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April 11, 2014

BOB ZALTSBERG: IU should ask for a recount after influence ratings

School's living alumni least influential of Big Ten?

Whom do you think has more influence: Robert Gates, the former CIA director and U.S. secretary of defense, or Rod Woodson, former college and professional football player who specialized in defense?

Hold your answers, please.

The folks at Time magazine had some fun with the NCAA basketball tournament and bracket-mania by posting interactive rankings of U.S. universities on its website so those who wanted to could match up schools based on the influence of their living alumni. The two names above are on the lists of five “notable” alums from a couple of the schools based in Indiana.

Speaking of influence, we have to wonder whether the people who did the rankings were under the influence of something questionable when they came up with this exercise.

The methodology was based on what is published on Wikipedia, which Time says “offers an exhaustive and largely self-regulated source of data on living people.” It presumes the number of words and links in a profile “generally corresponds to the subject’s prominence.”

Here’s more on the methodology used: “For each person in the ‘living people’ category, Time used the MediaWiki API to gather four data points: The number of words in the text, the number of internal links to other Wikipedia pages, the number of external links and the number of categories to which the page belonged. Given that these factors are all positively correlated to the subject’s prominence, we were able to reduce these four dimensions into a single measure of prominence using a well-tested method known as principal component analysis.”

That all sounds good, and I’m not going to challenge the “well-tested method known as principal component analysis.” But the results of matching up the schools in the Big Ten don’t pass the eye test.

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