000 individuals representing an S&E population of 11.6 million. The 1995 surveys include responses from about 105,000 individuals, representing 12.0 million scientists and engineers. The 1997 surveys include responses from about 100,000 individuals representing 12.6 million scientists and engineers. The 1993 National Survey of College Graduates was a once-a-decade baseline survey in that it also covered the non-S&E population with a bachelor's or higher degree -- about 29 million people." The result table I obtained from the NSF contained a great deal of information (77 pages). I reduced the volume of data by considering only those people born in the United States, and only those with degrees in science or engineering. The academic categories that I selected from the result table were:
  1. Computer and informational sciences
  2. Mathematical sciences
  3. Agricultural and food sciences
  4. Biological sciences
  5. Environmental life sciences
  6. Chemistry (except biochemistry)
  7. Earth science, geology, and oceanography
  8. Physics and astronomy
  9. Other physical sciences
  10. Aerospace and related engineering
  11. Chemical engineering
  12. Civil and architectural engineering
  13. Electrical and related engineering
  14. Industrial engineering
  15. Mechanical engineering
  16. Other engineering

I then entered these data into an Excel spread sheet. I also entered the population for each state, as given by the 2000 US census (http://www.census.gov/). Using the data from the SESAT result table, and the 2000 census, I calculated a normalized value (score) for each state. This normalized value is the weighted number of individuals born in a given state, who have a college degree (latest, or highest) in one of the given academic classifications, divided by the state population in the 2000 census.

I then sorted each state according to each of the academic classifications and determined the number of states that have a greater or equal normalized score than Utah. Table 1 illustrates the total results. Appendix A contains the actual spreadsheet data used to arrive at these rankings.

Academic field

Number of states with equal or higher ranking than Utah

Computer and informational sciences

47

Mathematical sciences

35

Agricultural and food sciences

19

Biological sciences

28

Environmental life sciences

45

Chemistry (except biochemistry)

41

Earth science, geology, and oceanography

35

Physics and astronomy

26

Other physical sciences

28

Aerospace and related engineering

26

Chemical engineering

28

Civil and architectural engineering

24

Electrical and related engineering

32

Industrial engineering

17

Mechanical engineering

35

Other engineering

11

Total

31

Table 1. Utah’s ranking in the 16 academic classifications (based on per capita births in each state, of individuals with Bachelor’s degree or higher).

As you can see, Utah never ranks above 11, and its over all score (sum of all numbers of individuals in all the 16 classifications divided by state population) is below the median. In fact, out of 16 academic classifications, Utah ranks below the median in 14, and above the median in only 2. As noted earlier, even when normalizing state population to 1960, Utah does not lead the nation (although its rank increases due to its high rate of population growth – see Appendix A for the table showing ranking based on 1960 population figures).

Recall the earlier conversation about normalization, and which year to use. I’ve used year-2000 population statistics throughout this report. However, Wootton normalized his data to population in 1960. To allow for a more applicable comparison with Wootton’s data, I normalized the NSF statistics on which states scientists are born in, using both 2000 and 1960 population figures. I found the figures for 1960 population at http://fisher.lib.virginia.edu/cgi-local/censusbin/census/cen.pl?year=960). As expected, Utah’s ranking increased when normalizing with 1960 data. This is because, from 1960 to 2000, Utah’s population went from 890,627 to 2,233,000 – making Utah one of the fastest-growing states in the union (only four other states grew by a larger percentage than Utah during this time period: Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and Alaska). Still, even using 1960 population figures, Utah is not the leading state in terms of the 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 (see the listing at the end of Appendix A).

 

Statistics related to college education in Utah

I took the statistics in this section from report NCES 2000-174, "Degrees and Other Awards Conferred by Title IV Eligible Degree-granting Institutions: 1996-1997 (see especially tables 5 and 5b), U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, prepared by Frank B. Morgan, Postsecondary Studies Division. You can find a copy of this report at http://nces.ed.gov/Ipeds/c9697/ .

As with all the statistics in this report, I calculated the per capita rates by dividing the absolute numbers for each state by the state population reported in the 2000 US census. Table 2 shows how Utah’s general rate of degree production compares with other states in the union. This table contains data for all Title IV, degree-granting institutions, as well as statistics broken out specifically for private, non-profit schools (also Title IV, degree-granting institutions) within each state.

