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13.5.03

A follow up to that last post: I notice the following defense of its methodology in the JBHE report:
Unlike other ranking efforts in the field of higher education, our statistics, without exception, are highly quantitative. This is in sharp contrast to highly impressionistic institutional rankings such as those compiled by U.S. News & World Report in which 25 percent or more of the total ranking score is derived from subjective surveys of university reputations as determined by presidents, provosts, and deans of admissions at other institutions.

There's a definite confusion here between quantitative and objective. I imagine the reputation survey was in fact quantitative -- they probably asked something like "on a scale of 1-10, how prestigious is Eemeet Meeker's School of Paving?" At the same time, that's clearly a subjective quantification. The key, of course, is that the subjectivity is on the part of the respondent, not of the researcher.

By restricting themselves to those factors that are both objective and quantifiable, the JBHE researchers are making the implicit assumption that those features happen to be sufficient to establish the quality of the school. This is a common foible of social scientists who want to make their research "scientific" like the heavily mathematized natural sciences. It's like the man who dropped his keys in a dark parking lot, and searched for them only under the street lamp because that's the only place he can see.

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