Oct 30

Most Liked Conference Talks (Now with better data!)

I wrote a post last year in which I tried to assess which Conference talks were most liked by Church members. The method I used was very much a kludge: I looked at the change in Facebook likes for each speaker during the session in which he or she gave a talk. Fortunately, a friend pointed out to me that there’s a much simpler way to measure this. The individual web pages for each Conference talk have a count of how many people liked the talk itself on Facebook. So of course this was data that I was interested in going back to look at.

The Facebook like buttons were added to all Conference talks, going back to 1971. Beyond a couple of years ago, of course, there aren’t many likes since most old Conference talks (other than a few classics) probably aren’t referred to all that often. I might go back later and look at the older talks, but for now I was just interested in the Conferences recent enough that someone could hear a talk in Conference, and then later in the week look it up on lds.org and click like, so I limited myself to 2012 through 2014–the last six Conferences.

There are three things to note about the data. First, I got the like counts a couple of days ago, so they’re already out of date. Second, for like counts over 1,000, the like button shows a count in thousands. I got exact counts by querying Graph Search directly. (I found this on stackoverflow somewhere, but now can’t recall where. The method is to point your browser to the URL http://graph.facebook.com/?id=<URL of talk>.) Third, the like counts for the most recent Conference are lower than for previous Conferences, probably because it has only been a few weeks since Conference occurred, and people haven’t had lots of chances to re-read or re-hear a talk and go back and like it.

Here are the ten most liked talks from the past six Conferences.

top 10 talks by likes

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Oct 02

Temple talk trends

Over at fMh yesterday, Sara Katherine Staheli Hanks introduced a new series, “When the Temple Hurts.” I was particularly interested in a point she made in the post about how often we discuss the temple in lessons and talks at church:

The temple is a regular focus of meetings, lessons, talks, and discussions in church settings. I’d estimate that, in my experience, 1 out of every 4-5 Sundays in my adult life as a church member has included a talk or lesson where the temple was a primary focus.

I’ve been teaching primary now for a couple of years, and my memory of adult classes is maybe suffering from a bit of haziness, but Sara’s numbers sound good to me. This would mean an average of at least one temple-related lesson or talk per month, with of course lots of variation where there is a cluster of them, and then maybe no mentions for a longer period of time.

I would be interested to know how well that matches up with other people’s experience. It seems like this would be a difficult thing to measure well. Sure, we have correlated lesson manuals, but we also have locally chosen topics for things like sacrament meetings, first Sunday meetings in RS and priesthood quorums, and Teachings for Our Time lessons. And for that matter, even how correlated lessons are taught varies a lot from ward to ward and from teacher to teacher (much to the frustration of the Correlation people, I’m sure).

So I thought I would look at a related question that’s easier for me to answer, which is whether talk about the temple at the general level of the Church has been increasing or decreasing over time. If there’s a noticeable change over time, this is probably felt by people in their local experiences, as general-level material like Conference talks are not only used directly in the preparation of lessons and talks, but they also likely help drive local leaders’ perceptions of what topics are important at the moment.

I used the ever-wonderful Corpus of General Conference Talks to look at how often the word temple has been used in Conference since 1900. This graph shows the result. The dark purple line is the 10-year moving average, and the faded purple line shows the year-to-year rates.

temple refs in conference 1900-2013 Continue reading

Sep 16

The Incredible Shrinking Statistical Report

If you look back through Church statistical reports released in every April Conference (and who hasn’t?), you find that it’s not exactly the same information that gets reported each year. I don’t mean that the numbers change; I mean that which categories of numbers even get reported change. There has been less change in recent years, but if you look back to the 80s, you’ll find lots of categories of information that used to be reported that aren’t anymore. For example, you’ll find number of babies blessed (last reported in 1988), number of boys and men who hold different priesthood offices (1986),  number of proxy temple ordinances (1984), marriage rate (1983), and number of women in the Relief Society (1977).

I thought it might be interesting to look at what categories of information have been reported in statistical reports at different times, as well as how many total categories of information have been reported. This first graph shows how many line items (separate numbers representing different pieces of information) were in the statistical report each year from 1971 to 2014.

This graph shows the number of line items in the statistical report each year from 1971 to 2014.

line items in statistical reports 1971-2014

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Sep 04

Do women’s patriarchal blessings mention a career?

Several months ago (in May, I think), there was a discussion at the Mormon Hub that turned to whether women’s patriarchal blessings mentioned a career or not. Heather (who blogs at Doves and Serpents) and I thought it would be interesting to see if we could get a little data on the question. Heather put together a brief survey, and we asked for responses in the Hub and in the fMh Facebook group. For purposes of comparison, we asked for men to respond too, although we got far more responses from women.