Metric

Number of states with equal or higher ranking than Utah

Total degree production for all schools within the state

    • Associates degrees (per capita)
    • Bachelor’s degrees (per capita)
    • Master’s degrees (per capita)
    • Doctor’s degrees (per capita)


8

5

20

17

Total degree production for all private, non-profit schools within the state

    • Associates degrees (per capita)
    • Bachelor’s degrees (per capita)
    • Master’s degrees (per capita)
    • Doctor’s degrees (per capita)


35

4

14

15

Table 2. Statistics related to college degrees granted by all schools within each state, as well as only private, non-profit, degree-granting institutions.

As you can see, from Table 2, Utah never leads all states in any category. Utah’s performance is, however, above the median in every metric – so Utah ranks better in college degrees awarded than it does in people born within the state, and holding degrees in fields related to science and engineering (Table 1).

One of the more interesting features of table 2 is the difference between per-capita rates of awarding Associates and Bachelor’s degrees when compared with Master’s and Doctor’s degrees. Utah’s rank falls dramatically between these categories, and the trend continues with private non-profit schools as well.

This trend shows up in other reports on education, as well. For example, Brigham Young University has one of the largest Physics departments in the United States, when measured in terms of the number of Bachelor’s degrees awarded in 1995. However, in terms of the number of Ph.D. degrees awarded in the same year, the University is among the lowest of the schools with which it was compared (Ehrlich, R., Where are the physics majors? Am. J. Phys. 66 (1) January 1998, see the table on page 82).

This trend also shows up in the data from NCES 2000-174. In terms of number of Doctor’s degrees granted (by all schools) per Bachelor’s degree, Utah ranks behind 39 other states (below the median). For private, non-profit, degree-granting schools, Utah fares better, but is still behind 27 other states.

These data are particularly inconsistent with the LDS claim in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism that "Utah [leads] all other states by a wide margin in the proportion of its university graduates who eventually received doctoral degrees in science." In fact, these data suggest the exact opposite.

Appendix B contains the full data tables used to arrive at these statistical tables and metrics.

Table 2 lists degrees for all fields. A more significant piece of information, relating to state-by-state production of scientists, is found in the rates of granting Doctor’s degrees in science and engineering, and in the enrollment of graduate students and postdocs in science and engineering programs.

As with earlier examples, this information is available from the NSF database. At http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/nsf01314/pdfstart.htm you can obtain an on-line copy of a report titled "Science and Engineering Doctorate Awards: 1999," NSF 01-314. Susan T. Hill with the National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resource Studies, January 2001, prepared this report.

Table 6 in the report lists the total number of science and engineering Doctorates awarded by each state in 1999, by field, and also by major institution. In terms of absolute numbers, California (with 3,344) leads the nation, while Utah (with 268) is ranked 28 out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. After normalizing for population, Utah comes in with a respectable rank of 8. Although Utah’s per capita rate is commendable and above the national mean, Utah lags behind the leader (the District of Columbia) by a factor of 4.4 to one. The leading state (Maryland) leads Utah’s per capita rate by a factor of 2.5 to one. Table 3 summarizes the results.

State

Total number of Doctorates awarded in science and engineering in 1999

Per capita number of Doctorates awarded in science and engineering in 1999 (per thousand, 2000 census)

District of C.

302 0.528

Maryland

687 0.299

Massachusetts

1498 0.236

Rhode Island

174 0.166

Delaware

121 0.155

Colorado

565 0.131

Iowa

372 0.127

Utah

268 0.120
Table 3. Doctorate degrees in science and engineering produced by the top eight states in 1999.

Another statistic of interest is the number of graduate students in science and engineering fields in all institutions (by state) from 1991-1998. Again, this data is taken from the NSF, and can be found at http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/nsf01302/pdf/tabb-10.pdf.

Alternatively, you can go to http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs and click on

Table 4 summarizes the results. Again, Utah does comparatively well in terms of per capita production, ranking 11th, behind ten other states. As with the Doctoral students, Utah’s per capita rate is well below the leader (the District of Columbia) by a factor of 7.5 to one. The leading state (Maryland) has a per capita rate that is 2.4 times that of Utah.

