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Karl Marx Is the World’s Most Influential Scholar

When compared on equal footing, Marx stands out above the crowd

How do you judge an academic? Can you compare scholars from different fields on equal footing? Whose work had the bigger impact down field, Albert Einstein or Ada Lovelace?

These seem like impossible questions to answer, but as reported by Nature, a team of information scientists out of Indiana University, Bloomington, think they’ve found a way. And, according to them, the most influential scholar is… Karl Marx.

Here’s how they got there:

Scientists are already regularly judged—by grant agencies, by tenure committees, by others—on their citation rate. But, some scientific disciplines are way bigger than others, which means it’s not really fair to compare theoretical physicists to, say, drug researchers, on citation count alone.

The Indiana University researchers, say Nature, tried to take this into account. First they looked to see if a scientist had not just one big study, but lots of work that was all cited regularly (rolled up in a measure called the h-index). Then, they compared the scientist’s score against others in their own respective field. This let them calculate how much of a stand-out they were.

Karl Marx’s score was “more than 22 times the average h-index of other scholars in history (but 11 times that of the average economist).”

Compared to 35,000 other high-profile scholars, Marx’s score stood out the most. Second in line was psychologist Sigmund Freud. Third was the (still alive and working) physicist Edward Witten.

Does this mean that Das Kapital is more important than string theory? Not necessarily, in the grand scheme of human existence. But on college campuses? Marx might be winning.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Marxism Is Cool Again

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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