We got a total of 422 responses (actually slightly more, but a few were incomplete and couldn’t be included): 359 from women, and 63 from men. The years they reported receiving their patriarchal blessings ranged from 1941 to 2013.

This graph shows overall results, ignoring year of the blessing:

patriarchal blessings mentioning career by sexNot surprisingly, patriarchs mentioned career far more often for men than they did for women.

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Aug 14

A So-called "Post"

In Angela C.’s hilarious post “Mormon Jargon 2” at BCC, this is her entry for “so-called”:

So-called (adj.) I sneer at whatever word follows this adjective

It seems like this is a term GAs use fairly often to indicate disapproval, as Angela observes. Elder Oaks, for example, last October, used it at least a couple of times (maybe even three?) in his talk “No Other Gods” (although only one occurrence made it into the written version). I thought it might be interesting to look back at who uses “so-called” most often, what they’re disapproving of, and whether there is any trend over time in its usage.

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Aug 06

Which GAs Do Readers of Different Blogs Like?

I thought this might be a fun question to look at, and thanks to Facebook’s Graph Search, I have at least an approximate way to answer it. Graph Search will let you look for people who “like” different combinations of pages. (For the remainder of this post, I’m going to drop the quotation marks on “like” when describing Facebook likes, because they just get tiring to look at, and I figure you know what I’m talking about.) Most blogs that I wanted to look at have a Facebook page that readers can like, so I just looked up people who liked the Facebook page for each blog, and then looked at how many of each of these people liked each member of the Quorum of 15. One small difficulty I encountered is that Graph Search is more interested in showing me individual people than in giving me an exact count (which makes sense given what Facebook is for). It estimates the number of people who like a blog page and a GA page as more than 10, or fewer than 1000, or whatever, but I couldn’t get an exact count without repeatedly scrolling to the bottom of the results so that it would pull up even more results until it could find no more.

One thing I wanted to adjust for is that the general membership of the Church likes different Q15 members more or less often on Facebook (as I’ve blogged about before and plan to again). So I thought it would be most interesting to see which Q15 members are most liked by readers of different blogs, compared to how often the GAs are liked overall. For example, President Monson alone accounts for nearly 20% of all likes of Q15 members. If he gets only 15% of likes given to Q15 members by readers of a particular blog, this indicates he’s less popular among readers of the blog than among members in general (even if he still gets more likes than any other Q15 member from readers of the blog).

Here are results for ZD. The differences are in percentage points (the percentage of all likes of Q15 members going to this member among likers of the blog minus the same calculation for all Facebook users). I put the First Presidency at the left because a lot of the action is there, and then put the Q12 in order of seniority. Note that I’ve added the colors just to make it easier to see who is who at a glance. A lot of these graphs look similar, so I think it can be helpful to have the colors so you can easily look for the same person as you look across graphs.

zelophehad's daughtersWell, that’s a pretty straightforward pattern. ZD readers like President Uchtdorf. They really, really like him. Most everyone else falls below overall norms to compensate.

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Jul 16

Which RS/YW/Primary Presidency Members Prefer Which Books of Scripture?

I blogged a few days ago about which books of scripture Quorum of 15 members cite more or less frequency in Conference. BethSmash asked to see results for women leaders.

Unfortunately, getting trends over time for the women leaders requires more work than I have the energy for right now. I would need to get not only distribution of citations by book of scripture for each person, but for each person in each year. Sorry, BethSmash! But I did get counts of citations for each person ignoring when the talk was given, and I’ve done the same adjustment I did for the Quorum of 15 members in the other post, adjusting for the prevailing citation norms at the times the people were in their callings. I’ve put these in this post, in case they’re of any interest.

I looked in the LDSSCI for citation counts for all members of a Relief Society, Young Women’s, or Primary General Presidency since the mid-1970s. I didn’t look back any further because if I remember right, women didn’t speak regularly in Conference before the 1980s, and there weren’t General Women’s meetings (which the LDSSCI includes) before the late 1970s.

Here are counts for all RS, YW, and Primary Presidency members who had at least 10 scripture citations in their talks (regardless of how many talks it took them to use that many references). There are 42 women who meet this criterion. I’ve put them in order by calling year.

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Jul 09

Which GAs Prefer Which Books of Scripture?