Other interesting and related figures from the Internet include a list of the 60 top schools in terms of granting Doctor’s degrees in the United States. A list with no Utah schools.

You can read some interesting state-by-state rankings (on many more things than just education) based on US census data at http://www.census.gov/. File rank06 lists states according to the percentage of persons with Bachelors degree or more. In 1990 Utah ranked 14th, and in 1999 Utah ranked 10th.

In 1990 Utah ranked third in primary-secondary school enrollment, and the rank increased to second by 1996. In terms of full-time college enrollment (as a percentage of total) Utah’s rank was 16 in 1990, and it decreased to 21st in 1996 (http://www.census.gov/statab/states/ut.txt).

For the very best scientists, those with Nobel prizes for the work they do, visit http://almaz.com/nobel.html where you can see a list of their Alma Maters. As you can see, Utah is not mentioned, and does not figure significantly in the education of these world-class scientists.

State

Total number of graduate students in science and engineering

Per capita number of graduate students in science and engineering (per thousand, 2000 census)

District of C.

7164 12.522

Maryland

9217 4.014

Massachusetts

19593 3.086

Kansas

5645 2.100

New York

38898 2.050

Colorado

8333 1.937

Delaware

1459 1.863

Connecticut

6088 1.788

Illinois

21847 1.759

New Mexico

3040 1.671

Utah

3729 1.670
Table 4. Graduate students in science and engineering in the top 11 states between 1991 and 1998.

Yet another interesting look at how Utah schools compare academically can be found by comparing the number of science journals generated by some of its leading schools. For this study, I went to Engineering Village 2 (an Internet search engine for scientists and engineers) where I searched on the Compendex database. [This is not a free service. To contact and register, go to http://www.ei.org]

There, I searched the database (from 1990 to 2001) for science journals authored by faculty and students associated with several different academic institutions (note that this search is for scientific journals primarily related to physics, chemistry, optics, and electronics. It does not focus on things like earth sciences and biology). Here is a summary of how Utah’s major schools compare with each other, and how they compare with national schools.

Princeton = 6503

MIT = 2788

Stanford University = 381

University of Utah = 83

Boston University = 27

Brigham Young University = 25

Utah State University = 14

Berkley = 17

While some of Utah’s statistics are respectable, none of them lend support to the claim that Utah produces more scientists per capita than any other state. In fact, some of these statistics lend considerable support to the conclusion that Utah is nowhere near being a leading state in national production of scientists (on a per capita basis).

Finally, you cannot really understand the relationship between Mormonism (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) unless you understand Brigham Young University, which is the Church’s preeminent institution of higher learning. Recently, the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) censored BYU for infringing on the academic freedom among its faculty. To see the history behind this restriction of academic freedom and the events leading up to BYU’s censorship, I highly recommend The Lord’s University, by Bryan Waterman and Brian Kagel (Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 1998).

Statistics related to scientific/engineering activity in Utah

The last metrics I examined were related to scientific activity in Utah. The first of these metrics is the number of patents produced by inventors living in each state. For this study, I used the on-line patent search of the US Patent Office, found at http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/search-bool.html. The search requires the two-letter state abbreviation (which you can find at http://www.fac.unc.edu/Mail/States.asp) to be entered for Term one, and selection of "Inventor State" in field 1. Also, for the state of Oregon, you must enter "OR" with quotations, instead of just OR (which the search program confuses with a Boolean operator). Be sure the search is for "All years."

For each state, I found the total number of patents having someone on the patent listed as an inventor, and living in that state (note that the metric here is not for the state of birth, but the state of residence when the patent was issued). I then normalized these data using the census 2000 population figures. Table 5 summarizes the results. As you can see, Utah was slightly above average, with 20 states having a higher ranking (per capita numbers are persons per thousand).

Patents are a natural outcome of the work done by many of America’s most productive scientists and engineers, and Utah’s trailing performance in terms of per-capita production of patents (behind 20 other states) is inconsistent with LDS claims of unique scientific excellence.

