Mathematics as a universal language can do fascinating things. Patterned after how Google ranks websites, computer scientists Steven Skiena of the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Google software engineer Charles Ward came up with an algorithm that can rank the who's who of mankind's history.
Just like how traders analyze data to find out what's hot and what's not, Skiena and Ward designed an algorithm inspired by Google PageRank and created lists of the most influential people of all time. The results are published in their book "Who's Bigger: Where Historical Figures Really Rank."
The research relied on Wikipedia to rank roughly 845,000 names. The metrics involved looking into links of a Wikipedia page to other pages, the length of the entries, revisions done, and the number of visits to the page. It also factored in how one's popularity drops after someone dies.
"Along the way, the authors present the rankings of more than one thousand of history's most significant people in science, politics, entertainment and all areas of human endeavor. Anyone interested in history or biography can see where their favorite figures place in the grand scheme of things. While revisiting old historical friends and making new ones, one will come to understand the forces that shape historical recognition in a whole new light," read the press release from the Cambridge University Press.
The authors' Top People in History lists Jesus, Napoleon, William Shakespeare, Muhammad and Abraham Lincoln in the top five. George Washington, Adolf Hitler, Aristotle, Alexander the Great and Thomas Jefferson completes the top 10.
Browsing through the top 100 list, Elvis Presley was ranked at 69th, more popular than great thinker René Descartes.
The Virgin Mary is pegged at 127th. Other notable women on the list include Queen Elizabeth I on 13th place, Queen Victoria on 16th and St. Joan of Arc on 95th spot. The rarity of women on the lists created by the study might be due to the fact that Wikipedia is dominated by male editors.
Other religious figures fared well with Pope John Paul II on 91st, St. Thomas Aquinas on 90th, St. Peter on 65th, Gautama Buddha on 65th and Paul the Apostle on 34th. However the Dalai Lama was not ranked since he uses his official status as the "14th Dalai Lama" and not really a name that the said algorithm can rank. TIME's Person of the Year Pope Francis also did not make it to the top list.
While the authors created interesting lists using a Google PageRank-inspired algorithm, the system of looking people as memes is far from being perfect and might cause some raised eyebrows for a few.