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Wikimedia Commons/Bryan Dugan
Wikimedia Commons/Bryan Dugan

The Klout Score of 1903: A Statistical Study of Eminent Men

Wikimedia Commons/Bryan Dugan
Wikimedia Commons/Bryan Dugan

How do you measure influence? What is notability? It might seem that before the social ranking site Klout came along to assign people numbers by cold, numerical, social media calculation, the only way to rank people's importance was by hunch and opinion. Your top 100 might be different from my top 100, and who was to say which one captured the truth? But long before the age of Klout, there was psychologist James McKeen Cattell and his 1903 paper, "A Statistical Study of Eminent Men."

Cattell wanted to develop a measure of social importance that would move the study of great men from the realm of literature into the realm of science. In order to put a number on greatness, he first had to determine what, exactly, should be measured. Men could be important in different ways:

"We have men of genius, great men and men merely eminent. Thus many a genius has been a 'mute inglorious Milton' lacking the character or the circumstance for the accomplishment of his task. Washington was scarcely a genius, but was truly a great man. Napoleon III was neither a genius nor a great man, but was eminent to an unusual degree. But if we simply take those men who have most attracted the eyes and ears of the world, who have most set its tongues and printing presses in motion, we have a definite group."

So Cattell decided the number he needed was to be found in the measurement of "the motion of tongues and printing presses." He came up with a strategy to discover the set of men who had been most talked about. First, he took the 2000 longest articles from each of 6 different encyclopedias (English, French, German, and American), narrowed them down to the list of those that appeared in at least three of the encyclopedias, and then from that list chose those with the greatest average number of lines devoted to them over the whole set.

The top 25 men

The end product was an ordered list of the 1000 most eminent men. The top 25 were Napoleon, Shakespeare, Mohammed, Voltaire, Bacon, Aristotle, Goethe, Julius Caesar, Luther, Plato, Napoleon III, Burke, Homer, Newton, Cicero, Milton, Alexander the Great, Pitt, Washington, Augustus, Wellington, Raphael, Descartes, Columbus, and Confucius.

The bottom 10, as expected, are much less recognizable to us today: Otho, Sertorius, Macpherson, Claudianus, Domitian, Bugeaud, Charles I (Naples), Fauriel, Enfantin, and Babeuf.

Once he had the list, Cattell endeavored to unlock some of the secrets of greatness by analyzing factors like era, nationality, and what the greats were known for. For example, France was first in eminence, followed by Britain, Germany, Italy, Rome, Greece, America, Spain, Switzerland, Holland, and Sweden.

The real point of all this was to provide support for Cattell's ideas on eugenics. He used the statistics on nationality to argue for the unsavory conclusion that race and heredity were the primary factors in greatness; he reckons, for example, that the fall-off in Greek eminence after the classical period was due to "racial mixing."

At the same time he undermines his own point by cautioning against reading too much into France's numbers, arguing that "the French Revolution brought into prominence many men not truly great" and asserting that "in so far as the curves for the nineteenth century are valid, the promise for America is large." (Yes, Cattell was American.) So I guess he thought circumstances did have something to do with who ends up on the list? Still, the paper ends with an ominous call for science to gather more quantitative data that would help society figure out how to "improve the stock" and produce more great men.

What about the eminent women?

Cattell had not intended to leave women out of his analysis. A few did end up on his list of 1000. He explained that by "eminent men" he really meant "eminent people," but since women did "not have an important place on the list" there was no reason not to just say "eminent men" and be done with it.

However, ten years later, a student of Cattell's named Cora Sutton Castle decided to use his measurement technique to study eminent women for her doctoral dissertation. Needless to say, she came away with a slightly different conclusion about the role of different factors in eminence.

The top 25 women

Castle intended to work with a list of the 1000 most eminent women, but after applying the encyclopedia strategy and removing women of the Bible from the list, she was left with only 868. The top 25 were Mary Stuart, Jeanne d'Arc, Victoria of England, Elizabeth of England, George Sand, Madame de Staël, Catherine II of Russia, Maria Theresa, Marie Antoinette, Anne of England, Madame de Sévigné, Mary I of England, George Eliot, Christina of Sweden, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Madame de Maintenon, Josephine of France, Catherine de Medici, Cleopatra, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charlotte Brontë, Charlotte Corday, Marie Roland, Jeanne Pompadour, and Barbara Krüdener.

