Welcome to the site of Ranking

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.

 

Social dominance orientation

Social dominance orientation (SDO) measures social and political attitudes. Measurement is a procedure, when a number is assigned to an object, event, attitude etc. It is measured by a so-called Lickert scale, what social psychologists use base to generate scales from responses to statements. A frequently used version permits five answers (strongly disagree; disagree; neither agree nor disagree; agree, strongly agree). To generate a scale, numbers are assigned to each answer (from 1 to 5). Here are some textbook examples, you may check your attitude:
Western civilization has brought more progress than all other cultural traditions.
Lower wages for women and ethnic minorities simply reflect lower skill and education levels.
Patriotism is the most important qualification for a politician.
If not executed, murderers will commit more crimes in the future.
SDO measures attitude for inequality between social groups. While measurement refers to the present, it also predicts future behavior. ”SDO also predicts support for group-relevant social policies that uphold the hierarchical status quo, such as support for wars of aggression, punitive criminal justice policies, the death penalty and torture, and opposition to humanitarian practices, social welfare, and affirmative action” 38 .
How does our brain help us to know our social rank? Do you remember how you spent the first days in your newest job? I would guess many of us collected information about the formal and informal relationships among people. We learn soon the formal hierarchical relationship. It might be useful to uncover the structure of the gossip network. (It was easy to notice that a colleague having his office adjacent to mine seemed to know everything from everybody in our small campus. So for me it is a viable strategy to visit him occasionally to update myself about recent (and future) local events.
Modern neuroscience has combined brain imaging devices and computational techniques to uncover some mechanisms about how people’s brain processes information on social hierarchy 39 .
An exciting field, social neuroscience uncovers the brain regions and neural mechanisms
related to reflecting ranks and dominance. Studies have shown that a brain region called the dorsolatereal prefrontal cortex might play a significant role in the prevalence of employment discrimination against women or ethnic minorities, which is directly related to the conservative and hierarchy-enhancing attitudes indexed by the social dominance orientation (SDO) scale.
So what? Assuming neural determinism, may an ultraconservative guy may tell ”it is not me, only my prefrontal cortex”. I leave the story here and let the Reader to think on it.

Social structures: Hierarchical versus Network Organization

Hierarchies

Hierarchy is the very general organization principle that characterizes our physical, biological and social systems.21 Such systems are structured in layers or levels. An excellent example for the success of interdisciplinary science is an explanation of the evolution of complex hierarchical human societies through combining the collection and analysis of traditional historical data with mathematical modeling. The core of the hypothesis is that there are two main governing factors, warfare and the so-called “multi-level selection,” which have propelled human evolution for centuries. 22 According to anthropological scholars, human society evolved from small-scale, relatively egalitarian tribes to the complex social entities of advanced industrialized nations through a multilevel selection mechanism combining competition and cooperation. Historically, tribal social groupings resulted in competition for scarce resources, and tribes had incentives to act selfishly for the benefit of their group members. However, historians and anthropologists have noted that during periods of intensive competition, like wartime, tribal groups have tended towards cooperative practices. Increased cooperation among group members induces firmer social
cohesion, drives technological progress (including military and organizational applications), and results in population expansion. Due to cognitive bounds that limit the number of social relationships any single person can maintain, evolutionary mechanisms have promoted demarcating social groups along cultural, linguistic, religious, and other lines, and constructing ever-larger social hierarchies that have grown to encompass societies of quite literally billions of people.
These interdisciplinary studies show (i) that both altruism (benefiting others at a cost to
ourself) within a community, and hostility (toward individuals outside of our own ethnic, racial communities) are common human behaviors; and (ii) the intersection of the two (called ”parochial altruism”) 23 led to an evolutionary mechanism well-labeled with the slogan ”cooperate to compete” to generate large-scale hierarchical social structures.

Some social hierarchies

Social hierarchies can be traced throughout history, and here are illustrative examples:
Toga and rank Roman society was strongly hierarchical. Among the patricians there were wealthy landowners, politicians, as consels, senators, judges. They could veto on laws. Among the most famous patrician families you can find Julia (Julius Caesar), Cornelia, Claudia, Fabia, and Valeria. The plebians, i.e. the ordinary citizens had to pay tax. A common job was to be shop owner. The plebians cannot participate in government. (One of Rome’s most famous senator, Cicero, however, was a plebeian). The freedmans may have jobs, as craftsmen and traders, while they were free from slavery, they had little rights. Slaves, had not any rights, they worked in mines, farming, road construction etc. During many years of work they could save up to pay to get out of slavery. The hierarchical organization was well-reflected by the types of toga worn.24 Figure 3.1 shows that the color of the toga is a symbol of social status.

