Physics Explains Why University Rankings Won't Change

Feb 13, 2008

A Duke University researcher says that his physics theory, which has been applied to everything from global climate to traffic patterns, can also explain another trend: why university rankings tend not to change very much from year to year.

Like branching river channels across the earth's surface, universities are part of a relatively rigid network that is predictable based on "constructal theory," which describes the shapes of flows in nature, argues Adrian Bejan, J. A. Jones Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering.

According to the theory, the hierarchy of university rankings -- in which few schools consistently land at the top and many more contend for lesser spots -- persists because that structure supports the easiest flow of ideas, Bejan reported in the recently published issue of the International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics, referenced as Vol. 2, No. 4, (2007) 319-327.

"This hierarchy is here to stay," Bejan said in an interview. "The schools at the top serve everybody well because they serve the flow of ideas. We're all connected."

That structure also allows talent to flow and arise naturally in the "right places," he said.

First conceived by Bejan and published in 1996, the constructal law arises from the natural tendency of flow systems to evolve over time into configurations that make their movements faster and easier.

More recently, Bejan and Gilbert Merkx, also of Duke, co-edited a book entitled "Constructal Theory of Social Dynamics," including a collection of essays applying the tree-like patterns of constructal theory to business, crowd dynamics, legal systems and written languages, among other human endeavors.

In extending the theory to university rankings, the first step was to define the flow system of the university, Bejan said, "what territory it covers, and what currents flow through it."

He suspected that a school's rank might reflect the flow of the ideas its faculty members generate. In support of that notion, he found that the most highly ranked engineering schools are also those with the most people on the Institute of Scientific Information's most-cited listing, meaning that their work is more often referenced by other researchers.

He also found that university rankings follow a hierarchical pattern that mirrors the distribution of city sizes. The more highly ranked a university or larger a city, the fewer competitors it has. The opposite is also true: the lower the rank, the more numerous are the candidates that compete for that position.

"The similarity is further evidence that the distribution of sources of knowledge is intimately tied to geography," he said, and to the flow of information across the globe.

So, is there a way to change rankings? In Bejan's view there is, but he says it takes "cataclysmic" events that encourage the free flow of ideas to alter such deeply ingrained channels. Such shifts have occurred in the past, he noted. For instance, a "brain drain" from post-war Europe after World War II led to significant changes in the academic landscape, catapulting American universities onto the world stage. Similar shifts were also seen after the launching of Sputnik, with the enormous jump in funding for basic science, he added.

"The university is the professors, their disciples, and the disciples' disciples," Bejan wrote. "It is the ideas that flow through these human links and into the books of our evolving science and culture. In time, this global vasculature evolves like a river basin during the rainy season: all the streams swell, but their hierarchy remains the same."

For more on constructal theory, see constructal.org .

Source: Duke University

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User comments : 6

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zevkirsh
3.5 / 5 (2) Feb 13, 2008
more vaguely defined bullshit dressed up in complex terminology.
nilbud
5 / 5 (1) Feb 13, 2008
A combination of confusing the map with the terrain and some version of "manifest destiny". The poor boy has become emotionally attached to his approximations. He should never play poker.
Ragtime
not rated yet Feb 13, 2008
This is not BS, as from Aether Wave Theory follows the very same.

The ideas and scientific theories are behaving like spongy density fluctuations in the condensing matter (supercritical vapor in particular), which are having a character of nested foam. This is because both density fluctuations of matter (strings), both scientific theories and ideas are developed to increase (optimize) the density of information and energy spreading between particles and components of the system (people in human civilization).

You can model the resulting structures by computer simulation of particles under pressure ( http://superstrun...part.gif ). From this model follows the existence of dualities, because the most stable ideas will be formed by pairs based on reciprocal perspective (GR-QM, string theory - LQG theory, socialism - communism) in mutual equillibrium (http://superstrun...sity.gif ). This is because the membranes in the foam are having a two surfaces.

By another words, both the energy spreading in particle system, both the information spreading in multicomponent systems are both by inertial mechanics driven, based on the principle of least action.
Ragtime
not rated yet Feb 13, 2008
Under more deeper perspective it seems, the nested foam structure of inertial system follows from the specific perspective of viewing of random chaos, where the energy spreading is density gradient driven (http://superstrun...lin1.jpg ). I.e. you can imagine the Universe as random chaotic field of very high density, where most of energy spreads by density gradients. The Aether Wave Theory considers, the observable reality can be modelled by dense inertial field (Aether) of infinite high mass/energy density. It means, the Universe appears like random scalar field as being observed by every part of it.

It means, the Universe is basically random, it appears laws driven just because we are limited part of it, so that the random noise is filtered out into Gaussian noise by observational perspective. This is because the smaller fluctuation in the chaos cannot interract with ("to see") the other fluctuations well, until they're not of the same space-time scale.
nilbud
5 / 5 (1) Feb 14, 2008
Physics is just physics it has nothing to do with socialism or ideas. What a grubby little notion, worthy of marketing, not real science.
SimpleCountryPhysicist
not rated yet Feb 15, 2008
So its a matter of being a water monopoly? And for that it has to be draped with the name of physics?

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