You can see Castle struggle to extract conclusions similar to those of her advisor from her breakdown of the data, but the "race" angle (which was really nationality) didn't yield much. She does find it interesting that the ratio of eminent women to the population in general increases so much (and far more than it did for men) over the course of history, and notes that one reason for the recent spike may be that "ability in women is more readily and willingly recognized at the present time than formerly."

"Who knows," she asks in an aside about ancient Greece, "but that her women were as potentially as great as her men, and if Plato's theory regarding the education of women had been universally applied, the curve might not have risen higher?" She concludes the thesis with a hypothetical question that she clearly knows the answer to: "Has innate inferiority been the reason for the small number of eminent women, or has civilization never yet allowed them an opportunity to develop their innate powers and possibilities?"

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Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
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The POW Olympics of World War II
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism

With the outbreak of World War II prompting a somber and divisive mood across the globe, it seemed impossible civility could be introduced in time for the 1940 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan to be held.

So they weren’t. Neither were the 1944 Games, which were scheduled for London. But one Polish Prisoner of War camp was determined to keep the tradition alive. The Woldenberg Olympics were made up entirely of war captives who wanted—and needed—to feel a sense of camaraderie and normalcy in their most desperate hours.

In a 2004 NBC mini-documentary that aired during their broadcast of the Games, it was reported that Polish officers under German control in the Oflag II-C camp wanted to maintain their physical conditioning as a tribute to Polish athlete Janusz Kusocinski. Unlike another Polish POW camp that held unofficial Games under a veil of secrecy in 1940, the guards of Woldenberg allowed the ’44 event to proceed with the provision that no fencing, archery, javelin, or pole-vaulting competitions took place. (Perhaps the temptation to impale their captors would have proven too much for the men.)

Music, art, and sculptures were put on display. Detainees were also granted permission to make their own program and even commemorative postage stamps of the event courtesy of the camp’s homegrown “post office.” An Olympic flag was crafted out of spare bed sheets, which the German officers, in a show of contagious sportsman’s spirit, actually saluted.

The hand-made Olympic flag from Woldenberg.

Roughly 369 of the 7000 prisoners participated. Most of the men competed in multiple contests, which ranged from handball and basketball to chess. Boxing was included—but owing to the fragile state of prisoners, broken bones resulted in a premature end to the combat.

Almost simultaneously, another Polish POW camp in Gross Born (pop: 3000) was holding their own ceremony. Winners received medals made of cardboard. Both were Oflag sites, which were primarily for officers; it’s been speculated the Games were allowed because German forces had respect for prisoners who held military titles.

A gymnastics demonstration in the camp.

The grass-roots Olympics in both camps took place in July and August 1944. By January 1945, prisoners from each were evacuated. An unknown number perished during these “death marches,” but one of the flags remained in the possession of survivor Antoni Grzesik. The Lieutenant donated it to the Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism in 1974, where it joined a flag recovered from the 1940 Games. Both remain there today—symbols of a sporting life that kept hope alive for thousands of men who, for a brief time, could celebrate life instead of lamenting its loss.

Additional Sources: “The Olympic Idea Transcending War [PDF],” Olympic Review, 1996; “The Olympic Movement Remembered in the Polish Prisoner of War Camps in 1944 [PDF],” Journal of Olympic History, Spring 1995; "Olympics Behind Barbed Wire," Journal of Olympic History, March 2014.

 All images courtesy of Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism. 

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President John Tyler's Grandsons Are Still Alive
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Getty Images

Here's the most amazing thing you'll ever read about our 10th president:

John Tyler was born in 1790. He took office in 1841, after William Henry Harrison died. And he has two living grandchildren.

Not great-great-great-grandchildren. Their dad was Tyler’s son.

How is this possible?

The Tyler men have a habit of having kids very late in life. Lyon Gardiner Tyler, one of President Tyler’s 15 kids, was born in 1853. He fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. in 1924, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler in 1928.

We placed a somewhat awkward call to the Charles City County History Center in Virginia to check in on the Tylers.

After we shared this fact on Twitter in 2012, Dan Amira interviewed Harrison Tyler for New York Magazine. Lyon Tyler spoke to the Daughters of the American Revolution a while back. They were profiled by The Times of London. And Snopes is also in on the fact.

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