Wikipedia’s 100 Most Controversial Persons

Wikipedia recently celebrated its 15th birthday and released some fascinating data on the most-edited articles of all time.

I was interested in studying controversial people, so took a list of the 1000 most-edited English-language pages (534 articles) to isolate the individuals (127 people – each person’s page has been revised over 10,000 times since 2001). I then compared different groups from the top 100 to produce a few charts and statistics, plus speculation on what the results might mean.

Who made it into the top 100, and who missed out? (Spoiler: Donald Trump and even Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales didn’t quite make the cut.) Here’s a link to the full rundown:

List of Wikipedia’s 100 most controversial people

The number of edits reflects how much we care about the content of a Wikipedia page. Based on the definition of controversy – prolonged public disagreement or heated discussion – we could interpret ‘most edited’ to mean ‘most controversial’. The number of edits can be used as a surrogate measure of controversy because frequent revisions over a long period of time are caused by underlying conflicts of interest between Wikipedia editors. Fans will promote their hero’s positive image and add details that many readers would consider trivial, going against Wikipedia’s guidelines on article size and a neutral point of view, for instance.

The Top 10

Former US President George W Bush is by far Wikipedia’s most controversial person. His page has been revised 45,866 times over the past 15 years – 63% more than the next most-edited people: Michael Jackson and Jesus (over 28,000 edits each). Bush comfortably beats current President Barack Obama, Adolf Hitler, Beyoncé and Britney Spears, wrestlers Kane and The Undertaker, and Roger Federer.

The top 100 have received an average 975 page edits per year (a total of 14,632 since 2001), which is 2.7 edits per day or 1 edit every 9 hours. The top 10 have a mean of over 1700 page edits per year (25,821 total), which is 4.7 revisions per day or 1 edit every 5 hours. The Wikipedia article for George W Bush has received over 3000 page edits per year – a remarkable 8.4 revisions per day, or 1 edit every 3 hours.

Women vs Men

Only 2 of the 10 most controversial people are women. This is consistent with the top 100, which is 31% female. Given that leaders and wrestlers make up the vast majority of the list (see below) and these professions are male-dominated, you might predict that pages about women would have fewer revisions.

But while women did indeed have slightly fewer edits (13,497 total or an average 900 per person per year) compared to men (total 15,142, mean 1009), this difference is not statistically significant (P=0.09954, Wilcoxon signed-rank test).

If there had been more men at the top of the list (i.e. more page edits for the male group) it might have produced fewer revisions among females overall (Note: P<0.05 is significant). As it stands, men and women are equally controversial.

Living vs Dead

Of the top 100, 70% are still alive and almost a quarter were dead before Wikipedia was launched. Another 6 people died between 2001 and 2016: Pope John Paul II, Saddam Hussein, Michael Jackson, Osama bin Laden and Whitney Houston – the group labelled ‘Both’ on the charts below.

The biography of a living person is continuously updated with new events, and you might expect this to be especially true for celebrities because their fans and publicists have an agenda (to delete information that portrays their hero in a negative light) whereas other Wikipedia editors are motivated to present the truth. As a consequence, you might predict that an article about a dead person would have fewer revisions.

When you compare the page edits between people who are alive or dead, however, there’s no difference (P=0.343). You get the same result whether or not you count the 6 recently-deceased people from the ‘Both’ group as ‘Alive’. This means that living and dead people are equally controversial.

Although you might expect facts surrounding historical figures to become firmly established over time, the results show that dead people remain controversial. This is probably because new findings by archaeologists and historians are used to update articles long after influential people have passed away.

America vs the World

Does a person’s country affect whether they receive more Wikipedia revisions? Nationality is hard to define for some people, but when a person was born in one country and later became a naturalized citizen or had multiple citizenships, I assigned nationality based on where they lived the longest. For those born before the 20th century, I used the modern name for their country of birth.

Americans constitute 61% of the top 100, and come first for the combined number of revisions for all individuals, with a total of almost 1 million (913,319) page edits since 2001. The British are a distant second with 105,716 edits, while people from India are third with 65,404 in total.

But from an analysis of variance across nationalities, there’s no difference in controversy: people from the same country receive an average of about a thousand page edits per person per year (P=0.4731, Kruskal-Wallis test). ‘Israeli’ appears as an outlier, with double that number of edits (1873), but this is entirely down to a single individual: Jesus of Nazareth.

As Americans make-up most of Wikipedia’s population, you can also compare people from the US against the rest of the world, but again there’s no difference (P=0.396). This means Americans and non-Americans are equally controversial.

Controversial professions

The most controversial people features numerous presidents, singers and Bollywood stars. Does profession affect whether someone’s Wikipedia page has more revisions? To test this, I put each person into one of 8 job categories: Actor, Athlete, Entrepreneur, Leader, Musician, Scientist, Wrestler or Writer.

‘Athlete’ includes sportsmen such as footballers, basketball and tennis players. ‘Entrepreneur’ means inventors and businessmen. ‘Leader’ features presidential candidates, royalty and religious leaders. ‘Musician’ means singers and songwriters, ‘Writer’ includes anyone whose ideas influence others. Each person was assigned a single profession based on what they’re most famous for, so Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) is in the ‘Wrestler’ category even though he’s now an actor.

Wrestlers make-up 13% of the top 100 and get their own category because it’s debatable whether they should be considered athletes or actors (after all, WWE stands for ‘World Wrestling Entertainment’). Interestingly, the most-edited article after ‘George W. Bush’ is a ‘List of WWE personnel’, with a total of 42,923 page edits over 15 years.

Leaders and musicians each have 30% of Wikipedia’s 100 most controversial people. Athletes constitute 13% – a proportion that includes the ‘Big Four‘ tennis players. The only scientist to make it into the top 100 is Albert Einstein.

So does a person’s occupation influence the number of edits to their page? The results clearly show no difference among the professions (P=0.1268), which means that people with different jobs are equally controversial.


Who you are doesn’t dictate the extent of editing to your Wikipedia article. Whatever group you belong to – male or female, dead or alive, president or wrestler – the stats show a similar number of page edits. Everyone seems to be equally controversial, except for maybe George W Bush.

NEXT: List of the 127 most-edited people on Wikipedia

The table shows the most controversial people on Wikipedia based on the total number of page edits over 15 years, starting from the site’s launch on 15 January 2001 to 13 January 2016, using data for pages with the most revisions (limited to the first 1000 entries).

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