By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Allison Babka
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According to James Monogan, a lecturer at Washington University's Center for Applied Statistics, studies that draw from a wide range of criteria tend to be the most accurate.
"Whenever you use multiple measures, almost as a rule that will help you zero in on what you're looking for," Monogan says. "Provided, of course, those measures are unbiased on what you're trying to capture."
Aha! What is this "unbiased" business of which the good professor speaks?
"What if one travel writer thinks being able to drink in public is crazy and they're writing about St. Louis?" Monogan asks. "And another thinks drinking in is public fun-loving and that person is writing about New Orleans? It could be the same thing. This seems sort of like it might miss some of the key points, it might not be a consistent measure.
"And," he adds, "mental-health professionals per capita might indicate that St. Louis is more progressive and forward-thinking about mental health than a lot of other places."
While we're on the topic, this wasn't the first time St. Louis was passed over by the Daily Beast. The site ranked us as the 44th-most gridlocked city, the 24th-smartest city (tied with Chicago) and deemed citizens statewide the 44th-most attractive nationwide. Last week, in honor of Mother's Day, the big bad Beast ranked the Lou 184th in a study that purported to quantify "The Best — and Worst — Cities for Moms." You read that right: They dropped the ranking equivalent of a "Yo Mama" on us.
Unreal tracked down Clark Merrefield, the Daily Beast staffer who writes and researches rankings for the site and interrogated him about the lack of respect afforded to St. Louis in his studies, especially the way he shortchanged us in the crazy category.
We'd like to report that once under scrutiny, he folded like a cheap suit.
"It's not the be-all, end-all list," Merrefield quickly concedes. "I hope the reader sees it for what it is. With these things, about 30 percent are meant to be a fun thing to read, and the rest are based on real data."
Oh. Well, then. Nuance has never been Unreal's strong suit. (Note that we said above that we'd like to report. We didn't say we were gonna follow through.)
"They're usually a fun topic," Merrefield continues. "They're easy to understand, and people have always liked trends and seeing where things in their lives fit in."
Asked point-blank about improving our crazy ranking, Merrefield offers, "I would look at the cities that did well. Look at Austin — they drink a lot, and they have 'Keep Austin Weird.' There's a lot of colleges there; it's a different culture. I guess just get more college students doing crazy things."
Hmmmm. Last month the Daily Beast ranked Washington University as the 13th "Most Stressful" college in America, based on cost, competitiveness, crime on campus and various other criteria. A week later the site ranked the campus as the 25th "Happiest" because it boasts quality student housing, dining options and nightlife, as well as a whopping 57 percent of days that are sunny.
Unreal's prescription: Students should push their stress level to the max by taking out loans to pay tuition and cramming for exams, then unleash their happiness with binge drinking and "crazy" antics, thereby improving Wash. U.'s standing in both categories.
One of the leading players in the cottage industry of rank cranking is Men's Health magazine. When they tire of thinking up another 127 ways to give you washboard abs, the publication churns out surveys by the bushel for a section of its website called MetroGrades.
According to MetroGrades' calculations, St. Louis has some serious room for improvement.
They say St. Louis is the 98th "Happiest," the tenth "Angriest" and the nineteenth "Hardest-Working" metropolitan area in the U.S. We also clock in 66th in the "America's Top Sports Towns" category.
As part of that last study, Men's Health determined that St. Louis is the 98th (out of 100) best baseball town. Unreal called Matt Marion, the editor in charge of MetroGrades, and confronted him about the snub.
Marion explained that the "Top Sports Town" survey was based on a variety of factors, including fan attendance at all levels of sporting events, ESPN ratings, apparel sales and the number of season-ticket holders for professional franchises. OK so far. The baseball ranking, however, was based solely on "the [highest] percentage of adults attending baseball events," a standard by which Fremont, California, emerged as No. 1.
Worse, Marion is unapologetic about bursting St. Louis' "Best Fans in Baseball" bubble.
"It's a tough thing," says he. "It's something you don't want to hear. You say you're great fans. But you don't compare to these fans in this city — you're not as hardcore as you thought."
Can we do anything to improve? How about erecting a massive shrine to Albert Pujols under the Arch and naming La Iglesia del Hombre the official city religion? Would that help?
Uh, no, says Marion. "It's less about competing with the other cities than seeing what you can do to compete with yourself to do better."