The strict social hierarchy of the Aztecs Aztec society was structured by social, political, and religious hierarchies. The election system ensured continuity: emperors were usually chosen from among the brothers or sons of the deceased rule, and they were elected by a high council of four nobles who were related to the previous ruler. The nobles had many privileges, including
full educations and fancier clothes. They might have held government offices, but craftsmen, or even servants, could belong to the nobles. There was some class mobility, since servants with distinction could move up in the ranks. The commoners were farmers, artisans, merchants, and low-level priests. Slaves typically had more rights than we would often think. They had the right to form a family and even to buy their freedom. (Actually, poor and free people could sell themselves as slaves.) 25. Fig. 3.2 illustrates their social structure.

Hierarchies in the Medieval Europe The feudal system in the Medieval Europe implemented a strict ”pecking order”, everyone from the pope to the king to the peasant knew his or her place in the hierarchy.26 The King was on the top of the hierarchy, he had the maximal power. The system is based on the belief that God owns the land, and the King, who rules with the God’s wish, could use this land. So, the King grants the land to nobles for military services. Nobles granted further the land to peasants, to who made the agricultural work, and
other services. Land and privileges were subdivided based on the hierarchy shown at Fig. 3.3.

Symbolic actions of social status
”It’s believed that bowing in Japan started sometime
during the Asuka and Nara periods (538-794 AD) with the introduction of Chinese buddhism. According to those teachings, bowing was a direct reflection of status—if you met a person of higher social standing, you would put yourself in the more “vulnerable” position of a bow, much like a friendly dog rolling over on its back, to prove that you didn’t harbor any ill will towardthem.”27

How does our brain help us to know our social rank?
Do you remember how you spent the first days in your newest job? I would guess many of you collected information about the formal and informal relationships among people. Modern neuroscience has combined brain imaging devices and computational techniques to uncover some mechanisms about how people’s
brain processes information on social hierarchy. 28 An exciting field, social neuroscience uncovers the brain regions and neural mechanisms
related to reflecting ranks and dominance. A brain region called dorsolatereal prefrontal cortex might play a significant role in the prevalence of employment discrimination against women or ethnic minorities, which is directly related to the conservative and hierarchy-enhancing attitudes indexed by SDO scale. So what? Should an ultraconservative guy should tell, ”it is not me, only
my prefrontal cortex”. I leave the story here and let the Reader to think on it.

A few sentences about the history, philosophy and cognitive science of zero

Zero was not always on the number scale. The concept of zero emerged from the the contemplation of void by the Buddhists. While the notion of emptiness has negative connotation according to the Western psychology, the Buddhists don’t identify emptiness to the concept of nothing. 2
The number zero was discovered or invented in India. (”Invented” implies that zero is a
human construction, while ”discovered” assumes that while the symbol is created by human, the concept existed without any human activity.) It appeared in the Bakhshali manuscript, denoted by a point. While symbols as placeholders were used earlier by the Babylonians and Mayans, this script seems to be the first, where the symbol represents ”nothing”. Zero as a number is the result of the Buddhists deep introspection. The manuscript is located in the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, and it was a big excitement among the historians of mathematics in 2017, when radiocarbon dating of the documents showed that zero appeared in the 3rd or 4th century, four-five hundreds years earlier, that it was assumed 3. Zero arrived to Europe only around 1200, when the Italian mathematician traveled back from North-Africa, and now the whole digital age is based on the difference between ”nothing” and ”something”.
Integrative studies in cognitive science combined human developmental psychology, animal cognition and neurophysiology, and the results suggested zero emerges through four stages: first, sensory ”nothing”, i.e. the lack of any stimulus; second, the categorical ”something”, still qualitative; third, nothing is characterized quantitatively by empty sets; and finally there is a transition from an empty set to the number zero. 4 Present day cognitive neuroscience investigates the neural mechanisms of representing empty sets and zero.
Zero and non-zero, nothing and something are basic categories in our digital age. So, we
should think three times (referring to another magical number), when we declare: ”my pain is zero”.

