Jason Crease shows that 2016 was, indeed, a year of surprisingly many celebrity deaths. The hard part is defining “celebrity”. There had been a previous BBC analysis based on the number of deaths of people with prewritten obituaries, but that is naturally skewed towards what one particular news organization is useful. Crease’s analysis uses Wikipedia data – both the length of the article and the number of revisions. It turns out that number of revisions of the Wikipedia article is a useful metric than the length of the article – a long article can be long in part because it includes lists of relatively uncontroversial material.
Other analyses include:
- Snopes, based on lists of notable deaths put out by various media organizations – but of course there’s probably some bias towards keeping the lists roughly the same length as in previous years.
- Researchers at the MIT media lab, C. Candia-Castro-Vallejos, Cristian Jara-Figueroa, César A. Hidalgo, who concluded that fewer famous people died in 2016 than expected (although not many fewer) Their notion of fame attempts to be more cross-cultural and looks at the number of languages someone has a Wikipedia article in.
It may just be that the Anglo-American axis had a bad year (and of course Brexit and the ascendancy of Donald Trump can’t have helped the mood in (the media in) either of those countries…
But 2017 has a total solar eclipse in the US, so we’ll be okay.