Thursday, January 04, 2007

Toys in the Attic, Revisited

I was glancing over D's recent post on the HuffPo's Newsranker and noticed a quirk I hadn't thought about before. I had assumed that the bar graphs were ordinary images depicting a statistical set from a given time and set of sources, but this isn't the case. They are constantly linked to the Ranker and consequently fluctuate with changes in the feeder news sources. For example, while at the time of D's post Pope Benedict XVI was out-newsing Britney Spears by nearly double, today Britney outranks the Holy Father 980-576 (musta been the no-panties incident.) By tomorrow she may have doubled his stats, dropped back to half again, or fallen into statistical insignificance (fat chance.)

This introduces a monkey wrench for anybody trying to use the Ranker to "prove" a point. (This isn't just an idle worry. A quick overview of others linking to the story left us with the impression that most of them intended to do just that.) By way of explanation, let's imagine you are trying to show that Barak is a more promising presidential candidate than Hillary, or that Christina Aguilera is hotter than Gwen Stefani. While your nifty bar graph may bear you out splendidly at time of posting, someone checking your stats a mere few weeks later may well find the numbers don't bear out your claims at all. There you'll be with your impressive assertions, and the pretty pictures that only recently backed you up so bravely may well be screaming otherwise for all to read.

This doesn't factor in other problems with the Ranker, as that measuring volume of news mentions only measures notoriety, and is a poor predictor of future performance. If your purpose is to prove anything but that the object of your ranking is the flavor of the week--say, that he or she is more qualified, talented, smarter, or more personable than opponents-- it's utterly useless. As D pointed out before, use this one with caution, and for amusement purposes only.

If, on the other hand you feel you must use it in debate, just remember that wrecked henfruit makes an excellent facial.

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