The Morning File / Are we the smartest? We're not saying so, therefore we must be

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It doesn't take a genius to know things have gotten out of hand in the rankings universe when folks start calling Pittsburghers the smartest people in the USA.

The Morning File is always willing to accept it when our city is called the most livable and any of the many permutations as either one of the best metropolitan areas to retire or raise a family or buy a house or find polite, friendly people or almost anything short of "best place to buy a six-pack."

But smartest? That reminds us of Fredo Corleone's smarts when talking to brother Michael -- "I'm smart and I want respect!" -- as though it might be more laughable than it is something to attract the next Mensa convention to town. If we're so smart, why do we build airports twice the size needed, house our jail inmates in prime riverfront property and name our parkways by directions that are the opposite of the direction in which we're driving half the time?

The claim about Pittsburgh's collective smarts came last week from Movoto.com, a real estate brokerage company that analyzes data and puts its findings out to the public.

Movoto didn't put us first based on some intelligence survey where, say, it stopped Pittsburghers on the street corner and asked a bunch of "Jeopardy"-style questions like whether we knew the capital of Djibouti. (If we know the answer, which is "Djibouti," it's almost certainly only because we saw it on a TV commercial.)

Movoto simply examined the 100 most populous cities' per capita number of colleges, libraries, museums and media outlets, plus their public school rankings and percentage of residents with college degrees. So it doesn't really matter if we patronize a library or museum or read a newspaper to suggest our intelligence -- their very existence is enough to satisfy Movoto.

Among the 100 largest cities, Pittsburgh finished in the top 30 in each of the six criteria, including No. 1 in the number of college and universities per person.

So that got us the best overall score, which we might be inclined to give more credence to if we were closely trailed by Boston, Washington, D.C., and Seattle, which all sound like places that would attract a lot of people wearing glasses (and thus, must be smart).

But instead, No. 2 on the list is Orlando, Fla. That's right, the people who wear heavy amusement park costumes throughout the summer, when 89-degree days constitute relief from the heat, are apparently very, very smart. Washington and Seattle are lower in the top 10, and Boston doesn't make it at all.

Naturally, Pittsburgh's lofty status stirred voluminous debate on the Movoto.com website, where people posting comments -- including some Pittsburghers -- found the city's tops-in-smarts classification ridiculous, and others rose to defend it.

"There is a very strong, local aversion toward education ... with people who leave and/or highly educated being perceived as 'arrogant' or 'strange,' " wrote one person claiming to have grown up in the city and to have returned for a few years to set up a tech company, only to leave again in disgust with the local yokels.

Another poster responded with references to Jonas Salk's polio vaccine work at the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon's advances in robotics, Thomas Starzl's pioneering transplant work at UPMC and more as justification for such a ranking.

One commenter summed it up this way: "I am from Pittsburgh and I will say we are not the smartest, but if we are, God help the rest of the country."

In truth, we're probably not the smartest folks around, but there's no harm in that -- so long as we're not the stupidest, and are somewhat above the median.

No one in school ever much liked either the smartest or dumbest kid in class -- it was those friendly, solid kids who were a little good at everything, without being idiots about anything, who probably won the most praise and respect from peers.

And that's just how The Morning File views Pittsburgh. But don't go by us, we don't know anything (and we're smart enough to admit it).

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Gary Rotstein: grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255. Joseph Pepe, presidentRandy Waugaman, director of audience Exclusive content at post-gazette.com/plus Take a look at PG+ for the best in sports analysis and inside information. And while there, feel free to add your own comments. PG Video:Check out a new edition of "Tech Talk," where TechMan reviews the Logitech keyboard for iPad and Blucon receiver.PG Blogs: Whether your interests run to sports, entertainment or politics, we have a blog for you. And you can comment!


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