Competitive Titles

toThere are several excellent books, which discuss different aspects of ranking, from the mathematical algorithms to ranking academic institutions, countries or political candidates.

The book   Who’s #1?: The Science of Rating and Ranking  written by the mathematicians Amy N. Langville and Carl D. Meyer (Princeton Univ. Press, 2012) grew up from the authors’ studies on mining the Web, and offer a broad overview on the mathematical algorithms and methods used to rate and rank sports teams, political candidates, products, Web pages etc., and is naturally located on a shelf for math books.

Engines of Anxiety: Academic Rankings, Reputation, and Accountability (Russel Sage, 2016) by two sociologists, Wendy Nelson Espeland and Michael Sauder analyzes the history and present practice of evaluation and ranking of the quality of higher education institution, particularly law schools. Ranking not only reflects but also shapes social hierarchy. The book well demonstrates our paradoxical emotions to ranking, quantification of performance are both needed very much and also source of anxiety.

Rather parallelly, Ranking the World: Grading States as a Tool of Global Governance   (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2015) edited by Alexander Cooley and Jack Snyder (Editors) describes our paradoxical emotions to ranking. International ranking of states performance are characterized by about hundred different indices, from ”Human Freedom Index” via ”Corruption Perceptions Index” to ”World Happiness”. The pattern is that ranking organizations are not totally independent, and some ranked countries (say, China and Russia) occasionally reacted angrily to the performance analysis, still they are interested in the result.

Majority Judgment: Measuring, Ranking, and Electing (MIT Press, 2011) by by Michel Balinski and Rida Laraki is about ranking political candidates, and the authors argue that ”The intent of this book is to show why the majority judgment is superior to any known method of voting and to any known method of judging competitions.”

I was somewhat positively surprised that the narrative of all the three social science books seems to be conform with the take away of my own planned book: we like ranking with the hope that it reflects objectivity, but frequently the objectivity is illusion only, and might be subject to manipulation. The challenge is to write a popular, easily readable integrative book on ranking and rating in accordance with both the modern theories of social and computational sciences and the everyday’s experience


6 thoughts on “Competitive Titles”

  1. I think ranking is a secondary byproduct coming from team sports with seasons etc. The elementary process is comparison. Ranking becomes popular to compensate for shortage of experience. I have no idea where to send my daughter to college etc. No tradition leads to ranking.


  2. Ranking seems to be a modernist issue associated first of all with the system concept. Perhaps it would be useful to consider the same problems in the contexts of networks. In this (in my view postmodern) contexts ranking will have more pluralist meaninngs 🙂


  3. A couple of thoughts. Some rankings are pretty straightforward and are close to 1:1 for what you want to measure. Percentage wins of teams in a sports league. Some are not: what is the best country to live in? There seem to be two elements. 1) what is the criterion? Percentage wins is a good measure of most competitive team, but not so great as a measure of how pretty the uniforms are. Second, what are the underlying attributes of the ranking, and how are they weighted? Best country to live in? Climate or type of government, or best food. If the weights change, the ranking may change. What is the cognitive mechanism by which this happens?
    Finally, how do you make the ranking? If people list the alternatives, and you average the list, then the system is subject to the weight change issue. If you do it alternative pairing one by one, you can have the Ken Arrow preference cycling problem; then the ranking can be dependent on the order of the presentation of the pairs.

    Anyway, lots of interesting stuff to explore. I look forward to the book.


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