From New Scientist:
Jesus and Hitler beaten in Wikipedia influence list
18:00 10 June 2014 by Jacob Aron
Move over, Jesus. Step aside, Hitler. Neither of you has got anything on Carl Linnaeus, inventor of the scientific naming scheme for plants and animals, who has been crowned the most influential person in history. An analysis of links within Wikipedia articles by Young-Ho Eom of the University of Toulouse, France, and colleagues gave Linnaeus the title after they used the Google PageRank algorithm to come up with their list.
Google uses this algorithm to count the number of incoming links to a webpage, because pages that are linked to by a lot of other sites are likely to be important. Eom applied the algorithm to 24 separate language editions of Wikipedia to see if different cultures rated different historical figures as the most important.
Linnaeus topped the chart across all languages because there are so many Wikipedia pages with scientific names in every edition, and they all eventually lead back to him. Looking at just the English edition, the top three were Napoleon, Barack Obama and Linnaeus.
Of course, what works to show a webpage’s influence doesn’t necessarily apply to how influential a person is, so the team also tried another algorithm called 2DRank, which counts both incoming and outgoing links. That spat out Adolf Hitler, Michael Jackson and Madonna as the most important across all languages, and Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson and Pope Pius XII in just English.
The team also looked at how the number of important people is spaced throughout history. Most people in their lists were born after the 17th century, in line with the general rise of global population, but there are spikes in the 5th and 1st century BC thanks to ancient Greek scholars, Roman leaders and Christian figures.
A previous PageRank analysis run in 2010 opted for Jesus, Napoleon and William Shakespeare, but because Wikipedia is constantly evolving, it is no surprise that the list has changed. Eom’s team has posted their full list for each language online if you want to see where your favourite historical figure ended up.
Journal reference: arXiv, arxiv.org/abs/1405.7183