The most influential person in history, according to Wikipedia

The father of modern taxonomy beats Shakespeare, Jesus and Napoleon as the most influential person in history, according to Wikipedia PageRank figures.

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Carl von Linné, Alexander Roslin, oil on canvas, 1775. Public domain

Influence is difficult to quantify. It's probably fair to say, for example, that William Shakespeare's influence on the English-speaking world is higher than that, say, of JRR Tolkien, but by exactly how much?

Well, if you give credence to Wikipedia as a source, there is a way to tell. Young-Ho Eom and colleagues of the University of Toulouse in France have used Google's PageRank algorithm to create a series of lists of who the most important figures are in 24 different language editions of Wikipedia -- as well as the most important person across all languages: none other than Carl Linnaeus, the 18th-century Swedish scientist who invented the modern system of plant and animal classification.

PageRank is a system that counts the number of incoming links to a web page, because pages that have links from a lot of other pages are likely to be important. The team also added something called CheiRank, which counts outgoing links as well, for a final system called 2DRank, which counts both incoming and outgoing links.

The two global lists are as follows, with the Omega noting the final ranking score of the algorithms and the number next to it representing the number of appearances that person made in the top 100 lists across all editions sampled.

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Young-Ho Eom, Pablo Aragón, David Laniado, Andreas Kaltenbrunner, Sebastiano Vigna, Dima L. Shepelyansky

Linnaeus' strong placement may have something to do that he is listed on the page of every single animal he named -- as seen in the right-hand bar of this page for the blue whale, for example.

And, for the English edition of Wikipedia:

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Young-Ho Eom, Pablo Aragón, David Laniado, Andreas Kaltenbrunner, Sebastiano Vigna, Dima L. Shepelyansky

You can check out the full paper for free on arXiv, and lists for the other language editions of Wikipedia on the project website.

 

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