Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Posted at 4:00 PM ET, 10/12/2009

Enough With The Lists Already

By Valerie Strauss

Enough with the education lists.

Just last Friday The Answer Sheet wrote about a new international listing of the best colleges and universities in the world--and then explained why it was nonsense.

The reasons were many, but I’ll give you just one: The biggest factor in the ranking is peer review, which means that academics decide which schools have the best reputations.How’s that for academic and scientific rigor?

Today, the Daily Beast blog gives us its “exclusive” list of the “smartest” cities in the country, based on a formula that left me shaking my head.

Half the results are based on the education level of the city's residents--as if education automatically means someone is smart--and the other half is based on “intellectual environment.”

The second part included nonfiction book sales (I guess they didn’t care to count the people who check books out in library), the number of institutions of higher education and the percentage of eligible voters who cast ballots in the last presidential election--presuming, I suppose, that only the smartest people vote.

Oh please.

The city that topped this particular list was Raleigh-Durham. Then came San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose; Boston; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Denver; Hartford-New Haven; Seattle-Tacoma; Washington D.C.; Portland and Baltimore.

In other lists by other organizations over the past few years, various cities come out on top. One list ranked states. Even though Washington D.C. isn’t a state, it somehow landed atop of that one.

Of course this kind of exercise garners a lot of attention--and huge web site traffic. But surely that has nothing to do with why the list was put together in the first place.

Of course not.

By Valerie Strauss  | October 12, 2009; 4:00 PM ET
Categories:  Higher Education, Intelligence  | Tags:  The Daily Beast, list of smartest cities  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Busting a Columbus Myth
Next: Checking It Out: Zero Tolerance or Zero Sense?


So, what I'm hearing is that lists don't take much effort or cost to assemble, the process is easily gamed to put the "right" schools on top, and lists generate lots of web traffic. This sounds like a recipe for success in journalism in 2009.

What's the problem again?

Posted by: KS100H | October 13, 2009 9:06 AM | Report abuse

Raleigh-Durham is not a city, but an area. It has topped this kind of list before. With Duke (a perennial top-10 private university), The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (a perennial top-10 public university, and North Carolina State University (one of the top engineering and science school in the country) all within a 20 mile radius of one of the larges tech centers in the US it is not surprising.

Posted by: baseballguy | October 13, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

So we should ignore Jay Matthews once and for all.

Posted by: mherd1 | October 13, 2009 7:07 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company