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The Science Hall of Fame

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment

There is one for pretty much every sport, a Walk of Fame for Hollywood stars, and one for Rock and Roll stars.

But there has never been a Science Hall of Fame, even though scientists have had a larger impact on our world than all the people in them other Halls of Fame put together!

Until now.

A few weeks ago, a paper was published online (and appears in print this week) in Science entitled “Quantitative Analysis of Culture using Millions of Digitized Books”. What these researchers did was use Google’s effort to digitize books (Google Books) which has currently digitized about 15 million books, roughly 12% of all books ever printed.

They used a subset of these already digitized books, 5.2 million, and were able to create a corpus of data wherein you could search for a particular word or group of words (i.e. “slavery” or “The Great War”) and see how often those words appeared in print as a function of the year. The years available are between 1800 and 2000.

This ability to study how often certain names and subjects appear in print allow researchers to study human history and culture in a new quantitative fashion. The authors of the study call it “culturomics”.

The authors  found some pretty interesting results, including finding that the English language has grown by 70% in the last 50 years; they were able to see the decline in use of certain words (who says “chide” anymore?) and found that the average age of peak prominence for a celebrity is 75.

After this study was published, John Bohannon, writer for Science, and an author of the culturomics paper Adrian Veres, teamed up to find which scientists were most popular in literature, and create this Science Hall of Fame. It is highly quantitative in nature, which is quite poetic for a science hall of fame if you think about it.

Scientific fame is measured in units of milliDarwins, one-thousandth of the average annual frequency that Charles Darwin’s name appears in English-language books from the year he was 30 years old (1839) until 2000. Here are the top 25:

You can go to the site and look up your favourite scientists, or you can also play with the raw data yourself and do your own studies, which has already caused me to be very unproductive at work today.

I’d also like to point out that the first 3 Nobel Prize Winners on that list are all physicists. Just sayin…

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