Friday, May 31, 2013

Time Magazine's Person of the Year

Each year since 1927, Time Magazine has selected an official Person of the Year.   This recognition usually goes to the individual who "has done the most to influence the events of the year."

Our historical significance rankings provide a way to see how well these selections have stood up over time.  Do the people of the year prove to historical figures of lasting stature, or are they merely of passing interest?  We analyzed the historical significance rankings of all of Time's Person of the Year selections to find out.

They generally are an elite bunch, with Russian leader Vladimir Putin[1014] and China's Deng Xiaoping[1163] representing median-level people of the years. Adolf Hilter [7] proves to be the most significant person of the year.  Albert Einstein [19] was the most significant modern individual never selected for the annual honor.  Time tried to make it up to him by naming him Person of the Century in 1999.  Elvis Presley [69] is the highest ranked figure who was completely dissed: no author or artist has ever so been honored.

The least significant Person of the Year proves to be Harlow Curtice [224326], the president of General Motors for five years during the 1950's.   He was recognized for his decision to increase capital spending in a time of recession, which helped spur a recovery of the American economy.   It seems funny to say so, but America really needs another Harlow Curtice, now!

The figure below plots the significance rank of People of the Year as a function of the year of their selection.   Lower rankings imply more significant figures, and the y-axis is plotted on a log scale, so the figures near the top are several orders of magnitude more significant than those on the bottom.  There is no obvious trend to suggest whether the selections are getting stronger or weaker with time.

Other obscure selections include Hugh Samuel "Iron Pants" Johnson [32927], who Franklin Roosevelt appointed to head the depression-era National Recovery Administration, and fired less than a year later.  John Sirica [47053] was the District Court Judge who ordered President Nixon to turn over tape recordings in the Watergate Scandal.   David Ho [66267] is credited with developing the combination therapy which provided the first effective treatment for AIDS.   His contributions to human health arguably deserve a better significance rank than our algorithms gave him here.

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