Peter Smith

Publications, Lectures and Other Stuff

A Failed Attempt to Measure Historical Significance?

Steven Skiena and Charles Ward have attempted to measure fame (= gravitas + celebrity) by using various metrics based on Wikipedia. They then calculate ‘significance’ (= lasting fame?) by factoring in a time factor based on Google’s Ngram. Unsurprisingly, the results have a strong American/Anglophone bias (Their Top 20 includes 3 US Presidents).

Apparently the most significant economists were Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Malthus, John Maynard Keynes, and David Ricardo; the leading.military leaders were Napoleon, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, and Oliver Cromwell; and the literary giants Shakespeare, Dickens, Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, and Voltaire. It reminds me of the popularity of lists and the problems of ranks.

BTW, I saw an interesting reference to ‘Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books’:


One comment on “A Failed Attempt to Measure Historical Significance?

  1. petussing
    December 5, 2013

    I’d be inclined to substitute Milton Friedman for JS Mill, but otherwise it seems a good list — Marx is not an economist, he is a social theorist, who is anyway an honorary Brit. but economics is a bit of an outlier — it really was fundamentally formed in the UK and then the US, primarily. The literature list is obviously ridiculous, as if no other culture produced such writers, which is manifestly false.

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This entry was posted on December 5, 2013 by in History and tagged , , .
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