A new study intended to find the most influential person on Wikipedia has reached a somewhat surprising conclusion: Carl Linnaeus is bigger than Jesus.
The research carried out by Young-Ho Eom of the University of Toulouse concluded that the 18th century Swedish biologist beat the likes of Adolf Hitler, Michael Jackson and yes, even the Christian messiah to take the top spot.
This somewhat unusual evaluation can be explained by the study's methodology: adapting Google's PageRank algorithm to count the number of incoming links to any given article. Because Linnaeus invented the system of biological taxonomy still used today, each plant, animal, bacteria or fungi covered by the online encyclopaedia linked back to him.
A different algorithm which ranked figures based on both incoming and outgoing links suggested a slightly more reasonable 'top three' - Adolf Hitler, Michael Jackson and Madonna - although the ranking for only English-language pages found that Frank Sinatra was the most influential, followed by Michael Jackson and Pope Pius XII.
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These variations show that sorting 'influence' based on Wikipedia entries can be a slightly ad hoc endeavour. A similar study carried out in 2010 put Jesus, Napoleon and Shakespeare on the podium (a shift explained by Wikipedia's ever-changing content) while a historian used the online encyclopaedia and other sources to crown Christ as 'the most significant person ever'.
In addition to the changes caused by different algorithms, Young-Ho Eom and his team point out that "each Wikipedia edition highlights local figures, so that most of its own historical figures are born in the countries which use the language of the edition."
This is certainly true if you browse the language-by-language rankings (online here) which shows a number of culture- or country- specific figures. Using the Japanese language Wikipedia the 16th century daimyo and 'Great Unifier' Toyotomi Hideyoshi is most influential, while the Hindi ranking places Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great in the top spot.
Similarly the Greek list is dominated by local boys (Plato, Alexander the Great and 20th century prime minister Eleftherios Venizelos) while the German edition puts Hitler on the top followed by Otto von Bismarck and a trio of composers: Mozart (Austrian actually), Beethoven and Handel.
- UK Independent