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Wikipedia-based MIT study names 5 MLBers among the most influential people ever

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In fairness to MIT, their Wikipedia-based Pantheon project is not exactly a list of the 11,000 most famous people in history. Instead, it seeks to quantify an individual's contribution to our shared culture on a global scale:

You were not born with the ability to fly, cure disease or communicate at long distances, but you were born in a society that endows you with these capacities. These capacities are the result of information that has been generated by humans and that humans have been able to embed in tangible and digital objects.


Pantheon is a project celebrating the cultural information that endows our species with these fantastic capacities. To celebrate our global cultural heritage we are compiling, analyzing and visualizing datasets that can help us understand the process of global cultural development.

The methodology is as complex as the mission, but Pantheon's "People Rankings" seem to pass the eye test, spitting out Aristotle, Plato, Jesus Christ, Socrates and Alexander the Great as its top five all-time contributors to global cultural development.

Five MLB players also happened to make the list: Ichiro Suzuki (No. 3,868), Babe Ruth (No. 4,663), Joe DiMaggio (No. 5,495), Hank Aaron (No. 9,531) and Jackie Robinson (No. 9,844).

If you were to try to pick five historically significant Major Leaguers, you could do far worse than considering those names, not only for their on-field performance, but also their cultural relevance.

That latter piece is what the MIT study attempts to quantify, using a formula that weighs variables including the "Number of Language Editions" of an individual's Wikipedia page, that individual's age and the number of page views his/her edition receives. 

And so, Ichiro's relatively high ranking probably has as much to do with his overwhelming fame back in Japan as it does with his continuing ability to hit singles and patrol the outfield. Fewer people search for Babe Ruth's Wikipedia page today than they might have if Wikipedia existed back in the 1920's; thus, there's a fair amount of bias toward more recent public figures.

MIT readily admits these inherent statistical biases, noting:

We do not propose this method to represent an unbiased view of the world. On the contrary, as all large data collection efforts, it is an effort that is punctuated by limitations and biases. Hence, we interpret this dataset narrowly, as the view of global cultural production that emerges from the multilingual expression of historical figures in the Wikipedia as of May 2013.

So don't take the raw numbers too much to heart. The real upshot is that Suzuki, Ruth, DiMaggio, Aaron and Robinson are among the most influential humans to ever walk this earth. Of course, that could all change in the next update: