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Chemical Eye on Rank Magazines
by Preston MacDougall


June 11, 2006

Read this!

Knowledge is solving problems no one else can. Expand your knowledge and get a degree in less than 2 weeks - no study required. 100% verifiable B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. diplomas!
Call now 1-206-984-2822, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Take care, Hazel.

Thanks for the e-mail Hazel, if you're reading this. I am very much interested in expanding my knowledge, but I already have the highest degree in my profession. Furthermore, in my experience, knowledge that can actually solve molecular problems has either come from studying what others have done, or personally studying molecules themselves. I see from your area code that you are in Seattle - can you get me a deal on Starbucks coffee?

jpg huge sale

For other readers, some of you may be wondering why I would use this commentary to freely and enthusiastically advertise Hazel's offer of quick and easy diplomas.

It's really very simple. Chemistry labs are the ideal place for expanding one's knowledge about the molecular world. But they can also be hazardous places. Particularly if students aren't careful, and haven't STUDIED the background material and lab procedure beforehand, not to mention the Laboratory Safety Rules. So, if Hazel enrolls all the students who don't like to study, then the rest of my students can safely expand their knowledge to their heart's content.

Something else in the caveat emptor category recently came across my computer desktop:
Print Edition
Order Today for $9.95
Exclusive, U.S. News in-depth ranking tables compare schools on numerous attributes, such as acceptance rate, test scores of entering students, and reputation.

In this case, although it is clear what is being peddled, I do not wish to aggravate the situation by giving you any contact information. Not clear at all, are the criteria that are used in such rank magazines. "Reputation" is particularly ambiguous, not to mention an obvious source of feedback "noise" in the data collection process.

I am told that publication of this single statistic has spawned a new budget item for a growing list of universities that have studied the Rules of the Reputation Game: glossy brochure (high WOW! factor) for distribution to presidents of universities participating in magazine surveys.

In terms of contribution to the quality of education at a university, I would rank this budget item lowly, not much above the latest budget item to make newspaper headlines: humongous flat-screen TV for chancellor's home.

As questionable as the "reputation" criterion is, the "acceptance rate" criterion is the biggest hazard to students seeking to expand their knowledge at selective colleges that seek to move up in the rankings. The rank thinking goes like this: to be more like Harvard (which has by far the highest acceptance rate, and has long been perched atop most college rankings), universities should reject students that are likely to be accepted by Harvard and go there.

"Test scores of entering students" is a clear criterion. Although it may be seen by the less SAT-endowed as a barrier, it is a useful predictor of one important aspect of the learning environment - peer group.

Different rank magazines use other criteria, including some that seem counter-intuitive. Percentage completing a degree is one. Students that are successful getting into competitive professional programs, such as pharmacy school, often do not complete a B.S. degree. My department's state-leading success in placing students in pharmacy schools actually hurts our overall university ranking.

However, if this statistic is your chief concern, contact Hazel. She boasts 100%.

Speaking of Hazel, have I got a deal for you! Click here and save $9.95 on your university ranking. Act now, and we'll make it a world ranking, not just a national one. Why choose rankings that hurt good students and punish successful pre-professional programs? The Institute of Higher Education, at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, uses a ranking methodology that is safe, sensible, and crystal clear.

For instance, to measure the quality of education, it collects data on alumni who have won the most prestigious prizes. Simple, logical, and it works. You may not have won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, but if your former lab partner went on to win one, you probably got a very good education. Size does matter here, and this is taken into account - benefiting small schools with strong educational programs.

Still not sure? Why not wait until August, when a new and improved ranking will be unveiled! Whenever you decide to shop, the "Academic Ranking of World Universities" is freely available online, and a Google search of that phrase will take you there.

Tell them Preston sent you.


Preston MacDougall is a chemistry professor at Middle Tennessee State University. His "Chemical Eye" commentaries are featured in the Arts and Public Affairs portion of the Nashville/Murfreesboro NPR station WMOT (

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