adameus wrote:While I think your conclusion is most likely correct and I don't have any evidence to say otherwise, I don't think you've necessarily proven that these are unquestionably the best the 3 overall universities or overall graduate programs. The reason I say this is that your analysis is based completely on other rankings which undoubtedly have flaws. If we did the same type of analysis you did but based it on another set of rankings that used different metrics from the ones you chose, then we very likely could come up with a different group of 3 schools.
Yeah--I mean that is the flaw. I am only using one ranking system. But really, it's the only ranking system that breaks it down into categories and makes it possible to see the "whole" university. But true, if there were different metrics we might see difference results.
the usnews grad school rankings are really really really awful. its is 100% based on surverys sent out to a pretty random selection of academics and they get ridiculously awful response rates. they are also really really deceptive because ranking, say, a political science department that focuses mostly on political theory against one that mostly works on statistical models is pretty meaningless. it's way, for example, philosophy departments aren't ranked. for example, there is really no meaningful way to rank such excellent but totally different philosophy departments as nyu, pitt, princeton, and chicago, its really only possible to rank philosophy departments by specialities. the same really goes for a lot of other fields. law schools or medical schools or undergradute colleges are much easier to compare than doctoral programs, which are very small and turn out pretty institution specific programs. furthermore, its pretty deceptive to treat all departments as equal in evaluating a university. i think there are a number of core and inter-related and inter-dependent departments that really define the intellectual life of a university: history, politics, philosophy, economics, sociology, law, business. and math, physics, biology, medicine. I'd say the quality of a schools political science, economics, or biology department tells you a lot more about the general importance of the university as a research center than its education department, music department, arts program, english and comp lit departments, etc.
anyways, the usnews rankings are pretty terrible but there isn't any other perfect replacement. there are models such as those used by some of the "world university rankings" that focus on research output in top
journals (thats key as some other horrid rankings just look at gross publications and thus reward schools that push publication quantity over quality... a very common problem), or you could look at faculty awards (fields medals, nobels, mcarthur/mellon grants). anyways, there are like a dozen "statistics" based rankings (your us news grad school model is not the only ranking that uses "statistics") and these rankings never show a clear cut top three (though Harvard always comes out on top) and tends to show harvard, yale, princeton, stanford, berkley, columbia, and chicago as basically a common tier. these rankings do not consistently place berkley in the top three and do not ever seem to show a clear statistical drop off between top 2 or 3 and everyone else. berkley is clearly in the very top tier of research universities but let's not pretend that usnwr grad school rankings are the only model out there that can lay claim to "statistics." also, given how ridiculously difficult it is to rank the overall quality of, say, columbia versus yale as research universities sometimes all one can do is ask one's self which universities have functioned as major intellectual centers in the past several decades; that is to say, which universities seem to have been the most influential as centers of ideas in the human and social sciences or the hard sciences. using totally subjective metric, and with my own focus on history, philosophy, and political science I'd say the two greatest academic centers of thought have been berkley and chicago.