Ranking systems and Miley Cyrus draw skepticism

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Time’s 100 Most Influential People. Newsweek’s 100 Best Public High Schools.*= Forbes’ 100 Richest People. U.S. News & World Report’s College Rankings. People’s 50 Most Beautiful People.

Not to mention Forbes’ incredulous ranking of 266th for Carnegie Mellon on its college assessment list.

Lists, lists, lists! This society is ever so enamored with dreaming up lists, ranking items, and assigning at times arbitrary titles.

I used to be interested in some of these lists — and I’m not ashamed to admit it. People’s pretty faces and Time’s influential powerhouses used to have that seductive allure. In one precious issue per year, I could pour over Matthew Fox’s gorgeous face or gossip about how University X fell two spots on the list of most competitive upper-Midwestern, under-5000-students culinary arts/mining/puppet-making schools. I too used to join in the camaraderie of an overachieving nation’s obsession with confining the immeasurably best, beautiful, and powerful to a rigid set of numbers and accompanying glossy photographs.

That is, until Miley Cyrus made Time’s 100 Most Influential People. Hannah Montana? Really, Time? Right up there with the Dalai Lama, the Google guys, and Barack Obama? Until this point, I had slowly become weary of lists, my skepticism increasing with each list-maker’s meaningless formulas of “AP tests taken divided by number of students” or “alumni donations × .05,” or “beauty = (symmetry of face × number of words in Wikipedia entry)/media scandals.” If the wonky formulas built my slow distrust, the minute I flipped to Miley’s smiling face, I lost seemingly all of my faith in lists. I mean, Hilary Duff never made the Time 100 when she was Miley’s age, and she made Lizzie McGuire an almost believable tween character. What inequity is that?

Trying to understand this grand tradition of formulas, I decided to concoct my own ranking formula in organizing my favorite things in my life. This would be by far greater and more comprehensive than any of those big-time magazine list makers’. Thus, the following formula was born:

Item = (number of times encountered × concentration of happy endorphins × ln [immeasurable fondness toward item] × einfluence × tan-1(beauty)) / ((bad experiences associated with item × side effects) + 1 )

From this, I am pleased to announce the top five items that have made my list:

  1. Raindrops on roses
  2. Whiskers on kittens
  3. Bright copper kettles
  4. Warm, woolen mittens
  5. Brown paper packages tied up with string

I won’t lie; it was hard to come up with the perfect formula. Not included in the top five were notable favorites, such as Paris (the city, not the socialite), tiramisu, the Graffiti Facebook application, and Bill Gates. The Bill Gates thing was mostly due to the fact that the “number of times encountered” was zero. (Despite having lined up for hours when he came to campus last spring, I neither met Bill nor heard him speak.) Therefore, this glaring “zero” canceled out the entire numerator, illustrating how this business of formula-making is often a shoddy system that eliminates key items that need to be included (sorry, Bill).

Now knowing how the journalists at Time and Newsweek and their colleagues must think, I pondered what ridiculous items could be ranked next. Would these magazines start ranking elementary schools? Would they rank Katie Couric’s outfits? Would they rank the hotness of the multiple Dr. Shephards on ABC shows? (For the record, Dr. Jack Shephard > Dr. Derek Shepherd.)

After this exercise, I lost my faith in lists completely. Ranking things, whether they are universities or promising tween idols, is completely unnecessary, uncalled for, and unscientific. I made a mental note to add “making lists” to my own list of things to never do in life, right after deciding on a grad school without the influence of national rankings and watching that awful show, Hannah Montana.