Now, app that takes bias out of rankings

Washington, Feb 2: Harvard researchers have created LineUp, an open-source application that empowers ordinary citizens to make quick, easy judgments about rankings based on multiple attributes.

“It liberates people,” Alexander Lex, a postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), said.

“Imagine if a magazine published a ranking of ‘best restaurants.’ With this tool, we don’t have to rely on the editors’ skewed or specific perceptions. Everybody on the Internet can go there and see what’s really in the data and what part is personal opinion,” Lex said.

The first dynamic visualization software of its kind, LineUp allows users to assign weights to different parameters to create a custom ranking.

For example, users might look at the raw data behind university rankings and decide for themselves the relative importance of student-faculty ratios or the number of citations per faculty member.

LineUp is part of a larger software package called Caleydo, an open-source visualization framework developed at Harvard, Johannes Kepler University, and Graz University of Technology. Caleydo visualizes genetic data and biological pathways-for example, to analyze and characterize cancer subtypes.

While LineUp is still being applied to formal genetic research, the group has chosen to also apply their work to simpler, more familiar ranking problems-for example, the healthiness of different foods, best employers, or the best places to live.

LineUp introduces a dynamic element to the static analysis usually done on an Excel spreadsheet. It allows the user to immediately consider or ignore columns in a dataset by simply dragging them into or out of the window. It also enables side-by-side comparisons of alternative weighting systems. (ANI)