Composite Indices

SorcerersApprentice3

Image Credit: Michael Taylor

Composite indices used to rate qualitative phenomena have one thing in common – they are all constructed using subjectively chosen factors, weights and aggregation schemes. While these can be fine-tuned to some degree, indices are often published without the mathematical safeguard of making their algorithms transparent. This is particularly important as rankings allow the local to be readily compared with the global, and are eye candy in the digital age where they can all too often propel unscientific results into the limelight. This is exacerbated by our propensity to preferentially attach to “top tens” meaning that we are unconsciously giving qudos to the already popular. As a result, rankings and ratings quickly take on the form of power laws and start to manufacture consent. Their influence is so pervasive, and the inequalities they exaggerate can be so great, that their impact, like the brooms released by the sorcerer’s apprentice, can often wreak havoc.

Peer-Reviewed Articles & Conference Papers:

  1. Gialis, S., Taylor, M. (2015) A regional account of flexibilization across the EU: the ‘flexible contractual arrangements’ composite index and the impact of recession. Social Indicators Research 128(3):1121–1146. doi: 10.1007/s11205-015-1072-9. [PDF] [link]
  2. Taylor, M., Perakakis, P., Trachana, V., Gialis, S. (2014)  Rankings are the sorcerer’s new apprentice (Invited Review). In: Global university rankings uncovered (Theme Issue). Ethics in Science & Environmental Politics 13:73-99. doi:10.3354/esep00146. [PDF] [link]

Conference Talks:

  1. Taylor, M. (2015) Tyranny of measure. 1st Labour Geographies Workshop, 30 April (hosted by the Hellenic Open University). [PPT]
  2. Gialis, S., Leontidou, L., Taylor, M. (2014) Composite indicators of flexibilization across EU regions: a critical re-appraisal and interpretation. 54th European Regional Science Association (ERSA) Congress, Saint Petersberg, 29th of August 2014. [PPT]

Media:

  1. Fafouti, L. (2014) Top 100 University Rankings are useless. To Vima Newspaper (Science Section) in Greek, 29 June, 2014. [PDF]
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