The Most Important Person Ever: Hitler, Jesus, Shakespeare Make the List

Who's the most important person ever? Two computer scientists wanted to figure out who the most historically significant human beings to ever walk the face of the earth were (well, since we decided to start recording things with various forms of writing). So, being computer scientists, they developed computational models using Wikipedia and other data sources:

We rank historical figures just as Google ranks webpages, by integrating a diverse set of measurements about their reputation (including PageRank, article length, and readership) into estimates of their fame, explained by a combination of achievement (gravitas) and celebrity. We correct for the passage of time in a principled way, so we can fairly compare the significance of historical figures of different eras.

Here's their Top 10 most significant persons of all time:

1. Jesus 2. Napoleon 3. Shakespeare 4. Muhammed 5. Abraham Lincoln 6. George Washington 7. Adolf Hitler 8. Aristotle 9. Alexander the Great 10. Thomas Jefferson

Want to know the Top 10 most significant football (America) players of all time?

1. O.J. Simpson 2. Jim Thorpe 3. John Madden 4. Joe Montana 5. John Elway 6. Jerry Rice 7. Dan Marino 8. Vince Lombardi 9. Emmitt Smith 10. Joe Namath

Go to the site, there are tons of categories and ranking for you to peruse.

Of course, this won't settle any debates, and the authors admit that the lists are more Anglo-American centric because they only used the English-language version of Wikipedia. But you cannot argue that they actually used a sophisticated computational model to get their rankings -- it's certainly better than drunk people arguing at a bar.

And getting "mad" at the rankings is not the right reaction. Use it as a spur to debate. Of course, O.J. is number one, that's only because of his criminal issues. Or: There is simply no way Hitler is more significant than George Washington.

This is a fun exercise and a great tool these computer scientists have given to those of us who like to argue about unresolvable issues. Thank you.

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