There are many ways to define a stereotypical geek; for instance, a geek might be someone who has an interest in comic books, computer games, gadgets, science, technology, engineering, math — the list can go on and on. The National Science Foundation focused on the last four areas when ranking its list of America’s Top 20 Geekiest Cities in the agency’s Science and Engineering Indicators: 2010 report. The NSF established this list based upon the percentage of the working population with a bachelor’s level of knowledge and education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics who are working in one of those fields.

Based on this taxonomy, it’s no surprise that San Jose, California — home of Silicon Valley — tops the list. The second city on the list was a bit more of a surprise, given the stereotypically counter-culture population of Boulder, Colorado. Continuing down the list, we see many more cities that are not surprising at all: Huntsville, Alabama (which is home to the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center); Washington, D.C., (the government has a lot of technology workers); Seattle-Bellevue, Washington (where you’ll find the Microsoft headquarters); Austin-Round Rock, Texas (home of Dell); Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Florida (aka Space Coast), and several cities across the nation that are home to large universities. This is the complete list of the top 20 geekiest cities in the United States:

  1. San Jose, California
  2. Boulder, Colorado
  3. Framingham, Massachusetts
  4. Huntsville, Alabama
  5. Durham, North Carolina
  6. Lowell, Massachusetts
  7. Washington, D.C.
  8. Ithaca, New York
  9. Bethesda, Maryland
  10. Seattle-Bellevue, Washington
  11. Kennewick-Richland-Pasco, Washington
  12. Austin-Round Rock, Texas
  13. Ames, Iowa
  14. Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Florida
  15. Boston, Massachusetts
  16. Ann Arbor, Michigan
  17. Bloomington-Normal, Illinois
  18. Olympia, Washington
  19. San Francisco, California
  20. Fort Walton Beach-Crestview-Destin, Florida

For more details about each city listed, check out the photo gallery of America’s Top 20 Geekiest Cities.

Forbes contributor William Pentland looked into the country of origin of many of these science and engineering workers, and he points out that a large number of U.S. “geek” workers are foreign-born, mostly from China and India, but native-born American geek workers are growing annually. Also, there were about 5.5 million U.S. workers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math in 2007, which is staggering considering there were less than 200,000 in 1950.

While I agree with NSF’s determination that these four traits are very geekish, this is a complete taxonomy. These traits may be considered more “nerdish” than “geekish,” as the term nerd is used more frequently than geek for bookish interests like science and math. And, excluding the entire comic book reading, computer (and table-top) game playing, cult movie watching geek subculture would probably drastically alter this list of cities, perhaps excluding several completely in favor of other cities not included.

If you were to create a taxonomy for what defines a geek, what would it be? Do you agree or disagree with the four traits selected for this list? What city surprises you most on this list? What city would you have thought should be here that’s not? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Also read: Building the next ‘geek generation’