I decided to write a non-fiction book with the title and subtitle RANKING – The reality, illusion and manipulation of objectivity. The book discusses the Hows and Whys of our love and fear of making ranks and being ranked through many real life examples to be viewed from three different angles (reality, illusion and manipulation) of objectivity. Ranking converts scientific theories to everyday’s experience by raising and answering such question as:
- Are college ranking lists objective?
- How to rank and rate states based on their fragility, corruption or even happiness?
- How to find the most relevant web pages?
- How to rank employees?
Life and society is really complex, consequently our message is not so simple such as ”Ranking is good!” or ”Ranking is bad!”. Since we permanently rank ourselves and others and are also being ranked, the message is twofold: how to prepare the possible most objective ranking and how to accept that ranking does not necessarily reflects our real values and achievements. The reader will understand our difficulties to navigate between objective and subjective and gets help to identify and modify her place in real and virtual communities by combining our human intelligence with computational techniques.
László Arany (1844-1898), the son of the celebrated poet, and the “Shakespeare of ballads”, János Arany (1817-1882), collected Hungarian folktales. One of these tales taught children, how decisions supposed to bring collectively can be manipulated by the strongest participant.
A number of animals escaped from their homes, and fell into a trap. They were not able to escape, and became very hungry. There wasn’t any food around, so the wolf suggested a solution: ”Well, my dear friends! What to do now? We should eat soon, otherwise we starve to death. I have an idea! Let us read the names of all of us, and the most ugly one will be eaten.” Everybody agreed, (I have never understood, why). The wolf assigned himself to be the judge, and counted:
”Woolf-boolf o! So great!, fox-box also great, my dear-my beer very great, rabbit-babbit also great, cock-bock also great, my hen-my-ben, you are not great.. and they ate the hen… so on…next time cock-bock became food… (thanks to Judit Zerkowitz for the translation from Hungarian).
This is a great example of demonstrating how objectivity is manipulated if one of the voters controls an election.
Fareed Zakaria just mentioned in his GPS at CNN a list of countries ranked by their passport index. Countries ranked by their total visa-free score:
Singapore becomes most powerful passport in the world.
“Paraguay helps Singapore overtake Germany for the top spot. Montreal, October 24, 2017 – Paraguay removed visa requirements for Singaporeans, propelling Singapore’s passport to the top of Passport Index’ most powerful ranking with a visa-free score of 159. Historically, the Top 10 most powerful passports in the world were mostly European, with Germany having the lead for the past two years. Since early 2017, the number one position was shared with Singapore, which was steadily going up. Other Asian passports in the Top 20 include those of South Korea, Japan and Malaysia. According to The Hon. Philippe May, Managing Director of Arton Capital’s Singapore office, “For the first time ever an Asian country has the most powerful passport in the world.” “It is a testament of Singapore’s inclusive diplomatic relations and effective foreign policy,” shared May. …”
I must have been maybe ten, eleven years old, still remember well to a paradoxical title of a journal article : ‘Let the objective numbers speak!” I enlighten you, why was it paradoxical. At the ends of the soccer seasons the sport newspaper evaluated the performance of the players for each of the eleven positions, from goalkeepers to left wingers. The article, in addition to the verbal appraisal, contained eleven ranked lists, one for each position; players from each team were ranked based on their seasonal scores, Fig. shows. How these scores were constructed? Please note: soccer is not baseball, there is no objective measure to score the players. A journalist apprentice was delegated to every game, and he (surely he) gave a score to each player after each game. Any player, who was sending off from the field, got a score ”one”. A very few players in each season received a score ”ten” for their extraordinary performances. The majority of the scores was in the ”five” to ”eight” interval. More or less the meaning of ”five” was ”somewhat below average”, and ”eight” indicated ”excellent” (but not brilliant). After each game as we walked with my Dad, to the tram stop to get a ride from the suburb called Újpest, where our stadium has been located, to our apartment in ”Újlipótváros”, we also gave our own scores to each players of our team. I was impatiently waiting the morning paper to compare their scores with mines. At the end of the season, when I read about ”objective numbers”, I knew well that they reflected ranks on the objective average of their subjective grades. This observation suggested, that ranking based on subjective rating generates the illusion of objectivity only. The scores were not random, they reflected the best estimations of the journalists, but beyond dispute they were subjective.
‘The only guy who seems to have escaped the rankings game is Adam. He got into the record books without trying: Before him there was nobody. Eve had to settle for runner-up, and look what happened when she tried to get ahead by snacking on a piece of fruit…”
I am reading about what people wrote about the ranking game. Stephen Joel Trachtenberg is president emeritus of George Washington University published in 2011 a witty article .
“The ancient Greeks picked up the game, fashioning bits of gold, silver and bronze to represent win, place and show. Earning an Olympic medal meant, and still means, you are the best of the best, the top dog in your chosen category of competition. It is absolute and objective, not relative and subjective. The best sprinter gets the gold because she is fast, not because she is popular…”
Thank you, Prof. Trachtenberg!
Mark Cuban threw shade at Forbes’ rich list after Wilbur Ross lied about being a billionaire
(I am not sure whether my friends in Pest and Buda or even in Debrecen know MC… My daughter and wife like to watch Sharks, so I have heard about him.
Here is the new QS World University Rankings (thanks for Gyuri Bazsa for writing me).
if you click to Methodology, you see again the magic numbers and categories.
Academic reputation (30%)
Employer reputation (20%)
Faculty/student ratio (15%)
Papers per faculty (10%)
Web impact (10%)
Staff with a PhD (5%)
Citations per paper (5%)
International faculty (2.5%) and international students (2.5%).
Lomonosov is still the first. Written on ~ November 7th, 2017.