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Berginski: Never trust certain lists

By Staff | Nov 28, 2014

You’ve probably heard of a top-10 list, a top-20, heck, probably even a top-100 list. If you watch David Letterman, you know top-10 lists are running gags on his late night talk show. People my age probably see them on the Internet every once in a while. Sometimes I read them, but being the skeptic I am, I don’t trust them. Neither should you, and here’s why.

First, on what are these lists based? How does something or someone get on these lists? What is the criteria, the methodology used to determine who or what doesn’t get on said lists? If the list is about the top- 100 NFL quarterbacks, then is it based on statistics? Is it based on whether they’ve won Super Bowls? (That would exclude a lot of QBs, especially those who played before the Super Bowl even existed.)

Second, who’s doing the list and for whom? Just like anything written, top # lists have a specific audience in mind. Let me explain. If you drive a Ford, a list of the top 10 Chevrolet convertibles probably doesn’t apply to you. If you’re a vegan, you probably wouldn’t give a top-25 steak dishes list the time of day. And sometimes where the list is published is an indicator of who the list is for. If Forbes came out with a top- 25 billionaires-under-25 list, obviously it’s for anyone who reads Forbes out of the gate. (Of course, if they put it online then anyone could probably find it, if interested.)

Third, everyone’s a critic. Everybody loves something, and everybody hates something. Take the band Nickelback, for example. There are people who like Nickelback songs, and people who despise the band with every inch of their being. If Nickelback were to appear on a top-10 rock bands list, then both supporters and haters would come out in droves. The supporters would applaud Nickelback being included in the list but would love to see them at the top position, while the haters would want them at the bottom of the list or not at all. (Neither of which would be afraid to voice their opinions, and voice them loudly and fervently.) It’s not just limited to Nickelback, it’s true for any subject.

Fourth, what purpose does the list serve? Take the Billboard Top 40, which I loathe, being a fan of heavy metal, but that’s beside the point. The Billboard Top 40 at any point is an indicator of which artists are being played on the radio and other outlets the most, and which albums are selling the most. That list serves to inform people. What people do with that information is up to them. Depending on the place where the list can be found, odds are it may be a list designed for the reader to kill time with.

Not all lists are bad, mind you. Lists can help you organize your thoughts, and they’re great if you need groceries or a bunch of stuff from Santa. But if you question and don’t trust a top 10, 25 or 100, or any number at all list, you’ll save yourself a headache.

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