Thanks to the handy LDS Scripture Citation Index (LDSSCI), it’s easy to get data to answer this question. I looked up each of the current members of the Quorum of 15 to see how often he cited the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price in his Conference talks. For example, for President Monson, the counts are 332, 818, 184, 255, and 32, respectively. Here are counts for all Quorum members:

Member OT NT BoM D&C PGP Total
Monson 332 818 184 255 32 1621
Packer 125 312 559 470 96 1562
Perry 95 116 141 106 74 532
Nelson 399 695 910 945 209 3158
Oaks 149 538 504 386 60 1637
Ballard 26 139 133 111 32 441
Scott 25 57 203 144 34 463
Hales 77 336 291 187 78 969
Holland 70 243 140 74 24 551
Eyring 27 97 162 135 16 437
Uchtdorf 56 166 126 121 28 497
Bednar 19 60 148 87 15 329
Cook 27 57 73 82 9 248
Christofferson 11 129 139 118 26 423
Andersen 17 98 102 59 11 287

Next, to adjust for the fact that Quorum members differ in the total number of scripture citations they put in their talks, I converted the counts of citations to percentages of all citations by the member. Using President Monson as an example again, this means dividing each of his counts by book (332, 818, 184, 255, and 32) by his total (1621) to get his percentages. Here are percentages for all Quorum members:

Member OT NT BoM D&C PGP
Monson 20% 50% 11% 16% 2%
Packer 8% 20% 36% 30% 6%
Perry 18% 22% 27% 20% 14%
Nelson 13% 22% 29% 30% 7%
Oaks 9% 33% 31% 24% 4%
Ballard 6% 32% 30% 25% 7%
Scott 5% 12% 44% 31% 7%
Hales 8% 35% 30% 19% 8%
Holland 13% 44% 25% 13% 4%
Eyring 6% 22% 37% 31% 4%
Uchtdorf 11% 33% 25% 24% 6%
Bednar 6% 18% 45% 26% 5%
Cook 11% 23% 29% 33% 4%
Christofferson 3% 30% 33% 28% 6%
Andersen 6% 34% 36% 21% 4%

(Note that the percentages do not add to 100 for some members because of rounding.)

Finally, I did one more adjustment to account for the norms of how often the different books of scripture are cited in Conference by all speakers during the years each Quorum member served. What I mean here is that at different points in time, different books of scripture were cited more or less by all speakers in Conference. Because members have been in the Quorum for different amounts of time, some of the differences between them can be accounted for by the different norms in Conference at the times they were giving talks.

The biggest shift in the time current Quorum members have served has been an increase in citations of the Book of Mormon. Here’s a graph showing the percentage of all citations of scriptures in Conference that came from each of the five books of scripture since 1942 (as far back as the LDSSCI has Conference talk data).

conference books of scripture quoted Continue reading

Jun 25

When will the female priesthood ban end?

Monday was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. I was actually surprised at how badly I took the news of Kate Kelly’s excommunication. When I heard about it, I just felt sick, and even my usual coping strategy of information-seeking didn’t work very well. Every Facebook post and news story I read just made me feel sicker and want to cry more. I had expected beforehand that excommunication would be the outcome. Or at least I told myself that I was expecting it. Given how difficult hearing the actual news was for me, though, I guess I had been holding out more hope than I realized that the outcome would be something else–anything else.

But that was Monday. Today, I’m trying to think about the future, specifically, the future of the LDS female priesthood ban. I really believe that it will one day be lifted. I just have no idea when. But because I find it soothing to crunch numbers and speculate, I’ve gone ahead and done that in this post. I realize, though, that this is little more than guessing.

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Jun 03

Modesty Rhetoric in Church Magazines

Has there been an increase in modesty rhetoric in the Church in the past few years, or are we just imagining things? I wrote a post a few years ago to try to answer this question by counting articles in Church magazines by year that used the word modesty in discussing dress. I found that yes, there had been an increase, particularly in the New Era and the Friend.

The question is one that I’ve seen come up a lot in the Mormon-themed Facebook groups where I participate, so the post still gets linked to now and again. I’ve wanted to update it, though, to make three changes: (1) add 3 more years of data, (2) improve my counting of mentions of modesty, and (3) count separately for modesty discussions aimed at women/YW/girls and men/YM/boys.

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Apr 26

Plan of Salvation Happiness

Note: I was unaware of it at the time I wrote this post, but there’s a much more in-depth look at these terms, as well as some additional ones like “plan of redemption” at the blog Nearing Kolob.

When I was growing up and I learned in church about God’s plan to get people back to live with him, the plan was always called the “plan of salvation.” But sometime between my childhood (1980s) and now, this plan has come to be described more often as the “plan of happiness.” The two terms are clearly used to refer to the same thing. For example, here’s Elder Nelson in an April 2013 Conference talk:

The Book of Mormon . . . explains God’s great plan of happiness—the plan of salvation.

I don’t recall when the change took place, though. So I did some digging in the Corpus of LDS General Conference Talks. The corpus goes all the way back to the 1850s, but it looks like the first usage of “plan of happiness” didn’t even take place until 1979. And it didn’t really become popular until 10-15 years later. I’ll make a graph to show you some more complete data.

