You've seen the articles. They take a bunch of data and crunch it, and then proclaim Ames, Iowa; or Burlington, Vermont; or Eden Prairie, Minnesota as the best place to live in the whole country. Invariably, the places where people actually
live end up far down the list: San Francisco, New York City, Dallas, and so forth.
That disconnect from reality convinced me long ago what the true value of these analyses are: they quantify precisely the flaws in their algorithms. I'll be the first to say that people are not rational, but people get mighty rational when tens of thousands of dollars are at stake. That's the difference each year between living in somewhere like Brooklyn vs. Overland Park, Kansas. Why would anyone choose to live in a closet that costs $2000/month when they could live in lovely Fort Collins, Colorado?
If all the data they have point to Nowheresville, the obvious conclusion is that their analysis is flawed. They're missing out on what matters to people. Yes, cost and schools and safety and big houses are important to people. However, if they are willing to pay thousands of dollars extra to live somewhere that has mediocre schools, relatively high crime rates, and small dwellings, that tells you there are factors that compensate.
And so I chuckle every time I see one of those articles. I'm sure that there are many undiscovered gems out there, but to rank so low places that compel so many people to deal with so many quantifiable disadvantages is ridiculous. The further down the list they put places like San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, and New York City, the more obvious it is to me that they are missing the point. They've got these models that reach such wildly different conclusions from reality that it simply emphasizes how bad their models are. They say those are awesome places to live, but nobody lives there. You do the math.
Anyway, so I've had that bouncing in my head for a while. Today I saw a thing that I realized was similar. The Parade insert in our newspaper had a run-down of colleges. "No disrespect to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, but you don't need to attend a fabled Ivy to get a big-league education." Just like the articles about cities, they take a bunch of numbers and some arbitrary formulae, and then spit out a list of names you've never heard of.
As much as higher education in this country is screwed up, I just don't see people getting things wrong so consistently for so long. I'm sure those schools they name are excellent schools. And I'm sure that the schools that everyone knows about are better. I'm sorry, but Rice University is not equal to Princeton. If my kids were admitted to both Princeton and Rice, I know which one I'd rather they attend.
Just like with "Best Places," they act like they've discovered some truth that all the rest of us have been missing this whole time. But their so-called truth is wildly different from the decisions that millions of Americans make each year. People will make all kinds of foolish and irrational decisions, but when so much money is at stake, they actually behave pretty sensibly. Really, it's kind of embarrassing that the Excel jockeys got it wrong. I feel sorry for them.
Labels: i am always right, ideas