Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Pullman, Wash.: America's 10th-smartest urban area?

Posted By on Wed, Jun 26, 2013 at 2:30 PM

There are some pretty smart cities on the Palouse, according to a new study that ranks cities by intelligence. Pullman came in No. 10 of 478 urban areas, and Moscow came in No. 29. (The combined Spokane-Spokane Valley, on the other hand, just barely made it into the top half, at No. 227.)

The whole thing is based on Lumosity games, which are described as workouts for your mind — they’re designed on the somewhat controversial notion that people can improve their intelligence through conditioning. Anyone who went online and played a certain number of games was geolocated by IP address and tallied in the group score, with a total sample size of more than 3 million users, the report says.

In some ways it’s not surprising to see Pullman and Moscow near the top — all the highest-ranked places are distinct college towns: Cornell, Penn State, Purdue, etc. They also tend to have large graduate student populations and an emphasis on engineering or high-tech industries.

An Atlantic post quotes a Lumosity data scientist explaining the college association this way:

“College towns tend to do well because education is correlated with cognitive performance. We've seen in our other research that those with advanced degrees tend to perform better cognitively throughout the lifespan.”

That post is written by well-known demographer and urban expert Richard Florida, which lends some credence to the study itself. Because it’s not totally clear who plays these games — are students playing these games for class? Is it just a fun thing to do after studying every night? Are some people trying harder than others? Are the people who are drawn to academia also drawn to little brain puzzles?

Lumosity actively promotes its games for use in elementary, middle and high schools, and with advertisements promoting the “amazing benefits of brain training.”

The company also did rankings last fall specifically for the smartest colleges. Spoiler: Neither Washington State nor University of Idaho are on that list.

But if the Lumosity rankings are not exactly consistent or transparent, it’s at least something new. The study makes a good point that we don’t have a very good system for measuring community intelligence — we mostly rely on “socioeconomic variables like income and education levels” that correlate with intelligence but don’t actually measure it. 

The real lesson here is that if you’re now thinking about checking out those games, and you're not sure if you'll score so well — don’t. We obviously can’t afford to have any newbies bringing down our collective score.

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