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Science's Cooperstown

If science had a Hall of Fame, who would be considered "most famous?" A team of Harvard researchers recently published a study in Science, showing their results of a quantitative analysis of cultural trends using millions of digitized books as a reference. Two researchers then created a database of the most famous scientists of the past 200 years, ranking them by the frequency in which their names appear in books from the years 1800 to 2000. Their impact was ranked in milliDarwins, or "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," the authors write. So far, Darwin ranks second with 1000 mD, and he is outranked by Bertrand Russell, who tops the list at 1500 mD. Albert Einstein trails in third with 878 mD. Marie Curie is the highest woman on the list with 189 mD.

The Intersection's Chris Mooney says he questions the researchers' method. Since the analysis relies on books, it seems likely that it diverges from how current popular culture would rate fame. "Still," he adds, "quite a fascinating little exercise."

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