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Apr 03

New Scripture Mastery: Now With 40% Less Prooftexting!

The list of scripture mastery scriptures that seminary students are asked to memorize last September. Over a third of the 100 scriptures (25 for each book of scripture / year of instruction) were replaced. NoCoolName Tom has some fascinating discussion of the scriptures that were dropped at his blog (from the Old Testament only: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

I thought it also might be interesting to look at the changes that were made in terms of how useful the scriptures are for prooftexting. The reason I thought of this is that I served a mission in Texas, and looking back at the scriptures I had learned in seminary, it seemed like a fair number of them had been included solely as ammunition for prooftexting arguments with other Christians. I think a prototypical example of this is 1 Corinthians 15:29:

Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?

I know doing ordinances for the dead is an important doctrine, but really how important is it to know that there’s this offhand reference to it in a single verse in the New Testament? It seems to me that it’s only important if the goal is to teach seminary students to have prooftexts ready for an argument, where they could (in theory) show up their opponents by whipping this verse out to show that yes indeed, baptism for the dead is mentioned in the Bible, so nyah nyah nyah!!

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Mar 27

Why Faith Transitions Need to Be Less Frequentist and More Bayesian

I know. You are probably despairing to think that such a disputed area of statistical dogma could have anything to contribute to such a disputed area of religious experience. (If you are despairing about this post for other reasons, I apologize). I mean, not even Martin Luther would have had the nerve to nail 95 non-informative priors on R.A. Fisher’s door.

But English statistician Thomas Bayes was also a Presbyterian minister, so it is only natural that his statistical insight would have religious implications as well. And his insight is, in my view, the key to healthier faith transitions. Continue reading

Mar 08

Does General Conference Talk Complexity Vary by Session Type?

Back in November, the Church announced a new General Women’s Meeting that will occur the weekend before each General Conference. This meeting will include girls who are eight to eleven years old in addition to women and teenage girls. I saw a number of people on the Bloggernacle suggest that the result would be that either the talks will be over the youngest girls’ heads and therefore boring to them, or the talks will be aimed at them and therefore boring to the women and teens. For example, on the first possibility, here’s Rebecca J at BCC:

Why would you include eight-year-old girls in a women’s conference? . . . Perhaps inviting 11-year-old girls would not be inappropriate—girls on the cusp of Young Woman-hood, as it were. . . . But what do our leaders have to say to grown women that could possibly be relevant and not mind-numbingly boring to eight-year-old girls?

This question got me to wondering whether I could measure to what degree Conference speakers were pitching their talks differently to differently-aged audiences. I’m sure there’s an in-depth way to answer this question that requires analyzing the actual content of Conference talks. But as you can probably guess, I didn’t go that route. Instead, I took a shortcut and looked at a related question that I could answer more easily. I looked at whether Conference talks differ in how difficult their language is, depending on which session they’re given in, and therefore the age of the audience they’re aimed at.

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Jan 22

General RS Presidencies Having Children and GAs Having Children

On my post last week about how many kids GAs have, Petra asked about what the numbers would look like for women in general Church leadership positions. To answer this question, I’ve looked up the number of children that women in the General Relief Society Presidency (hereafter, GRSP) have had. To match the dataset I have for the FP/Q12, I included only women called since 1920.

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Jan 16

GAs Having Children and Talking about Having Children

In comments on Steve Evans’s recent post at BCC on how birth rates might be increased in accordance with GAs’ counsel to have more children, the question was briefly raised of how many children GAs themselves have. One commenter pointed to a post at By Study and Faith where Jared had found that younger members of the Quorum of the 12 have fewer children on average than do older members.

In this post, I will try to expand a little on Jared’s study by looking at FP/Q12 members over a longer period of time, as well as by trying to look at the link between GAs having lots of children and GAs encouraging Church members to have lots of children more explicit.

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Oct 11

Most “Liked” Conference Talks

What was your favorite General Conference talk? Was it President Uchtdorf’s, where he said this?

Some struggle with unanswered questions about things that have been done or said in the past. We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of Church history—along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable, and divine events—there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.

Or perhaps Elder Holland’s where he said this?

If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders.

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Jul 23

Usage of “I know” and “I believe” in General Conference

Geoff Nelson at Rational Faiths wrote an interesting post a few weeks ago where he looked at how often General Conference speakers say “I know” versus “I believe.” Hooray for more data analysis in the Bloggernacle! Anyway, he found that usage of “I know” has been increasing relative to “I believe” since the early 20th century. I found this kind of surprising, because I would have guessed that the rise of Correlation would be associated with any change over time, but the pattern he found is different than what you would expect to see if that were the case. So I thought I’d look at the data a little bit myself.

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