Friday, June 27, 2008

Heh, I said 'credibility gap'.

Reading the Gazette-Times the last few days, one particular statistic caught my eye.

From the story on the death of OSU alum and major donor Martin Kelley:

OSU has improved [its College of Engineering ranking] from being ranked in the 60s to the top 40.

From today's Roses 'n' Raspberries, the same statistic:

Kelley’s generous gift already has helped to move OSU from its place in the middle of the pack of engineering schools to somewhere in the high 30s or low 40s, well on the way to the goal of being in the top 25.

I know OSU has been trying to become a top-25 engineering school for some time now, but this ranking was way higher than anything else I've seen. Just to be sure, I checked the US News and World Report rankings. From what I could find, OSU's engineering graduate program is ranked 80th in the nation and its undergrad 76th. Those numbers are a far cry from the "upper 30s." I don't really like the US News rankings, but the discrepancy there is huge.

The other reason the numbers caught my eye is that they are unsourced in both stories. Combine that with what an OSU faculty member told me - that the OSU College of Engineering makes up its own rankings - and I got suspicious.

As it turns out, my suspicion may or may not be unfounded, as the number mentioned in both stories was given to the GT by OSU and does, indeed, come from some sort of OSU-devised ranking process. As far as I have been able to find out, no one knows what methodology OSU uses to determine how the OSU College of Engineering stacks up against other schools. It could turn out that their methodology is really good - but I doubt it. So:

1) OSU needs to publicize its ranking system and the fact that they use their own, and now, if for no other reason than to avoid the appearance that they are stacking the numbers. As it stands, I see no other reason for OSU to use its own system unless it compares favorably to other, more accepted ranking systems, making OSU look better than it is. This should be a problem for OSU. I hope they're not feeding this line to the Governor or Legislature...

2) The GT needs to start sourcing the ranking numbers for OSU and its College of Engineering, regardless of where the numbers come from. Not doing so will create a credibility problem for the GT if and when people find out OSU is making the numbers up themselves, even if the methodology is good. I have no idea if anyone at the GT has any information on OSU's methodology, but I do know the GT is aware that it's an internally-devised ranking system. I have a request for more information in to the GT, but I doubt I'll hear back.

The bottom line: It's sketchy that OSU is choosing to use its own system in the first place, and the GT is doing OSU - but not the public - a favor by not including that fact in stories that mention the ranking.


Bernstein said...


That's a good piece of investigative work you've done. Ever think journalism might be your true calling?

Anonymous said...

Dennis, you're right on track. Keep up the good work. Maybe write a letter to the GT editor?

Dennis said...

Interestingly, I know of someone who did write a letter on this very topic, only to see it rejected.

That was months, possibly even over a year, ago. I have little faith in the GT to print such criticism as a letter. I have had a letter calling them out on bad practice rejected in the past by one of the very people I would be criticizing.

That said, it's not a bad idea. Better, for me, would for the GT to track this down and do the work themselves, without prompting. I know they're good enough to see why this might be problematic and fix it. It's more a question of whether or not they will.

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