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September 12, 2011

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What a bunch of crap.

These days, much of what passes for analysis is just sloppy emotion: anger, envy, so on. Logic skills should be taught in middle and high school. And people should take more pride in distinguishing a valid argument from a specious one.

I don't pay attention to 1) Poets and Writers Magazine (thought they continue to pelt me with subscription offers); 2) MFA rankings. If I were to enroll in an MFA program I would choose the program based only on the writers who would lead the workshops. If I admire the writer then I'll have an interest in her or his workshop.

Stacey,

A fantastic post! I couldn't agree with your analysis more, particularly the part about how Seth manipulates language to imply things that aren't really true.

Your point about his use of the word "vote" is dead on. These are "not" votes at all. In fact, if you pooled this same group of applicants about the programs they actually held in the highest "esteem" you'd undoubtedly get very different results. I know this because I advise undergraduates on MFA Programs yearly, and I know their reasons for applying where they apply. Half the time their reasons are geographic. They routinely say things to me like, "I'd love to apply to Oregon, but I can't because my girlfriend needs to stay in the southeast for her job." Other times, their list is less a reflection of where they'd most like to go, or which programs they think are "best," than where they think they'd have the best chance to get in. For example, they'll often say things like: "School X is my dream school, but since I don't think I have any chance of getting in there I'm going to apply instead to school Y." Thus school X doesn't receive a "vote," even though the applicant in fact holds school X in higher "esteem."

The same point could be made about Seth's use of the word "rankings." These poll results are not rankings at all. They're simply the application lists of 640 people who applied to certain schools for 640 different reasons.

I could go on, but you see my point.

Of course, that Seth is doing this type of thing is not surprising to me. He's been manipulating statistics and language ever since he joined the blogosphere. What is surprising is that no one at Poets & Writers has caught on to it, or, if they have, that no one there cares. I have to imagine at this point that somewhere there must be aware of the damage these rankings have done to their reputation and journalistic credibility, but maybe no one there really cares.

Wow! I just saw that the Chronicle of Higher Education picked up the open letter to Poets & Writers on their website! This is looking worse and worse for them. I think someone higher up at the magazine (not Seth) needs to step forward and defend these rankings publicly, or else apologize and admit their mistake. The longer they stay silent, the worse it looks.

When my students write things like "It is reasonable to assume" in their papers, I put a big red mark through it. Your readers shouldn't have to assume anything; your evidence should be strong enough to convince them of your argument.

"These days, much of what passes for analysis is just sloppy emotion: anger, envy, so on. Logic skills should be taught in middle and high school. And people should take more pride in distinguishing a valid argument from a specious one."

I dream of this.

Thank you for this.

"Some programs may worry that neither these rankings nor any ranking system devisable could adequately capture each graduate creative writing program’s most unique elements; these fears are understandable, but misplaced. Those applicants polled for this ranking had access to individual program websites at all times before, during, and after their formation of a list of where they intended to apply...If an unquantifiable program feature of which a program is singularly proud does not lead to that program excelling in these rankings, it is neither because these rankings did not consider that feature nor because the applicants polled for these rankings did not. Instead, it is because that feature is less popular among applicants than it is among those program faculty and administrators who originally brainstormed and designed it. By polling current applicants rather than individual program faculties and administrators, the rankings ensure that the class of persons with the most say in these rankings is one that is likely to have recently accessed the very program websites that (presumably) prominently advertise those features of which programs are most proud."

-- Seth Abramson, who apparently subscribes to the idea that a WEBSITE tells you pretty much all you need to know about "unquantifiable" things--that an unquantifiable thing can still be quantified, by golly, by the number of people who seek to "buy" that thing before they even know what the hell they're buying. Welcome to the 21st century in America, where a bunch of 23-year-olds clicking on some links and snippets on a GLORIFIED ADVERTISEMENT determines the worth/rank of an entire educational experience in the arts. Abramson might as well substitute "[unique] feature less popular among applicants" with "Crystal Pepsi."

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