On Wednesday afternoon, Facebook feeds across the region flooded with the shocking news that Buffalo was the second-happiest city in the United States.
This stunning development came via the website Creditdonkey.com, a name that does not immediately inspire a huge amount of confidence in its journalistic seriousness. According to the list’s introduction, the criteria for the ranking included Buffalo’s worse-than-average unemployment rate, our mostly stagnant wages, our average daily commute of about 20 minutes and a mysterious factor called the “frustration index.”
That last category, which received half of the weight in the site’s evaluation of 51 cities, is based on the number of office-equipment repairmen employed in the region. Which would make a lot of sense, if any of us pinned our personal happiness on how many people in our neighborhood are licensed to fix copy machines.
After exploring this website’s bizarre methodology, I would rate my personal “frustration index” with this list and many others like it at about 100 percent. Few if any of the city rankings that regularly seep like sewage into our social media feeds are based on real social science, dispassionate statistical analyses or anything remotely resembling objective criteria. (Subjective lists about pop culture and other issues are another matter entirely, as they make no claim to scientific accuracy.)
You could pretty much randomly mash your keyboard with your open palms and get more scientifically accurate results.
But these lists are based on one scientifically proven fact: You’re probably going to click on them if they mention your city, no matter where it ranks. What that in mind, in an equally shameless bid for clicks and based on my own secretive and highly complicated formula, I present “The 7 Worst Lists About Western New York Ever Written.”
7. American Style magazine’s “Top Arts Destinations.” This list, which now appears to be defunct, was based on nothing more than local ballot-box-stuffing campaigns and employed Podunk civic boosterism as a way to marshal Internet traffic. And for a time, Buffalo was all too happy to play along.
6. MTV Guy Code’s “5 Cities That Should Quit at Sports.” Maybe we shouldn’t expect a lot from a blog called “MTV Guy Code,” but this noxious digital emission takes as its impetus one of the great American fallacies: That the health of a city’s sports culture is based only or even largely on the success of its teams.
5. Careerbliss.com’s “Happiest and Unhappiest Cities for Work.” Any social scientist would laugh this study out of the room. Its dubious conclusions about the employee culture of entire metropolitan areas were based on as few as 50 survey responses per city. Not nearly enough to pin a study on.
4. Cities Journal’s “Top 15 Cities in the U.S. You Should Run Away From.” Buffalo ranks third in this sorry piece of anonymous snark, which also ranks first on my list of the most vile bits of Facebook fodder I’ve ever run across. In an act of almost impressive hubris, it doesn’t even attempt to justify the ranking but does fold in all kinds of stale statistics and faux-social science to draw its dubious conclusions.
3. Movoto.com’s “Where Fashion Dies: The 10 Worst Dressed Cities.” Granted, some of this real estate site’s rankings are charmingly tongue-in-cheek – see “The 10 Most Sinful Cities in America,” on which Buffalo ranked eighth. But others, like its unfashionable cities list, make mathematical claims to accuracy that just don’t add up.
2. 24/7 Wall Street’s “America’s 10 Dead Cities.” Though it starts off by referring to a rigorous MIT study on 150 “forgotten” American cities, this ranking otherwise seems to be based largely on census data since 1950. In determining something as complex as the vitality of a city, that’s a pretty blunt instrument.
1. Forbes’ “America’s Most Miserable Cities.” Unlike Gallup’s annual “well-being” ranking, which is based on a huge random sample and therefore has some claim to credibility, Forbes’ annual compendium of urban misery includes arbitrary measures like how well a city’s sports teams perform and leaves out most of the credible data we have related to human satisfaction. The result is totally useless click bait.