Boyer's Law

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Sat Jan 27 01:09:26 UTC 2001

The following sounds like a candidate for Fred Shapiro's collection of
computer-related provers:

Boyer's Law, named after the mathematician and mathematical historian Carl

     "Mathematical formulas and theorems are usually
     not named after their original discoverers."

This "law" was discussed on the Historia Matematica mailing list.

It appears on page 469 of [Boyer's] History of Mathematics
[1968].   After discussing the anticipation of the so-called Maclaurin's
series by earlier workers, Boyer observed, "Clio, the muse of history,
often is fickle in the matter of attaching names to theorems!"

It was H.C. Kennedy who first called this "Boyer's Law:  Mathematical
formulas and theorems are usually not named after their original
discoverers."  Amer. Math. Monthly, 79:1 (1972), 66-67.  Kennedy also
noted that "this is probably a rare instance of a law whose statement
confirms its own validity."


This is also known as

...Stigler's Law of Eponymy. This law, which in its simplest form states that
"no scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer," was so
dubbed by Stephen
Stigler in his recent book Statistics on the Table (Harvard). An immodest
act of nomenclature? Not really. If Stigler's law is true, its very name
implies that Stigler himself did not discover it. By explaining that the
credit belongs instead to the great sociologist of science Robert K. Merton,
Stigler not only wins marks for humility; he makes the law to which he has
lent his name self-confirming.

[reference: url]

The discussion can be viewed in the HM archives at

select month March 2000 and the applicable threads are "Boyer's Law" (26
March 2000) and  "L'Hopital, Pythagoras, Ptolemy and Hilbert" 17 March 2000.
I have the entire (I think) discussion on my hard drive and I'll be happy to
forward it to anyone who asks.

       Jim Landau

More information about the Ads-l mailing list