Charles McCollum

Charles McCollum

The greatest human urge is not hunger or thirst or sex. It is to change what someone else has written.

Hummmm, should there be a comma or dash between those two phrases instead of a period? Maybe a semicolon? No, those are too stilted for newspaper writing. Best play it safe with a complete stop.

In any event, the old newspaper adage quoted above — which is sometimes posted on a wall in sight of that overzealous copy editor we all know — came to mind this week as I was scrolling through my daily deluge of emails. It seems like every morning, at least one of the files in my inbox offers a ranking of Utah, Cache Valley or Logan in some statistical category such as crime risk, snowpack level, unemployment rate or even something as statistically untraditional as “pet-friendliness.”

Thus I’ve decided to modify that newsroom saying. It should be: The greatest human urge is not hunger, etc., but to size up, weigh, calculate, rate and classify everything under the sun.

Some of the rankings humans come up with border on the absurd, like one sent out recently touting a study rating Utah the “20th least fat state in the country.” Does this mean we are at the same time the 30th "most fat" state? I don’t know whether to be proud or ashamed. And how did they get these statistics anyway?

Usually the rankings sent to the news media have a marketing element or can be traced back to a cause or political agenda.

The fat-quotient study, for example, came from a company billing itself as “a leading player in the online insurance advertising industry.” The pet-friendliness rankings came from a home-and-business security firm. My assumption is that getting these statistics out to the public somehow helps these companies attract business, though I’m not quite sure how. Utah, incidentally, did not rank too well when it comes to being nice to animals, finishing No. 6 among the top 10 “least pet-friendly” states in the country.

Here are a couple of other examples of recent state rankings sent to my email (some actually quite noteworthy and not all necessarily agenda driven):

• Utah has the lowest cancer death rate in the nation with 120.3 per 100,000 residents.

• Utah ranks No. 6 in suicides, with 22.7 cases per 100,000 residents.

• Utah climbed 17 spots to become the No. 4 growth state in America, according to U-Haul data analyzing U.S. migration trends.

• Utah ranks 26th in the nation for percent of population with high school or graduate degrees.

• Utah ranks 45th in female political participation, a statistic based on voter turnout and the number of women holding public office. Arkansas finished last.

• Cache County ranks seventh among Utah counties for the lowest tax burden.

• Utah ranks among the “10 worst states for women’s rights” — another set of data prepared by a security company. Louisiana edged out Arkansas for last place in this one.

• Utah ranks No. 33 in heart disease, with 150.2 deaths per 100,000. 

• Utah ranks 29th in the country for “catfishing” crimes, defined as fraud schemes perpetrated over social media and dating sites.

• Utah ranks No. 44 on the list of best states for LGBT families.

• Utah ranks No. 22 in drug overdoses, with 22.3 cases per 100,000 population.

• Utah ranks 43rd for “health and reproductive freedom,” a statistic based on mortality rates, lifespans and abortion rights.

• Utah sits at No. 37 in a ranking of the “most dangerous states in America.” I could not discern immediately what this was based on.

• Utah ranks 43rd in cases of liver disease.

• Utah ranks 31st in list of “greenest states.”

• Utah ranks 40th in per-capita spending on prescription drugs.

• Utah ranks No. 2 nationally for increased home values over the past year, with a 14% rise.

• Utah ranks No. 14 with the most complaints per nursing home facility.

Whew! That’s a lot of rankings, and frankly it just skims the surface of all the material of this type emailed out to news outlets regularly.

It seems like I get at least one email every couple of weeks touting Logan’s status as one of the safest and most crime-free metropolitan areas in the country, each time from a different source. At The Herald Journal, we jumped on this news the first few times it came out, but to repeat it to readers in different forms continually would be overkill, don’t you think?

A silly thought occurred to me recently while going through this kind of stuff in my inbox. Even though it would be impossible to get the needed data, wouldn’t it be a hoot to do state and city rankings on completely random topics like “Worst places for people butting in line,” “States with the most face tattoos,” “Towns where people go to bed the earliest,” “Top tipping states,” “Worst smelling states,” “Best states for panhandling,” “Cities with the most automobile horn honking,” “States with the biggest hair,” “States where people wear the most comfortable shoes," "Most hypocritical states."

Utah, and Logan in particular, would probably rank very high in some of these categories and very low in others. In the end, it’s probably best we can’t quantify everything.

Charlie McCollum is the managing editor of The Herald Journal. He can be reached at cmccollum@hjnews.com or 435-792-7220.