Another measure of the climate toward science, and the degree to which a state supports scientific research and development, are the number of employed Doctoral scientists and engineers in the state. I found these data at http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/srs01406/start.htm#tables. Click on "list of Tables," and then click on "Table 10." When normalized to state population, and sorted, Utah ranks 18th, behind 17 other states. Table 6 summarizes the results.

Consistent with previous data, we find the District of Columbia at the top, and Maryland just below it. Delaware and Massachusetts also figure prominently (as they consistently do in all the metrics I examined). Utah’s per capita rate, though above the median, is 12 times smaller than that of D.C., and nearly five times smaller than Maryland’s.

State

Number of patents issued to state residents per thousand

Delaware

15.82

Connecticut

13.78

Maryland

13.09

New Jersey

11.93

Massachusetts

10.66

New Hampshire

9.38

Minnesota

8.68

Vermont

8.45

Michigan

7.72

California

7.56

Idaho

7.40

Illinois

7.38

Pennsylvania

7.23

New York

7.19

Ohio

7.10

Rhode Island

6.61

Wisconsin

6.56

Colorado

6.44

Oregon

5.80

Indiana

5.51

Utah

5.01
Table 5. Patents awarded to residents of the top 21 states (on a per capita basis).

State

Number of employed Doctoral scientists and engineers (1999)

Number of employed Doctoral scientists and engineers (per thousand, 2000 census figures)

District of C.

13834 24.19

Maryland

22134 9.64

Delaware

3873 4.95

Massachusetts

27114 4.27

New Mexico

7747 4.26

Connecticut

9960 2.93

Vermont

1660 2.735

Rhode Island

2766 2.64

Colorado

11067 2.57

New Jersey

21581 2.56

Minnesota

11620 2.36

Virginia

16600 2.35

Hawaii

2766 2.28

California

76917 2.27

Washington

13280 2.25

New York

42608 2.25

Pennsylvania

25454 2.07

Utah

4426 1.98
Table 6. Number of employed Doctoral scientists and engineers in the top 18 states (on a per capita basis) in 1999

Conclusions:

In many respects, Utah’s production of scientists and college-educated students in science and engineering are respectable. Utah consistently ranks near or above the median on a per capita basis, although the state is consistently below the median in absolute numbers. Ranking above the median, however respectable, is something that exactly half the states accomplish, and is far from the heady claims of supremacy that LDS apologists claim.

Overall, there is nothing in any of these statistics that lends credibility to the exaggerated claims that Utah is the leading per capita producer of scientists in the nation. In fact, these data largely contradict such conclusions. Certainly, the NSF data is in direct conflict with Wootton’s claims, as they provide direct statistical evidence showing that Utah is not a leading producer of scientists based on place of birth. In fact, this is one area where Utah consistently ranks below the national median (at least when using 2000 population figures). Wootton’s data are hard to reconcile, indeed. But, while I’ve used public databases that are searchable and testable by anyone, Wootton’s database remains largely out of reach. Perhaps it was his definition of "scientist." Perhaps it was his use of a selective (white) population. Or, perhaps his methodology was flawed in some other way (recall the method he used to normalize state population). Could it be that Wootton’s data suggest that the LDS are more likely to respond to mail-in questionnaires? Especially if they recognize the study organizer as a prominent LDS leader, and perceive the study as aimed at giving credibility to the LDS Church? It’s difficult to say, but I suspect that Wootton’s results have as much to say about the psychology of LDS scientists as anything else.

What seems clear, however, is that the many different public databases examined in this report all point in a consistent direction, namely that Utah is not a dominant source of scientific talent by virtually any broad-based, un-biased metric you wish to choose. This is an important point. Something as multivalued as a state with millions of people can be looked at from thousands of different perspectives. Searching through this space, it’s not surprising to discover that you can find some metric for each state in which that state ranks number one. This, however, is nothing less than an abuse of statistics, insofar as general themes of supremacy are then drawn from such ad hoc statistical measures. The real test is to look at the statistical space from many different points of view, and to search for general trends that suggest broad principles that hold under many different circumstances. When taking this track, Utah comes in with a respectable showing, somewhere in front of the middle of the pack, but definitely not the national leader that LDS apologists have described it.


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