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Wikipedia Science

Wikipedia Mining Algorithm Reveals the Most Influential People In History 231

Posted by Soulskill
from the jesus-loses-to-a-botanist dept.
KentuckyFC writes: 'In 1978, the American researcher Michael Hart published The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, a book that became an international best seller. Since then, various others have published similar lists. But all suffer the same drawback: they are subjective list ultimately influenced by numerous cultural factors. Now data scientists have come up with a way to extract an objective list of the 100 most influential people in history using the network of links between biographical articles on Wikipedia and how they vary between 24 different language editions, including English, Chinese, Russian Arabic and so on. The researchers assume that people who are highly ranked in different language editions are influential across both language cultures and that the more appearances they make in different language editions, the more influential they are. But the actual ranking is done by PageRank-like algorithms that consider a biographical article important if it is pointed to by other important articles.

The resulting lists of the most influential men and women might surprise. The top PageRanked individual is Carl Linnaeus, the 18th century Swedish botanist who developed the modern naming scheme for plants and animals, followed by Jesus. The top PageRanked women are: Elizabeth II followed by Mary (mother of Jesus). For comparison, just under half of the top 100 most influential also appear in Hart's 1978 book. But this is just the beginning. By counting the individuals from one culture that influence other cultures, the team is able to work out which cultures have dominated others. And by looking only at people born before certain dates, they can see how the influence of different cultures has waxed and waned throughout 35 centuries of recorded history.'
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Wikipedia Mining Algorithm Reveals the Most Influential People In History

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  • objective list (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dasacc22 (1830082) on Saturday June 07, 2014 @04:06PM (#47187267)
    subjectively titled ...
  • Yeah, right (Score:5, Funny)

    by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Saturday June 07, 2014 @04:13PM (#47187307)

    Given those of us the world calls "nerds" seemingly have a weakness for championing the lesser-known, and given that nerd-driven edits are a disproportionately large percentage of Wikipedia edits... it's not surprising someone like Linnaeus has the top spot.

    Really, the biggest surprise isn't that Linnaeus outranks Jesus - it's that Jesus managed to outrank Joss Whedon.

    • Re:Yeah, right (Score:5, Informative)

      by rogoshen1 (2922505) on Saturday June 07, 2014 @04:17PM (#47187321)

      I think he got the top spot due to the fact that just about every single critter on this planet has a link back to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C... [wikipedia.org] on their page.

      • Exactly. The results of this study could not be more bullshit. It's the kind of "why would you even bother doing that" study that should make people double over laughing.
        • by Reziac (43301) *

          Well, it's useful information if you're a linkfarm...

        • by toddestan (632714)

          Hey, a list of the people most linked to in Wikipedia could be interesting, and it turns out it is, for various reasons. To call it the "Most influential people in history" is a bit much though.

          • Hey, definitely. I'm all for this sort of interest piece; I've done some truly worthless statistical analyses purely for the geek value. But it shouldn't be mislabeled, much less sitting on Arxiv. I guess maybe this happened because the lead author is a physicist? Assume a spherical cow, etc.
      • by Rei (128717)

        Hahaha, I had been wondering about that! Most of the PageRank list I found reasonable, but that one really confused me. Here's his What Links Here [wikipedia.org] list. If you follow them, you see that most are from the Taxobox - there's a field called "type_species_authority", and the answer is often Linnaeus.

        I do think that Linnaeus is a bit of an exception there, tough. Who else gets regularly linked in a template? It's not like there's an infobox for people with a field "personal_savior" or "favorite_roman_emperor" ;)

        • I do think that Linnaeus is a bit of an exception there, tough. Who else gets regularly linked in a template? It's not like there's an infobox for people with a field "personal_savior" or "favorite_roman_emperor" ;)

          I'm officially changing my name to Citation Needed so I will be next years most influential person in history (assuming they keep the same methodology).

    • if you're not a Christian. If you don't believe he was the son of god then he was just preacher whose particular sect took off. The Roman Emperor that convertered to Christianity after being 'saved' is the real power behind Christianity...
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Even if you aren't Christian, your civilization has probably been influenced (converted, overrun, allied) by one that was acting in Jesus' name.

