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Think Tank

Can Wikipedia Tell Us the Most Significant Person in History?

The computer scientists and ranking enthusiasts Steven Skiena and Charles Ward used Google's Page-Rank algorithm to determine the most significant people of all time. Here are the top twenty, from their book, Who's Bigger: Where Historical Figures Really Rank:

1. Jesus

2. Napoleon

3. Mohammed

4. William Shakespeare

5. Abraham Lincoln

6. George Washington

7. Adolf Hitler

8. Aristotle

9. Alexander the Great

10. Thomas Jefferson

11. Henry VIII

12. Charles Darwin

13. Elizabeth I

14. Karl Marx

15. Julius Caesar

16. Queen Victoria

17. Martin Luther

18. Joseph Stalin

19. Albert Einstein

20. Christopher Columbus

"If numerous Wikipedia pages end up linking to Abraham Lincoln," explains a skeptical Cass Sunstein in this New Republic review, "we have a clue that Lincoln was a major figure." Of course, there are many problems with this significance ranking, including the fact, which Sunstein points out, that Skiena and Ward only used the English language version of Wikipedia.

But the larger (infectious) question is how can we account for a human being's contribution to the world, and what exactly does that mean. Does significance equal excellence or influence or what?

Read more here

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