The US News rankings of US graduate programs are out again, and I've heard a fair bit of discussion about them. My department, for example, went up slightly in the rankings, while the chemistry department here slipped a few spots. I want to point out something that US News makes no effort to broadcast: The US News graduate rankings are a popularity contest. What I mean is, the US News rankings are the result of an opinion survey taken of department chairs, not the result of actual quantitative metrics like publication rates, citation rates, research funding, major awards, graduation rates, or the like. Essentially the rankings give you a snapshot of the perception of the community of department chairs in a discipline, not an actual real ranking of some defined quality. This has some consequences. For example, perceptions are very hard to change, so it's unlikely that there will be lots of movement on these rankings unless there are exceptional circumstances (e.g., a particular department wins a couple of Nobel prizes out of the blue). It is distressing to me to see how much importance some people (prospective students on the one hand, administrators on the other) place on rankings that measure reputation rather than something truly quantitative.
The NRC, by contrast, does survey real data like those mentioned above. Unfortunately, they seem to be in a mode of continuously delaying the release of their "decadal survey". Anyone have any more insight into why that is taking so long?