        • by walter_f (889353)

          Even if you aren't Christian, your civilization has probably been influenced (converted, overrun, allied) by one that was acting in Jesus' name.

          So this person "that was acting in Jesus' name" should clearly be considered influential.

          In fact, there were at least hundreds of them who were acting in Jesus' name on a higher political level (massively supported by emperors, kings and their respective armies) and thus be regarded as highly influential.

          Some of these persons, the early ones, are called "church fathers", some others, later on, just "popes".

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          I imagine Buddha has influenced more people than Jesus. Wikipedia has a huge western bias.

      • So the dude the religion is named after is less important than the dude that worshiped him?

        • by jfengel (409917)

          Arguably, yeah. When Constantine "donated" the western Roman empire to the Church, it basically turned Christianity into a (known)-world-spanning empire in one fell swoop. It's not as easy as that, of course, but it was a massive leg up that led to Christian domination of Europe, and from there to the Western Hemisphere during the Age of Exploration.

          Jesus was only indirectly involved in that, unless of course you believe that he actually did give Constantine the victory at Milvian Bridge.

          Now, that's all kin

      • by epine (68316)

        The Roman Emperor that converted to Christianity after being 'saved' is the real power behind Christianity...

        Are you sure? I suspect the power behind the throne was really Helena, Constantine's mother. Or maybe Fausta.

        In July, Constantine had his wife, the Empress Fausta, killed at the behest of his mother, Helena. Fausta was left to die in an over-heated bath. Their names were wiped from the face of many inscriptions, references to their lives in the literary record were erased, and the memory of both

      • by cold fjord (826450) on Saturday June 07, 2014 @09:43PM (#47188475)

        If you believe that then you believe nonsense. The lack of personal belief in the divinity of Jesus and his offer of salvation doesn't undo his enormous influence as Messiah, the subsequent spread of Christianity beyond its Jewish origin, and the enormous influence Christianity has had in turn on religion, literature, music, law, and many other aspects of life and culture across the globe.

        A non-Christian may not hold to the belief and sentiment that inspired Handal's Messiah [youtube.com], but the music is still played and sung. They don't cease to exist because of non-belief. The same holds true for the rest of the influence Jesus has had though the spread of Christianity.

        Christianity spread in the Roman empire despite persecution. But if you think a Roman emperor 1700 years ago was the "real power" behind Christianity, how do you explain this today? The Romans are long gone.

        China on course to become 'world's most Christian nation' within 15 years [telegraph.co.uk]
        Study: Christianity grows exponentially in Africa [usatoday.com]

        You seem to be underestimating the influence of Jesus.

        The Good, the Bad and the Forgiven [amazon.com]

        • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

          by Jack Griffin (3459907)

          You seem to be underestimating the influence of Jesus.

          And you seem to underestimate the influence all the previous religions had before Christianity plagiarised them. Jesus is a mere side note in the human story. All the principles you claim to own were around before your cult was invented, and will exist long after it ceases to exist.

        • by Tom (822) on Sunday June 08, 2014 @05:40AM (#47189439) Homepage Journal

          If you believe that then you believe nonsense. The lack of personal belief in the divinity of Jesus and his offer of salvation doesn't undo his enormous influence as Messiah, the subsequent spread of Christianity beyond its Jewish origin, and the enormous influence Christianity has had in turn on religion, literature, music, law, and many other aspects of life and culture across the globe.

          You confuse the religion with the picture they decided to hang on their walls. It's like saying the greek gods are still very powerful because whole planets are named after them. Jesus supplied the persona unto which the church then projected everything they wanted to have accepted without questioning. At this point, he stops being a person and instead becomes an idea. To be fair, you should remove him from the comparison because he belongs into a different conceptual class.

          The same is true of some ancient philosophers and many kings. We have a couple kings in history who basically did nothing, and yet their names stand for an entire period of their country.

