The Maclean’s University Rankings: Celebrating 20 Years of Pointless Competition

The 2015 edition of the Maclean’s University Rankings marks the 20th anniversary of the publication. Although it is subject to derision by the institutions it features, most of these protests have subsided into occasional whimpers. Really, there’s not much the universities can do. As Maclean’s states in the methodology for the study, the data they pull is publicly available, or generated through their own research; they don’t rely on the universities to get it.

The Maclean’s University Rankings drive me crazy — in part because they are so very, very badly done, and more deeply because they play a significant part in generating and legitimizing a toxic culture of pointless competition in our higher education system. Yet the damn things continue to fly off the shelves. Why do we buy in? Continue reading

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On Crappy Journalism…

The most recent issue of Maclean’s magazine leads with the compelling feature “99 Really Stupid Things the Government Did with Your Money.” I say “compelling” with a faint air of sarcasm because, as will readily become clear, I’ve got some problems with Maclean’s journalism here.

On the other hand, from the standpoint of attracting readers, the title is indeed compelling – like for real. It does grab your attention. The whole “stupid” thing is provocative, hearkening back to Dr. Laura-style “calling you on your bullshit” book titles.[1] It’s lurid. There’s gonna be dirt. It promises an easy read. Maclean’s used this headline because as a strategy for selling magazines, it works. We eat this stuff up.

I’ve always been fascinated with the effectiveness of “the numbered list” as a rhetorical device. For example, Maclean’s could have simply used the title “Really Stupid Things the Government Did,” but they chose instead to structure the lead as “99 Really Stupid Things,” and dressed it up with emboldened red numbers to reinforce the idea that there are a fixed number of really stupid things to be discussed, and when we’re done with the list, we’re done with the issue. Continue reading