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Lists and rankings

Mar 2, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

Unwanted conclusions are being drawn about, and critical attention directed at, Fremont County again because of outside analysis that has been used to generate a list of rankings.

In this case, the list concerns the well-being of children in Fremont County, the data having been compiled by the Wyoming Kids Count organization.

Kids Count analyzed statistics from numerous sources dealing with nutrition, child care, sanitation, doctor visits, vaccinations, household conditions and others for 15 of Wyoming's 23 counties. Fremont County ranked last.

Lists have pros and cons. Unquestionably, they are good at getting attention. People are drawn to a list that ranks just about anything, whether its child well-being, yogurt flavors, or, as David Letterman did Thursday night, the top 10 most-similar names of arthropods and male names in the Romney family ("Mitt" and "Mite," for example).

The Kids Count rankings are far from a comedy routine. This is serious business, and we have no one to blame but ourselves if we are not ranked higher.

But rankings based on statistics have their drawbacks too. The fact is that any ranking of 15 counties will place one at the rear of the list, even if the statistical differences between, say, eighth place and 15th place are minimal. That is the nature of statistical analysis. When even tiny differences are expressed in the form of a ranked list, someone has to be last.

But a reverse of a certain type also is true. These are not just numbers and charts. These are our children. No matter where we might rank on a list, the fact is that every case of a child not being well fed, well housed, kept warm, kept healthy, kept secure, kept safe or kept well treated is a blight on the family, the household and the community in which it happens.

Whether you are the No. 1 county on the Kids Count list or, in Fremont County's case, 15th, the point is not to worry about the rankings.

Obsessing about a ranking is a dangerously convenient way to avoid real issue, which is not where one ranks on the list but, rather, the reason that the list is being kept at all.

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