          • You confuse the religion with the picture they decided to hang on their walls. It's like saying the greek gods are still very powerful because whole planets are named after them. Jesus supplied the persona unto which the church then projected everything they wanted to have accepted without questioning.

            I think you have that pretty much entirely wrong. The question is influence, not power, and there isn't any question that Jesus has been influential. His words and actions are recorded in the Bible so there is no "picture" hung on the wall by the church, no continuing free invention. The record is pretty clear that the books of the New Testament were in existence within living memory of Jesus's earthly ministry, and haven't changed since. The books of the New Testament record Jesus's words and deeds, so

      • by Fjandr (66656)

        I'm not Christian, but that's complete BS. Jesus is influential to Christians and Muslims, and given that Muslims make up the single largest religious majority on Earth, their list is bound to have a good deal of impact.

      • by Reziac (43301) *

        That's a good point. And in various other nations that weren't part of the Roman Empire, Christianity only became really prevalent after the king converted... often hundreds of years after Rome did.

        So, yeah, the principle driver behind a religion's popular adoption very likely is the ruling class, not the populace. Until that point, no matter how widespread it is (as in, scattered everywhere), it's not usually the =dominant= practice. Likely the principle extends to all religions, were someone to chart 'em

    • I think the issue is that scientists are more likely to cite their works, and in particular there are a lot of different species and thus many different articles and papers about species.

      There's a relatively few versions of the bible, and while they are almost always cited, they may not be via links to Wikipedia articles but instead by line & verse to a standard. And that's assuming that every bible reference should be counted as Jesus reference, which is untrue even for the New Testament.

  • Influence? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Livius (318358) on Saturday June 07, 2014 @04:21PM (#47187335)

    An interesting study, but nothing about the rankings has anything to do with measuring being 'influential'.

    • by Meshach (578918)

      An interesting study, but nothing about the rankings has anything to do with measuring being 'influential'.

      I guess it is "influential" in the same way that Google news shows the most "influential" sites covering a significant story. Influential means "conforms most to the prevailing viewpoint" (at least in this case). These are the ones that the most people read and hence the most influential.

    • Re:Influence? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by shaitand (626655) on Saturday June 07, 2014 @04:30PM (#47187379) Journal
      It depends on how you define influential. The winner is responsible for the name used in every culture in the world for every single living thing on Earth. Most people have never heard of him but he has certainly influence quite a bit.
      • It depends on how you define influential. The winner is responsible for the name used in every culture in the world for every single living thing on Earth. Most people have never heard of him but he has certainly influence quite a bit.

        Even influencing Bash commands!
        http://www.shlomifish.org/humo... [shlomifish.org]

    • Re:Influence? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday June 07, 2014 @04:56PM (#47187489) Journal
      It's a good point, and there is some question about the idea of using pagerank on Wikipedia as a method for measuring influential people. For one thing, it has a bias towards most recent events. They used two different algorithms for ranking influence in the English version of Wikipedia. The first version ended up with this list: "Napoleon, Barack Obama, Carl Linnaeus, Elizabeth II and George W Bush." At least it's bipartisan.

      Another problem with pagerank on Wikipedia is the bias towards popularity. "Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Pope Pius XII, Elton John and Elizabeth II." Was Frank Sinatra more influential than Michael Jackson?

      Going from that high quality single-language ranking, they tried to rank across languages. With their second algorithm, this is what they ended up with: "Adolf Hitler, Michael Jackson, Madonna (the singer) and Ludwig Van Beethoven." I really like Beethoven, but.....

      If your algorithm only matches the pre-existing ranking by 50%, that might be an indication that your algorithm isn't getting good data. In fact, the scientists involved have some doubt about the quality of their research, saying: “Our analysis shows that most important historical gures across Wikipedia language editions are born in Western countries after the 17th century, and are male”
    • This is no different from trying to come up with ways of measuring scholars' intellectual impact using citation metrics, like the h-factor or the many recent successors to it, which try to repair the weaknesses in a fatally flawed idea. It makes no distinction between positive and negative citation, and it ignores the raw fact of historical precedence, while preserving every historical bias a culture may have.

