Weekly Roundup 2/14/2011

The Order Of Things: What college rankings really tell us” (subscription required)
Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker, Feb. 14, 2011

The celebrated author of The Tipping Point takes on the college-ranking system devised by U.S. News & World Report for its annual guides aimed at high school seniors, their parents and graduate school applicants. Gladwell zeroes in on the rankers’ criteria and how each is weighted. The effect, he argues, is to skew the rankings toward certain institutions. His analysis could serve the college-bound as an exercise in critical thinking. Numbers may sound objective, he advises, but don’t take them at face value.

Peter Katel, Staff Writer


The Dirty Little Secrets of Search: Why One Retailer Kept Popping Up as No. 1
By David Segal, The New York Times, Feb. 13, 2011

Synthesis: Just about everybody these days wants to better their chances in Google searches. In the past few months, one name, improbably, kept popping up in online searches on Google for items ranging from area rugs to dresses to bedding: J.C. Penney.
Takeaway: By gaming the system, the huge retailer vaulted to No. 1 for each and every term, The New York Times discovered when it hired a search optimization expert to explore Penney’s uncanny record.

Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor


"In post-Mubarak Egypt, the rebirth of the Arab World"
Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, Washington Post, Feb. 11, 2011

"Egypt's Path After Uprising Does Not Have to Follow Iran's"
Anthony Shadid, The New York Times, Feb. 11, 2011

Synopsis: Egypt’s uprising rallied around freedom, social justice and nationalism, according to the Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning Mideast correspondent, not the kind of Islamist militancy seen in Iran or practiced by al-Qaida. Beyond Egypt, two Middle East experts say, the Cairo uprising can spark the rebirth of the Arab world after a long period of passive and powerless regimes seen by their citizens as counterfeit and alien.

Takeaway: The future, for Egypt and Arab world alike, is – as Agha and Malley write – “rife with uncertainty about its pace and endpoint.”

For previous coverage, see “Democracy in the Arab World,” (subscription required) CQ Researcher, Jan. 30, 2004.

Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


"DNA Testing Gives Doctors a New Dilemma"
Todd Ackerman, Houston Chronicle, Feb. 11, 2011.

Synopsis: Genetic medicine is still in its early stages, but the newest generation of gene tests already is perfect at doing one thing: verifying one’s parentage. This fact presents doctors with an ethical issue that many had seen coming but been able to dodge up to now. Some medical conditions, such as developmental disabilities, are inherited conditions that occur much more frequently among people whose parents are related to one another. Many doctors had long suspected that some patients they saw with these conditions had been conceived through first-degree incest – father-daughter, mother-son or brother-sister sex. Now, gene tests are verifying that suspicion. Geneticists at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston, have been using the newest gene tests for about six months and already have turned up several patients born of incestuous relationships that the doctors had not been made aware of. The possibility that sexual abuse occurred in these cases may give doctors an ethical and legal responsibility to report them to law enforcement.

Takeaway: “Sex between first-degree relatives is illegal throughout the country, though it is a misdemeanor in Texas and rarely reported when both parties are adults. Though doctors are required to report suspicions of child abuse…their obligations are less clear when the mother is an adult and protected by doctor-patient confidentiality.”

Marcia Clemmitt, staff writer