Following on from my post about Charles Murray’s survey of historically outstanding figures, including artists, I note there’s a similar book for the Wiki and Google Age. Who’s Bigger:Where Historical Figures Really rank uses statistical data based on use of the English version of Wikipedia. This is Murray’s page counting metrics transposed to the hyperlinking, wiki-building generation.
The brains behind the project, Steven Skiena and Charles Ward said to the Independent. "We analyse the Wikipedia pages of over 800,000 people to measure quantities that should correspond to historical significance. We would expect that more significant people should have longer Wikipedia pages than less notable folk, because they have greater accomplishments to report.”
Hmm, what about the qualitative aspect of this. Is it really wise to base eminence, or human accomplishment to use Murray’s majestic term, on the habits of Wikipedians. Nothing against Wikipedia, but as a metric of outstanding historical players?
Jesus heads the field just below Napoleon! Interestingly, Murray didn’t include military or political figures like this, as he was keen to stress the humanistic achievement, and war and deception hardly come into this category.
Unlike Murray, Skiena and Ward divide their artists into Pre-20th century and Modern Artists, thus we avoid the awkward placing of Picasso just below Michelangelo. Based on the Wiki count, Michelangelo doesn’t come top this time; he’s in second place (overall ranking 86th). Leonardo takes the top old master’s place with an overall rank of 29. Unsurprisingly, Van Gogh comes top in the modern list ( overall ranking 73) followed by Picasso whose overall grade is 173.
To be fair to these two data analysts, Murray wasn’t really their model. They took their cue from Michael H. Hart’s The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, which pre-dates Murray’s tome of 2003.
Who’s Bigger has attracted its fair share of criticism, too Eurocentric, too geeky, too centred on Wikipedia. I’m not against number-crunching or quantative analysis but the question of validation and experts is an important one. As a professional art teacher I don’t forbid my students to use Wikipedia but it must never be a substitute for the books and articles that are the substance of the discipline. I suppose computer scientists instead of art historians determining the ranking of artists is a symptom of our time. I’m not entirely comfortable with it……