      The most influential people in world history, at least the very top-tier, isn't particularly debata

      • This is no different from trying to come up with ways of measuring scholars' intellectual impact using citation metrics, like the h-factor or the many recent successors to it, which try to repair the weaknesses in a fatally flawed idea. It makes no distinction between positive and negative citation, and it ignores the raw fact of historical precedence, while preserving every historical bias a culture may have.

        The most influential people in world history, at least the very top-tier, isn't particularly debatable, but yet this list failed to capture it. In alphabetical order (and assuming they all existed):

        Homer

        I like the Simpsons and they're good for an occasional laugh, even after all these years, but I really think Bart is the more influential character.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 07, 2014 @04:28PM (#47187365)

    You want to know why Carl Linnaeus is on top of that list? Every Wikipedia article about an Animal or a Plant has an infobox, containing their binomial name. And the person who got to name the animal or plant is linked in said infobox. Since Mr. Linnaeus basically created the binomial nomenclature, he named thousands upon thousands of species. Thus, he is linked from thousands upon thousands [wikipedia.org] of articles about all kinds of animals and plants. Here's a random example. [wikipedia.org] Notice the "L." at the bottom of the infobox. So, basically, Mr. Linnaeus is being Google.. ahem, Wikipedia-bombed.

    • by iNaya (1049686)
      I'd consider the person that named every fucking species on Earth to be pretty influential.
      • by Jiro (131519) on Saturday June 07, 2014 @05:21PM (#47187561)

        It's more influential than you or I, but it's not more influential than Jesus. The problem is that he's more influential in areas specifically related to the Wikipedia format.

        If every page about someone born in August contained a link to Augustus Caesar, this would conclude that he's the most influential person in history.

        • by walter_f (889353)

          It's more influential than you or I, but it's not more influential than Jesus.

          Advantage Linnaeus.
          Linnaeus is a person of history.

          Jesus is not.
          So the early "church fathers" who designed and developed this character should be considered influential (very influential, that is), not their work of fiction (or any part thereof).

      • I'd consider the person that named every fucking species on Earth to be pretty influential.

        For your kind information, he also named the non fucking species too. In fact he just came up with the system, actual naming of species was done by countless generations of biologists.

      • How? If he never existed what would be different? I consider Ghenghis Khan or Franz Ferdinand to much more influential on human history.
    • by Guppy06 (410832)
      His objectively measured influence on history pales in comparison to that of Mr. Citation Needed.
  • by queazocotal (915608) on Saturday June 07, 2014 @04:31PM (#47187383)

    that he invented the classification system for organisms.
    And there are a _LOT_ of stub articles for the Lesser Spotted Garden Slimy Thing, that link to 'biological classification' and hence Carls page. (can you tell I can't spell his second name?

    • by iNaya (1049686)
      Almost everyone who is influential has a handful of reasons why. Doesn't change the fact they were influential.
      • His idea would have been just as revolutionary if there had been a thousand species, not millions.
        His ranking would be considerably lower.

  • I am going to give little credence to any objective list that puts Madonna (The Singer) on the top 5 of any such list. I just can't imagine that they aren't counting links to Madonna (The mother of Christ) and associating them to the singer.

  • The most influential people are, in no particular order: the guy who invented fire, the guy who invented agriculture, the guy who invented the wheel, the guy who invented religion, the guy who invented writing, various other prehistoric inventors and scientists, various leaders of important nations (eg the Romans), various religious figures. Y-chromosome Adam, mitochondrial Eve, etc. The most influential people will be in the deep past, because what they did back then has enough time to affect so many peopl

