May 29

Missions, Numbers, and Lying

On a thread last year at BCC entitled Coming Clean, Mark Brown daringly confessed to the entire Bloggernacle that he invented his mission numbers reports. His bold revelation transported me straight back to a dark, sweltering night in the dark, sweltering center of my mission. I had recently become senior companion, and while my first couple of ZLs had accepted our numbers as representative of our best efforts and delivered encouragement rather than condemnation, our new ZL, who had just ascended from junior companion with a death grip on his own personal scepter of self-righteousness, was subjecting us to the first real numbers pressure I’d ever experienced. The Sunday-night ritual of calling numbers in was becoming distinctly unpleasant; the ZL was constantly critical of the weekly results we had to report, unwittingly heaping discouragement on me during what was already, for me, a very difficult time, one of the lowest of my mission. Continue reading

May 06

Nacle Numbers, 2003-2008, Part 1

Last year I threw together a big pile of numbers, counting during the previous year the number and length of posts and comments on 11 Bloggernacle blogs, as well who wrote them. A question that came up a few times in the ensuing discussions was what the numbers would look like across several years. So for this year, I went back and collected some of those numbers.

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Apr 11

Implied Statistical Report Graphs

Over at T&S, Kent Larsen wrote an interesting post based on the Church’s statistical report from Conference. He compared this year’s data with statistical reports from 5, 10, and 25 years ago. Since I find this kind of speculation so entertaining, I searched lds.org and found statistical reports all the way back to 1973 to fill out the data set a little. To make the resulting data easier to look at, I’ve put some of the numbers Kent and the commenters discussed into graphs.

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Dec 04

Are There Any “Soft R” Movies? (and Other Movie Rating Musings)

A few months ago, The Baron argued in a post at Waters of Mormon that a weakness of the MPAA movie rating scheme is that it considers only the movie’s worst content category (of violence, profanity, and sex). For example, if a movie has enough profanity to get an R rating, the R says nothing about its levels of violence or sex. Such a movie could have any combination of levels of violence and sex, from none at all up to enough to warrant an R rating on their own even without the profanity.

The Baron pointed out that this practice of rating movies by only their worst type of content might set up an odd incentive:

this only encourages filmmakers to add more “R-rated” content to their movie, since obviously if they know they’re getting an R for violence already, why NOT add a lot of profanity and nudity as well?  The rating is going to be the same, either way

This had never occurred to me, but I can see his argument that the rating system would create this incentive. His unstated assumption, though, is that movie makers want to put as much violence, sex, and profanity into their movies as they possibly can. I doubt that that’s actually the case. While I suspect they probably chafe at times at restrictions that trying to get a particular rating might place on them, I would be surprised if getting lots of offensive material in is often one of their major goals.

So which is true? Are movie makers anxious to put lots of offensive content into their movies, or not? What’s fun about this question is that there’s data I can use to try to answer it.

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Dec 03

Books, Mormons, and Statistics, part II

Ziff, Ray, and Kent Larsen had it right — the Book of Mormon has the largest standard deviation in ratings of any book on the site. The stat is called “25 Books People Can’t Agree On” and you can see it at the bottom of this page.

The Book of Mormon may be at the top of the list, but it’s in good company, since books by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Isaac Newton are also on the list. (Of course, the urban vampire fantasy and regency romance do drag down the neighborhood a bit.)

It’s also the most widely-owned of any book on that list, by far. There are around 1,600 LibraryThing members who own a total of around 1,800 copies of the Book of Mormon. The next most widely held book is Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun, at around 400 copies. There have been some other popular books on the list, but they tend to drop off when they get very popular, because enough people give them an intermediate rating (2.5-3.5 stars) that it lowers the standard deviation of all the ratings. The Secret, a book made popular by Oprah Winfrey, used to be on the list, but now the standard deviation of the ratings is down to 1.34, well below the current top-25 cutoff of 1.42. Continue reading

Nov 30

Books, Mormons, and Statistics

If you like books and statistics, you’ll love LibraryThing. They have 554,277 members who have cataloged 33,647,263 books of which 3,850,295 are unique works not shared by anyone else on the site.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s [Philosopher’s] Stone is owned by more people than anyone else (37,254 copies, 3 of which are mine), although more people have posted reviews of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (704 reviews, with an average rating of 4.43 stars out of 5).

As you might expect, J.K. Rowling is the top author in terms of number of copies of her books owned, but Stephen King is second, even though his top individual book isn’t even in the top 200.

Oh, and one more thing (which is actually the whole point of this post): The Book of Mormon is at the top of a list based on another site-wide statistic. Care to guess what that statistic is?

Sep 09

Documenting Changing Church Rhetoric on Gender Roles

My impression is that Church rhetoric defines women by their roles more often than it does men. Women are wives and mothers. Even if they aren’t technically mothers, women are mothers, because that’s just who they are. Men, on the other hand, sure we’re admonished to be good husbands and fathers, but those roles are discussed as being much less central to who we are. I would be shocked, for example, if someone gave a talk titled “Are We Not All Fathers?” in General Conference.

When this difference in the centrality of women’s and men’s gender roles is discussed, one hope that is often held out is that the Church is changing. Women are coming to be defined less by their roles and more as people of worth even if they don’t take on those roles, and men are being reminded more often that our roles as husband and father should be central to our lives.

It occurred to me recently that I could easily test for whether such a change is actually occurring by looking at how often different words are used in articles archived at LDS.org. Continue reading

Nov 19

Secular Usage of “Preside”

In a discussion last year at T&S about what it means for a husband to preside, Jim F. argued that it doesn’t really matter what preside means outside the Church because the word just isn’t much used outside the Church (and perhaps court). Kiskilili disagreed, saying that she thought that secular usage was more common.

At the time, it occurred to me that this would be a relatively simple question to get data to answer, but I put the thought on the back burner, so I am just now getting around to trying to answer it. I chose to search newspapers to attempt to answer the question, given that they tend to have a very broad target audience and are fairly widely read (although I know they aren’t read as much as they used to be).

1. Is preside ever used in a secular context? Continue reading