A couple days ago I was dipping into Peter Singer’s latest book, Ethics in the Real World: 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter, and saw him mention something about his being a “thought leader” according to some German outfit that, for the past five or six years, has been ranking influential people from across the globe based on their online presence and ‘influence’ calculated by some series of factors. The site is here at Thought Leaders, which on its homepage shows an impressive network chart of how their top ranked people interconnect with each other, and with various institutions, such as universities. Its Method page explains how they do what they do.
I’m not sure how much credence to give to their results — especially since they change so much from year to year — but their results are fascinating. The people identified are mostly not pop stars or politicians, nor are they exclusively intellectuals, though many of them are. They are also musicians, filmmakers, and religious leaders, and even some I might dismiss as cranks (Deepak C). And the top two are religious leaders: the Pope, and the Dalai Lama.
Still, I’m glancing through the latest results, the Toplist Global 2016, to see how many of them I recognize, especially those whose work I know, whose books I’ve read, or whose books I know about and want to read. A brief selection: Richard Dawkins is #4, Stephen Hawking is #15, J.K. Rowling is #17, Salman Rushdie is #19, (but why am I not aware of #20, physicist John C. Mather?), Daniel Dennett is #22, Peter Higgs is #23, Frank Wilczek is #25, Steven Weinberg is #27, Ray Kurzweil is #29, Jared Diamond is #33, (George Lucas is #35!), Peter Singer is #37, Noam Chomsky is #37 (tie apparently), Daniel Kahneman is #41, Paul Krugman is #47, Freeman Dyson is #52, Steven Pinker is #54, (and who is Elizabeth Blackburn, biology, at #57?), Edward O. Wilson is #59, Neil deGrasse Tyson is #60, and… skipping a bit more lightly… Michio Kaku (whom I’ve thought a lightweight popularizer) is #68, Deepak Chopra (whom I’ve thought pretty much a woo fraud) is #70, Thomas Nagel is #81, Ira Glass (a radio host?) is #81, Thomas L. Friedman is #89, Glenn Greenwald is #102, Sam Harris is #108, Matt Ridley is #111, Brian Greene is #113, David Deutsch is #118, Robert Trivers (surprised he’s still around) is #119, Douglas R. Hofstadter is #127, David Chalmers is #132, Karen Armstrong is #139, Malcolm Gladwell is #145, and Max Tegmark is #150.
The list goes on. Lisa Randall, #195! Yuval Noah Harari, #209!
I’ve glanced at the several years of previous lists, and found only one SF figure: Bruce Sterling, ranking an impressive #12 on the 2012 list. I don’t know what Bruce was doing in 2012 that gained him such a high ranking, that he has stopped doing since then to drop him completely out of the 2016 rankings. That the annual rankings change so much, is a cautionary note about taking any one list too seriously.
So– I don’t know what these lists really mean, if much. But they do provide a list of influential people, by whatever criteria, that offers some names I have not previously heard of, and will need to check out, within the parameters of my interest (especially the scientists and philosophers).
(Earlier this afternoon, using the theme of ‘thought leaders’, I re-organized the Bookmarks in the right sidebar of this site. It’s not quite complete.)