  • by Ecuador (740021) on Saturday June 07, 2014 @04:52PM (#47187479) Homepage
    Correct me if I am wrong, but even from the summary I get a strong suspicion this "research" is heavily flawed. I mean, the only way for "Carl Linnaeus" would be on the top spot would be if you blindly applied a sort of page-rank algorithm forgetting to only include non-standardized parts of pages. A significant percentage of Wikipedia pages on all languages are about the various species of plant or animal life, all of which have a stub which contains the link to "Scientific classification" perhaps also to "Binomial name", both of which feature Linnaeus prominently.
    It reminds me a spider my boss had built to get a few thousands of pages to construct a word frequency list, and I had to point out that it needed some work, since words like "print", "home" etc were not in the top-5 most common words of the English language.
    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by iNaya (1049686)
      So, you're saying that the guy that invented a naming system, and then named thousands upon thousands of animals, the names and system of which are used by every culture on Earth isn't influential and doesn't deserve a spot on the list?
      • by Ecuador (740021)
        The MOST important person in the history of humanity is the one who made the species naming system we use, even if few people actually know him? Just because there are more species on Wikipedia than, say, elements whose pages link to Mendeleev (an example of a person I would consider more influential)? It is a good thing then that Jimmy Wales didn't put a link to his page on the "about" link of every Wikipedia, otherwise you know who would be #1 "according to research"!
  • No mention of Hitler? After Jesus he is probably the most mentioned historical figure on the Internet. And if influencing to not be like counts, then I would say he might rival even Jesus in influence.

    But really, at the very least the politically party that he controlled (the Nazi's) influenced pretty much the entirety of the modern world in their short life. From the Olympic Games, through all of science, to modern animal welfare laws; These were all a hundred years ahead of their time and put in place by

    • by Ksevio (865461)
      Want to guess how I know that you didn't RTFA? The main article even has a photo of him!

      On the overall ranking, Hitler is ranked #5 after Carl Linnaeus, Jesus, Aristotle, and Napoleon
      For the 2DRank (places emphasis on outgoing links as well as incoming) he's #1
  • And it's implicitly admitted by the article itself, where while it lists the top five people, it elaborates briefly on the first place holder of PageRank's algorithm, Carl Linnaeus, to state what the person was actually famous for. Really, if he was the most influential person in human history, one would typically expect that such clarification would not generally be needed. Indeed, there is no such clarification given for 2DRank's #1 place holder, Adolf Hitler, either. Neither is there any explanation

  • by lophophore (4087) on Saturday June 07, 2014 @05:48PM (#47187649) Homepage

    Michael Jackson, and Hitler?

    What utter bullshit!

    This is like mining Facebook to decide who the best rock band ever was! Think there's any bias?

    My vote goes to Gutenberg. You want to talk about inflection points in human knowledge? Gutenberg, and then Tim Berners-Lee.

    Jeff

  • I wonder how this is evaluated, if at all. As others have been pointed out, the fact that Carl Linnaeus means that they define "influence" in a fairly poor, counter-intuitive way. Many mentions might make someone famous, but not influential in a deep sense. Deep influence, to me, affects the answer to a simple question. If the contributions of person A hadn't been made, would our world be a fundamentally different place? This will work for largely fictional figures (such as Jesus), as for evil people (
  • They are going to sell to every damn politician and two bit national leaders "A service in improve your influence on the world. Results guaranteed. Independent tests based on wikipedia will show that your influence has increased. Includes a 110% money back guarantee!"
  • by whistlingtony (691548) on Saturday June 07, 2014 @06:49PM (#47187875)
    I know who Michael Jackson is. I can't say he influences my actions very much. I know his name. I don't actually know anything about him. I know who Napoleon is. I can't say that he influences my actions much either. Etc etc etc..... By their methodology, I just name dropped these two guys. Big whoop. Doesn't make them influential.
  • All this algorithm reveals is who the algorithm ranks highest. I wouldn't draw any conclusions beyond that.
  • I'm a fan of pre-Beatles oldies rock music. Every so often, somebody comes up with a "Greatest Hits Of All Time" list, and it usually seems to go back no further than 10 or 15 years before the list was published. Similar for history. Many such lists are better described as "the most influential people of recent times".The most influential people are founders of major movements religions (Jesus, Mohammed, etc) and political ideologies such (Karl Marx, etc)

    And then there are leaders of states/empires, who led

  • What they didn't tell you is that Mary & Jesus were primarily looked up as a means to find ridiculous statements which can be used to argue why Religion is bullshit.

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