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Analysis: MIT’s list of most famous Canadians feels slightly dated

Avril Lavigne arrives for the Brit Awards 2011 at The O2 Arena in London, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011.

Joel Ryan/AP

Memo to the big brains at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Your computers appear to be working on a 10-year time lag. Or possibly longer.

According to the most recent MIT research, the most famous Canadians on the planet are … Avril Lavigne and Jim Carrey? All of a sudden it's 1999 all over again.

MIT researchers in Cambridge, Mass., recently launched an extensive online research project to quantify fame throughout history as determined by an interactive website called Pantheon.

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The exhaustive project collected data on people who lived in the period between 4000 B.C. to 2010 who also had a Wikipedia entry under their name in more than 25 languages. Longevity was a key factor in determining fame, as were tangible achievements beyond wealth.

On the surface, much of the MIT research appears to be axiomatic.

Pantheon's top-10 ranking of the most famous people of the past 6,000 years is topped by Aristotle, followed by Plato, Jesus Christ, Socrates and Alexander the Great. Anybody who paid the slightest attention in history class will agree with that list.

Making slightly less sense is Pantheon's list of the top-10 most famous actors throughout history, which leads with Moliere (1622-1673), followed in order by more contemporary thespians Johnny Depp, Bruce Lee, Charlie Chaplin and Brad Pitt.

The Pantheon most-famous actors group may also be the only occasion when Arnold Schwarzenegger (No. 7) and Ingmar Bergman (No. 10) are mentioned in the same top-10 list (and for the record, the Swedish-born Bergman was a director, not an actor).

But the MIT research really goes off the rails with its list of top-10 famous Canadians.

As mentioned, Lavigne is the most famous Canadian of all, according to the Pantheon list, despite the fact she hasn't had a chart-registering single since her 2007 semi-hit Girlfriend.

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And Jim Carrey? Even though the Pantheon list cuts off at 2010, he was already long past his Ace Ventura heyday by that time. In his last leading-man role, Carrey was forced to share the screen with a gaggle of squawking aquatic birds in the 2011 feature Mr. Popper's Penguins.

More recently, Carrey has been reduced to revisiting earlier film roles, as evidenced in the upcoming comedy Dumb and Dumber To.

The third most-famous Canadian actually makes sense: Justin Bieber. The pride of Stratford, Ont., may be a handful, but at least he's current.

And then, right back to the vault: Finishing fourth was French-Canadian chanteuse Celine Dion, who at last check was in fulltime residency at a Las Vegas casino, belting out The Power of Love and My Heart Will Go On for the enjoyment of slot-playing tourists. Bon pour vous, madame.

In fifth place: Pamela Anderson. Really? Pam Anderson? Now 46, the ex-Baywatch star doesn't act or appear in a reality show or really do anything else to retain her fame.

When Anderson showed up in St. John's a few months back to present a cheque to sealers in hopes they would stop sealing, they wouldn't even answer the door.

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The sixth most-famous Canuck is totally acceptable and respectable: Leonard Cohen, still touring and singing his mournful reflections on life and lost loves. At 79, Cohen could probably retire from the residuals from other artists who've recorded Hallelujah, but he just keeps going.

In seventh place: Michael J. Fox, who deserves immeasurable credit for his ongoing battle with Parkinson's disease, and even working his affliction into a new U.S. network sitcom, The Michael J. Fox Show. Unfortunately, the show has been shifted into a holding pattern by NBC.

In eighth place: Bryan Adams, the raspy-voiced singer-songwriter whose 1991 power ballad (Everything I Do) I Do It For You still unfailingly makes people cry at weddings. Isn't he a photographer now?

And the final two names rounding out the list accurately cover the range and breadth of Canadian fame.

Coming in ninth: Toronto-born architect Frank Gehry, who fairly conceived the concept of contemporary architecture and whose imaginative works grace every major city in the world. Vanity Fair has called him "the most important architect of our age."

And in 10th place: Nelly Furtado, whose singing career launched with the trilling single I'm Like a Bird and eventually tailed off after the hits Promiscuous and the apparently prophetic All Good Things (Come to an End).

In terms of public appearances, Furtado was last seen playing herself in a 2012 episode of 90210 (a remake of the nineties series Beverly Hills, 90210), after which she seems to have disappeared.

Because that's what good Canadians seem to do best: Fade from existence until their names reappear on a list of famous Canadians.

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