Ranking lists give the illusion that they control our complex lives.
What’s the point of putting everything in a category? Does it matter if the Netherlands has fallen down the list of happiest countries and how important is it that your university or hospital is no longer in the top 100?
“Life is incredibly complex, and it’s really nice to be able to flatten that out in a way to make it easier to understand.” So says Berend van der Kolk, associate professor at the Free University of Amsterdam and author of De Meetmaatschappij.
Van Der Kolk states that rating makes it easier for people to make choices for a school, university or hospital, for example. “The ranking lists give a kind of grip, they’re numbers and we’re in awe of the numbers. But I think sometimes it’s a gripe illusion. Often a lot of things come out of a ranking like that.”
Compiling ratings is personal.
Van Der Kolk warns that all kinds of personal choices are made when putting together a ranking. “You first have to look: what are we going to measure, how are we going to measure it and how do we distribute the weights. These are really subjective choices.” But also mentions newsworthiness if a university or hospital rises or falls, or ends up in the top 10. “Because we all really want to know how well you’re doing.”
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