2 https://www.huffingtonpost.com/lewis-richmond/emptiness-most-misunderstood-word-in-buddhism_b_2769189.html; Kaplan, R: The Nothing that Is: A Natural History of Zero. Oxford Univ. Press, 2000; Amir D.
Aczel: Finding Zero: A Mathematician’s Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers. St. Martin’s Press, 2015.
3 see e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/sep/14/much-ado-about-nothing-ancient-indian-text-contains-earliest-

4 Nieder A: Representing Something Out of Nothing: The Dawning of Zero. Trends in Cognitive Science,
20(830-842), 2016 Nov.

Lists memorization

The human brain generally does not have the ability of remembering long lists of unstructured items. We don’t remember well for a series of numbers, of nonsense words, or lengthy list of goods to shop in the supermarket. One of the pioneers of the memory research, Hermann Ebbinghaus made memory studies around 1885 on himself and tried to memorize nonsense syllables. Time to time he tested his memory, and realized that it decayed exponentially, and the performance of his memory is quantitatively can be characterized by what is called ”forgetting curve”. He also found that the his performance depended on the the number of items, it was more difficult to memorize long lists of items.

There are big exceptions. Some people literally are able to remember list of nonsense items for decades. Alexander Luria (1902–1977), a Soviet neuropsychologist studied a journalist, called Solomon Shereshevski, who apparently had a basically infinite memory. He was able to memorize long lists, mathematical formulae, speeches, poems, even in foreign languages etc.  He was able to recall of these lists of nonsense syllables 14 years later as well that the day he had learned them. His performance did not depend on the length of the items, what Ebbinghaus observations and theory suggested,

Shereshevski was diagnosed with synaesthesia, which is a neurological condition, when different senses are coupled. When he realized his ability, he performed as a mnemonist. His ability implied disorders in his everyday life, it was difficult to him to discriminate between events that happened minutes or years ago.

Content (as it stands now)

Contents
1 Prologue: My Early Encounters with Ranking 1
1.1 How to lead the popularity list? Own a soccer ball! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
1.2 Rating and ranking of soccer players: the illusion of objectivity . . . . . . . . . . 2
1.3 A not-so beautiful tale: An example for intentional biased ranking from a Hungarian
folktale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
1.4 Lessons learned: The reality, illusion and manipulation of the objectivity . . . . . 3
2 Comparison, ranking, rating and lists 5
2.1 Comparison: ”thief of joy” or driving force towards future successes? . . . . . . . 5
2.2 From Ali’s ”I am the greatest” to ”the grass is always greener on the other side of
the fence” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
2.3 When to use ranking and rating? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
2.4 From the ranking of mathematicians to the rating of chess players . . . . . . . . . 10
2.5 From the Ten Commandments to the Top Ten Mania . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
3 Social ranking in animal and human societies 17
3.1 Pecking order in chicken community . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
3.2 Dominance, prestige, hierarchy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
3.3 The tragedy of being the SECOND best . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
4 Choices, Games, Laws and the Web 25
4.1 Choices: individual, social and algorithmic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
4.2 Rock–paper–scissor: games and laws . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
4.3 The fortune-making algorithm . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
5 The Ignorant and the Manipulator 33
5.1 (Not only) cognitive bias . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
5.2 ”When the World Is Led by a Child” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
5.3 The importance and the difficulties of measuring society . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
6 Ranking games 41
6.1 Players and strategies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
6.2 Nobody likes, everybody uses: college ranking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
6.3 Is there any ”best” country in the world? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
6.4 About the results of the game: stability, reversal, statistics . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
iii
7 Struggle for reputation 49
7.1 Reputation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
7.2 Ranking game what scientists play . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
7.3 Rating artists . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52
7.4 Nobel and Oscar the candidates and the winners . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52
7.5 How (not) to rig an election? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
7.6 The dark side of a success story: the search engine manipulation effect and its
possible impact . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54
8 You can choose something (somebody) if you know it (her/him): recommendation
systems 57
8.1 Algorithms: friends or foes? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
8.2 The music what you like: Cantometrics and the Music Genome Project . . . . . . 59
9 Epilogue: Ranking, rating and everything else. The mystery of the future:
how to combine human and computational intelligence? 61
9.1 Rules of the ranking game: where we are now? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
9.2 Algorithms humans use and create/control . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62
9.3 Controling the web: Who has the last word? The human or the computer? . . . . 62