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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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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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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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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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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How often are men and women quoted in General Conference?

Soon after I finished my most recent post, I realized that it would be fairly easy to assess how often men and women are quoted and how often stories are told about men as opposed to women in General Conference.  I decided to analyze the most recent conference (April 2013) to get the most up-to-date data.  From the April 2013 conference, I randomly selected two talks from Priesthood Session and two talks from the General YW Meeting (and by random, I mean truly random.  I assigned each talk a number and used a random number generator to select talks for me).  I also randomly selected two talks by men from the main sessions of conference and analyzed the only two talks that were given by women. Read More

How often are men and women quoted in church?

I have heard anecdotal evidence that men are much more likely than women to be quoted during LDS church services, and that stories about men are more often shared than stories about women.  It is not surprising that this trend would exist given that the majority of scripture stories in the LDS canon are about men and that the majority of modern-day conference speakers are men.  In light of  this anecdotal evidence, I decided to collect some data to get a better idea of the percentage of times men vs. women are quoted and the percentage of stories that are told about men as opposed to women during a typical church service. Read More

They always say the same thing in Conference (Part 1)

A few months ago, I was working on a project that required me to look through a lot of search results at the Corpus of LDS General Conference Talks. I was surprised to find that some speakers not only told the same stories and made the same points in multiple talks, they frequently used exactly the same phrasing in doing so. In other words, they were clearly copying and pasting parts from one talk to another. Not that I blame them. I know GAs are busy people, so in retrospect I probably shouldn’t have been surprised.

This got me to wondering, though, whether some Conference speakers use this copy-and-paste strategy more than others. I hit on an easy way to measure how often they do this while reading Brian Christian’s fascinating book The Most Human Human. The book is about the author’s preparation for participating in a Turing test, where his role is to serve as a chat partner for judges who are trying to distinguish between computer programs and people, and his goal is to win the award that is the book’s title, by convincing the most judges that he is a human and not a computer. One issue Christian discusses is redundancy in language. For example, when we’re reading, we can predict with accuracy far better than chance what word will come next in a sentence, and our accuracy goes up as the sentence goes on. More importantly for my purposes, compression software also works by spotting redundancies in language.

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Gender-neutral Language in Conference

In a recent discussion in a Facebook group, I guessed that one way the Church might have improved recently in its treatment of women is in GAs using more gender-neutral language in talks. My memory is that President Hinckley, for example, when he quoted scriptures talking about men, would sometimes explicitly point out that it included women as well. But I’ve never actually studied the question systematically. Until now.

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Who Wrote the Proclamation on the Family?

While the Proclamation on the Family was nominally written by all 15 men serving in the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve at the time it was issued, it seems likely that some of them were more central to the project than others. For some reason, I’ve always thought it was Elder Nelson’s baby, although I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s just because divine gender roles seems to be his favorite topic.

In any case, the writers aren’t likely to tell us who was most and least involved, but I wonder if they might have revealed this information to us indirectly. It seems reasonable to assume that those who were most enamored of the project would quote from and refer to the document most often. So I went back and checked who has referred to the Proclamation the most.

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Doctrinal Density of the Scriptures

We just finished talking about the war chapters at the end of Alma a couple of weeks ago, in my ward’s Sunday School anyway. Discussion of these chapters sometimes brings up an argument about whether all scriptures are equally valuable, since of course if you don’t believe they are, these chapters are perfect examples to cite.

I got to thinking that it might be fun to try to answer this question  empirically. To do so, I looked at how much time the Sunday School manuals spend on each chapter of the scriptures. This can tell us how doctrinally important each chapter is. Of course it’s a pretty crude measure and it’s just one class in church, but at least it’s a starting point.

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A Modest Bit of Data

Over at Doves and Serpents, Heather Olsen Beal recently blogged about a Friend article in which a four year old girl learns the importance of not wearing clothes that show her shoulders. The article was also discussed at fMh, and Heather, Erin Hill, and Chelsea Fife were guests on a Mormon Matters podcast, where they used the article as a jumping off point for discussing how modesty is taught (and could be taught better) in the Church.

In the discussion, following Heather’s post, she raised the question of whether this focus has changed over time, whether the practice of drilling even prepubescent children on modesty of dress is a new thing:

I think the rhetoric we were getting from church leaders and publications 20 years ago was much more sane and reasonable. I feel like it’s gotten ratcheted up to the nth degree. It’s no longer a modest position; it’s extreme.

That modesty is being pushed harder and with more detail now than it used to be is my impression too, but I wondered whether I could find any data that would support or refute this conclusion.

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Most Quoted Parts of the Proclamation on the Family

A recent discussion at fMh turned, as so many do, to a discussion of whether Church teachings about marriage emphasize more that the husband should preside or that the husband and wife should be equal partners. Given this question, I thought it might be interesting to look at whether the “presiding” part or the “equal partners” part of the Proclamation on the Family had been quoted more.

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A Post by Ziff, Even a Guy Who Likes Numbers

In Mark Brown’s post “Mormon Buzzwords” (“on words and phrases we don’t need”) at BCC last month, a number of people suggested that our frequent use of appositive phrases beginning with “even” used to describe Jesus or the prophet is particularly annoying. Here’s an example from President Uchtdorf’s otherwise excellent talk “We Are Doing a Great Work and Cannot Come Down,” given in April 2009 Conferece:

I have witnessed with my own eyes and joyfully testify that in our day, God speaks through His prophet, seer, and revelator, even Thomas S. Monson.

So who started this usage of “even”? And who’s perpetuating it among current General Authorities?

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