Once again with Halloween upon us, it’s time to revisit candy culture, or more specifically, a system that aims to rank it. Like before, the mechanism to do this would be according to, well, let’s just call it "joy induction."
This hierarchy actually began in 2006 as the work of a friend and colleague, Ben Cohen. Ben is an environmental historian over at Lafayette College, but in a previous life, he and I use to blog together. This partnership happened because of our backgrounds publishing science humor, and so in some respects, this "Candy Hierarchy" is just another creative juncture. However, since publishing the 2010 version at Boing Boing, we received such amazing feedback from the community, I thought it would be great to continue this tradition and allow even more kickass "peer review" into guide the rankings.
As always, I’m aware that: (1) some people will still be deeply offended by the rankings; (2) because the new rankings tried very hard to incorporate the feedback, you now know that we were serious about the potential for readers to shift the hierarchy year to year; and (3) above it all, we can all hopefully agree that the process of peer review is just kickass anyway. Anyway, do play in the comments, but without further ado, read on...
Discussion: Presented within is the newly reformulated Ng and Cohen Candy Hierarchy, which aims to rank Halloween candy recieved during trick or treating. This version is seen as an improvement of the 2010 edition, which culled massive peer review in the form of several hundred comments (pdf version of peer review available here).
Like before, we placed a high value on this process, as past attempts (see previous versions 2006 | 2007 | 2008) had produced noteworthy relevations, including establishment of reference samples, hereafter termed index candies, as well as the discovery of the importance of caramel in defining the upper tiers.
In its previous form, we were hopeful that some of the new potential advances in the hierarchy would be due to evaluating context setting. In our last report, we had suggested that "rarely in practice do eaters eat just one piece of candy. Anecdotal evidence indicates that, in general, eaters throw multiple pieces of Halloween candy down their gullets. (When so much is being eaten, research shows the Pelican-gullet-eating-fish imagery is apt.) It thus matters which are eaten earlier and which later. Some tests, for example, indicate that you can only consume so many premier grade chocolate based candies before you need the zip or zing of a Spree or a Smarty to 'cleanse the pallet'."
Indeed, from our data, we found that context was key. Perhaps most significant were frameworks that revolved around the geography of palates. Specifically, it was noted that there was a strong North American bias, which often led to heated disagreement. In light of this, we strongly suggest a parallel attempt at defining a Sweets Hierarchy to further explore global preferences.
Other noteworthy findings include:
(1) That despite various lobbying efforts, clear consensus within the peer review process was wholly absent. No agreement on any specific candy was represented higher than 5% of the total comments (although status of fresh versus stale versus fruit flavored Tootsie Rolls was especially hotly debated). Indeed, consensus was only noted in the following: that last year’s hierarchy, in a word, sucked. In fact, the word “travesty” and similar synonyms were uttered more than a few times (Koerth-Baker, 2010).
(2) That with current data, Candy Corn is impossible to rank. It is liken to the “String Theory” of candy: largely theoretical nature and difficult to pin down. In the hopes of moving forward on this strange phenomenon, we are currently exploring a grant proposal that would give us time on the LHC.
(3) That this study was a great portal to science culture in general. This was demonstrated by an example of scientific plagiarism (link), as well as the prevalence of scientist bias, because despite repeated commentary on the contrary, we stubbornly stand by our evaluation of Whoppers.
We also would like to suggest that a paradigm shift in this hierarchy is looming. Buoyed by an incident involving a Ouija board and what appeared to be the spirit of Thomas Kuhn (the board spelled, “S N I C K E R S F T W B U T P E E R R E V I E W N O T T E C H N I C A L L Y E X P E R T”), we were led to consider what exactly should pass as reasonable “peer review.” Here, it is our opinion that this may, in fact, be the views and opinions of children.
Consequently, we look forward to continued assessment of this 2011 Candy Hierarchy, fully aware and deeply respectful of the fact that this exciting field is still in its infancy.
THE CANDY HIERARCHY (2011)
(not surprisingly, exclusively chocolate-based)
Hershey’s Kissables — Peanut M&M’s — Regular M&Ms — Junior Mints — York Peppermint Patties — Three Musketeers — regular old Hershey Bars — Reggie Jackson Bar — Kit Kat — Dark Chocolate Hershey
(also exclusively chocolate, after fending off a few intruders)
Nestle Crunch — Mounds — Tootsie Rolls — Whoppers — Fair Trade Chocolate — Butterfinger — Pay Day — Baby Ruth — 100 Grand Bar — Almond Joy — Cadbury’s Creme Eggs
(the chewy range or, in some circles, the Upper Chewy or Upper Devonian)
Milk Duds — Benzedrine -- Jolly Ranchers (if a good flavor) — Candy Corn? — Starburst — Skittles — Stale Tootsie Rolls — Licorice (not black)
(the Lower Chewy and Gummy-Based, also the Middle Crunchy Tart Layer)
Dots — Lollipops — Nerds — Runts — Trail Mix —Swedish Fish — Mary Janes — Gummy Bears straight up — White Bread — Black Licorice -- Anything from Brach's — Hard Candy — Spree — Bubble Gum — Including the Chiclets (but not the erasers) — Black Jacks — LemonHeads — LaffyTaffy — Good N' Plenty — Jolly Ranchers (if a bad flavor) — Bottle Caps — American Smarties  — Chalk  — "those odd marshmallow circus peanut things" -- gum from baseball cards
Tier so low it does not register on our equipment 
Healthy Fruit — Pencils — Hugs (actual physical hugs) — Lapel Pins — Extra Strength Tylenol — "anonymous brown globs that come in black and orange wrappers" — Now'n'Laters — Whole Wheat anything — Those little Christian notebooks — Pebbles
Benjamin R. Cohen & David Ng
The hierarchy is also available in PDF format
9. Still no unanimous decision on the placement of Candy Corn, which as of 2006 remained unclassified, but as of 2007 had been tentatively placed in the Upper Chewy/Upper Devonian. 2008: no sighting. For now, we have elected to leave in the same tier as last year.
13. Yet some would be just as well to be left off. Bit-o-Honey, for example, might be called a lower tier member, but why bother? It says to your trick-or-treaters, "Here, I don't care, just take this." The lesson of Bit-o-Honey is: you lose. Goo Goo clusters, too. You're making a social statement--"I hate you and everything you represent"--when you give these out.
15. Unless you eat them properly. To quote Anonymous, 2010: “The trick to realizing how brilliant and delicious Now 'n Laters are is a two step process. The first step is to carefully read the name of the candy. "Now 'n Later." What does it mean, you ask? Well, it implies that the candy will be different "now" (when you put it in your mouth) and at some point "later" in time. A small leap of logic takes us to the second step: be patient. You need to suck on it for a while until it softens. If you skip this step, the Now 'n Later will be an inedible, rock-like colorful brick quite worthy of the low end of the hierarchy. But if you are patient in your candy-eating process, oh the rewards you will reap!”
David Ng likes to find funny things to show in your next science talk.