Are Rankings Really Useful?

It is human nature for individuals to want to be better than those around them. Everybody wants to be the best at what they do. We create our own ranking systems and deem what we believe to be important as top priorities. No matter what it being compared, whichever object is seen as better all depends on what the standards are. Malcolm Gladwell discusses the flaws of many well-known and popular rankings in his article, The Order of Things.

Gladwell focuses in on the importance of knowing exactly how things are compared. He uses the example of Car and Driver rankings of three different sports cars. He notes that Car and Driver uses the same system of rating for sports cars as they would any other vehicle. He claims that this is absurd because the comparison is too “heterogeneous.” There is no way that the same way a sports car is ranked should be the same of that of an SUV. The two vehicles are purchased for different reasons.

The main idea of his article is to prove that college rankings are not as useful at they appear. I admit when I was perusing through lists of schools I looked at what they were ranked at. It seems important to go to a “good” school. When choosing a college everyone wants to appear that they are going to an elite university. Gladwell argues that ranking is not the most important factor about a college because it depends what it is being ranked on. He uses the example of Penn State quite frequently. Penn State was ranked forty-seven on the U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges.” This ranking system is unfair because there are too many factors that determine what makes a good college. For example, Penn State is ranked lower than Yale because of it’s low “student selectivity.” However, Penn State is No. 1 in the Wall Street Journal’s corporate recruiter’s ranking.

It is nearly impossible to create a perfect way of ranking. No matter what way you slice it; there will always be bias of some sort. The statement that Gladwell concludes with is, “Who comes out on top, in any ranking system, is really about who is doing the ranking.” This statement identifies that a ranking can never be 100 percent reliable. Regardless of our natural tendencies to strive to have the best car or education for example, we can never really know what truly is better than the other because the ranking scales are faultily made and cannot fully test every aspect fairly.

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