Relax, Canada, MIT 'NOT' claiming Avril Lavigne is the most famous Canadian
Avril Lavigne is seen at her album release party in New York in this Nov. 5, 2013. (StarPix / Kristina Bumphrey)
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, March 18, 2014 11:52AM EDT
Why did they have to go and make things complicated? Despite conclusions drawn by Canadian journalists, researchers at MIT say their new online research project is not, in fact, declaring that Avril Lavigne is the most famous Canadian.
MIT recently unveiled a new interactive website called Pantheon, which collects and analyzes data, such as the number of Wikipedia pages, on the popularity of historical figures, from Aristotle to Celine Dion.
The site includes data on more than 11,000 figures who have Wikipedia entries in more than 25 languages, as well as information from Charles Murray’s book “Human Accomplishment: The pursuit of excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 BC to 1950.”
When sorting the list of cultural figures by place of birth, the pride of Napanee comes in first. Lavigne does have 103 Wikipedia language editions, after all, according to the researchers, with nearly 44 million page views between Jan. 2008 and Dec. 2013.
The singer’s place atop the round-up of Canadians on the list sparked outrage, which is perhaps not surprising since she hasn’t had a hit since last decade, with 2007’s Girlfriend.
And with actor Jim Carrey coming in second, Celine Dion fourth and Pamela Anderson fifth, questions surfaced about the accuracy of the researchers’ methodology. (Only Justin Bieber, in second place, makes any sense given his ongoing popularity.)
In the wake of the reaction, researchers felt it necessary to put a disclaimer on the site:
“Due to implications that have been drawn by some Pantheon visitors, we would like to remind our visitors that, 1. Small differences in ranking (i.e. who is first, second or tenth) are not statistically meaningful and should not be used to draw conclusions about the popularity of similarly ranked individuals. (i.e. we are NOT claiming that Avril Lavigne is the most famous Canadian).”
The researchers note that “technically, her score is statistically indistinguishable from that of Leonard Cohen.”
Cohen, it should be noted, is sixth on the list of Canadians. He is followed by:
7. Michael J. Fox
8. Bryan Adams
9. Frank Gehry
10. Nelly Furtado
The researchers note that their research has a number of limitations, and so “we do not propose this method to represent an unbiased view of the world.”
In particular, the researcher say, they understand the limitations of using Wikipedia as a data source.
“We do not consider Wikipedia editors to be a representative sample of the world population,” they write. “But a sample of publicly minded knowledge specialists that are willing to dedicate time and effort to contribute to the online documentation of knowledge.”
Looking at the entire list of historical figures of the last 6,000 years, the overall top 10 are:
3. Jesus Christ
5. Alexander the Great
6. Leonardo Da Vinci
8. Julius Caesar