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I ran across an article form a 2/14/2011 issue of New Yorker about university and college ranking systems. Interestingly, the author juxtaposed the ranking systems used colleges to the in ranking system that C&D uses, as prologue to the article. It is an interesting perspective, or rather, a criticism of the audacity of coming up with a 'universal' ranking system..

Anyway, I thought it was a good read and was a bit of confirmation of ideas I've always held towards C&D. If you want to read the rest of the article, which is also very interseting, click on the link at the end of the copied text.

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The Order of Things

Last summer, the editors of Car and Driver conducted a comparison test of three sports cars, the Lotus Evora, the Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport, and the Porsche Cayman S. The cars were taken on an extended run through mountain passes in Southern California, and from there to a race track north of Los Angeles, for precise measurements of performance and handling. The results of the road tests were then tabulated according to a twenty-one-variable, two-hundred-and-thirty-five-point rating system, based on four categories: vehicle (driver comfort, styling, fit and finish, etc.); power train (transmission, engine, and fuel economy); chassis (steering, brakes, ride, and handling); and "fun to drive." The magazine concluded, "The range of these three cars' driving personalities is as various as the pajama sizes of Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear, but a clear winner emerged nonetheless." This was the final tally:
1. Porsche Cayman 193
2. Chevrolet Corvette 186
3. Lotus Evora 182

Car and Driver is one of the most influential editorial voices in the automotive world. When it says that it likes one car better than another, consumers and carmakers take notice. Yet when you inspect the magazine's tabulations it is hard to figure out why Car and Driver was so sure that the Cayman is better than the Corvette and the Evora. The trouble starts with the fact that the ranking methodology Car and Driver used was essentially the same one it uses for all the vehicles it tests--from S.U.V.s to economy sedans. It's not set up for sports cars. Exterior styling, for example, counts for four per cent of the total score. Has anyone buying a sports car ever placed so little value on how it looks? Similarly, the categories of "fun to drive" and "chassis"--which cover the subjective experience of driving the car--count for only eighty-five points out of the total of two hundred and thirty-five. That may make sense for S.U.V. buyers. But, for people interested in Porsches and Corvettes and Lotuses, the subjective experience of driving is surely what matters most. In other words, in trying to come up with a ranking that is heterogeneous--a methodology that is broad enough to cover all vehicles-- Car and Driver ended up with a system that is absurdly ill-suited to some vehicles.

Suppose that Car and Driver decided to tailor its grading system just to sports cars. Clearly, styling and the driving experience ought to count for much more. So let's make exterior styling worth twenty-five per cent, the driving experience worth fifty per cent, and the balance of the criteria worth twenty-five per cent. The final tally now looks like this:
1. Lotus Evora 205
2. Porsche Cayman 198
3. Chevrolet Corvette 192

There's another thing funny about the Car and Driver system. Price counts only for twenty points, less than ten per cent of the total. There's no secret why: Car and Driver is edited by auto enthusiasts. To them, the choice of a car is as important as the choice of a home or a spouse, and only a philistine would let a few dollars stand between him and the car he wants. (They leave penny-pinching to their frumpy counterparts at Consumer Reports.) But for most of us price matters, especially in a case like this, where the Corvette, as tested, costs $67,565--thirteen thousand dollars less than the Porsche, and eighteen thousand dollars less than the Lotus. Even to a car nut, that's a lot of money. So let's imagine that Car and Driver revised its ranking system again, giving a third of the weight to price, a third to the driving experience, and a third split equally between exterior styling and vehicle characteristics. The tally would now be:
1. Chevrolet Corvette 205
2. Lotus Evora 195
3. Porsche Cayman 195

So which is the best car?

Car and Driver's ambition to grade every car in the world according to the same methodology would be fine if it limited itself to a single dimension. A heterogeneous ranking system works if it focusses just on, say, how much fun a car is to drive, or how good-looking it is, or how beautifully it handles. The magazine's ambition to create a comprehensive ranking system--one that considered cars along twenty-one variables, each weighted according to a secret sauce cooked up by the editors--would also be fine, as long as the cars being compared were truly similar. It's only when one car is thirteen thousand dollars more than another that juggling twenty-one variables starts to break down, because you're faced with the impossible task of deciding how much a difference of that degree ought to matter. A ranking can be heterogeneous, in other words, as long as it doesn't try to be too comprehensive. And it can be comprehensive as long as it doesn't try to measure things that are heterogeneous. But it's an act of real audacity when a ranking system tries to be comprehensive and heterogeneous <snip>

Full article here.
 

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Very interesting read for those with college-bound children, or who are recent products of this system. US News rankings have been credited (or blamed) for the intense pressure on youth to attend a "top 10" college.

I'm surprised the author didn't deconstruct the Consumer Reports methodology. I remember when they reviewed the original Miata and dinged it because it couldn't take 2 couples out to dinner.
 

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yeah it's kinda silly...like when C&D gives the Evora a 1 for trunk space while it gives the Corvette a 5, which sounds fine, until you read that it gives the Evora a 2 for seat comfort and the Corvette a 0. If you look at it from an apples-to-apples comparison, whereby the Evora could be considered a 2 seater with extra luggage space as rear seats (which it really is), then the Evora comes out ahead with a total of 29 cubic square feet over the Corvettes 22 cubic square feet. Yet for "features/amenities" it gives the vette a whopping 10 while only giving the Evora a 6. But since we're not doing apples to apples comparo, why didn't they dock the Corvette for not having rear seats? Just shows how they can measure things however they want to ensure a pre-defined outcome. There would be no way C&D would ever place the Vette 3rd place in a sports car comparo. Chevy wouldn't have it.
 

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Yea, it's hard to find any kind of meaningful published rankings, many are simply sales tools and have no basis in fact, others it just seems are flawed. It's like the "Best Of" rankings in the airline magazines, steak houses, doctors, etc. it is just an advertisement.
Squidward, thank you for the link, it was a good read.
 

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there's a Malcolm Gladwell article in the New Yorker from 2005 about Ivy League schools

gladwell dot com - getting in

Élite schools, like any luxury brand, are an aesthetic experience—an exquisitely constructed fantasy of what it means to belong to an élite —and they have always been mindful of what must be done to maintain that experience.
 
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