"Murphy's Laws" and the Harvard Speculative Society

Bruce K. Dykes bkd at GRAPHNET.COM
Mon Jun 21 20:50:00 UTC 1999

-----Original Message-----
From: Bob Fitzke <fitzke at VOYAGER.NET>
Date: Monday, June 21, 1999 16:17
Subject: Re: "Murphy's Laws" and the Harvard Speculative Society

>We used to refer to this as the Philosophy of Fecal Monism (circa 1950)
>Bruce K. Dykes wrote:
>> It was later amended to:
>> 90% of everything is crap.
>> Bruce

Ripped from the TS FAQ:

What is Sturgeon's Law?
In his 1972 interview with David G Hartwell (published in The New York
Review of Science Fiction #7 and #8, March and April 1989) Sturgeon says:
"Sturgeon's Law originally was 'Nothing is always absolutely so.' The other
thing was known as 'Sturgeon's Revelation'"

The first reference I can find in his oeuve appears in the March 1958 issue
of Venture Science Fiction, where he wrote:

"I repeat Sturgeon's Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty
years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who
used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion
was that ninety percent of sf is crud.

"The Revelation: Ninety percent of everything is crud.

"Corallary 1: The existence of immense quantities of trash in science
fiction is admitted and if is regrettable; but it is no more unnatural than
the existence of trash anywhere.

"Corallary 2: The best science fiction is as good as the best fiction in any

It is this Revelation that has now become known as Sturgeon's Law (I've not
heard the corallaries used before, or since). There is some debate over the
last word, and when/how it was first used. The most reliable account comes
from James Gunn's in his item in The New York Review of Science Fiction #85,
September 1995 In contrast, the cover blurb for the 1968 Pyramid edition of
"A Way Home" includes an obviously invented scene complete with dialogue and
facial expressions; well maybe, but perhaps we should stay with the facts
and leave the speculations to masters like Theodore Sturgeon.

As a codicil, the author of a Spanish web site refers to an old Arab fable
I'd not encountered before:

A young Caliph asked the Great Vizier how he could tell if a poem was good
or bad. "Always assume it is bad", he was told. "You'll only be wrong one
time in a hundred".

Related entries from the Jargon File:

Sturgeon's Law /prov./ "Ninety percent of everything is crap". Derived from
a quote by science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon, who once said, "Sure,
90% of science fiction is crud. That's because 90% of everything is crud."
Oddly, when Sturgeon's Law is cited, the final word is almost invariably
changed to `crap'. Compare Hanlon's Razor, Ninety-Ninety Rule. Though this
maxim originated in SF fandom, most hackers recognize it and are all too
aware of its truth.

Hanlon's Razor /prov./ A corollary of Finagle's Law, similar to Occam's
Razor, that reads "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately
explained by stupidity." The derivation of the Hanlon eponym is not
definitely known, but a very similar remark ("You have attributed conditions
to villainy that simply result from stupidity.") appears in "Logic of
Empire", a 1941 story by Robert A. Heinlein, who calls it the `devil theory'
of sociology. Heinlein's popularity in the hacker culture makes plausible
the supposition that `Hanlon' is derived from `Heinlein' by phonetic
corruption. A similar epigram has been attributed to William James, but
Heinlein more probably got the idea from Alfred Korzybski and other
practitioners of General Semantics. Quoted here because it seems to be a
particular favorite of hackers, often showing up in sig blocks, fortune
cookie files and the login banners of BBS systems and commercial networks.
This probably reflects the hacker's daily experience of environments created
by well-intentioned but short-sighted people. Compare Sturgeon's Law.
[Editor's Note: JE Pournelle's Napoleonic variant substitutes 'incompetence'
for 'stupidity']

Ninety-Ninety Rule /n./ "The first 90% of the code accounts for the first
90% of the development time. The remaining 10% of the code accounts for the
other 90% of the development time." Attributed to Tom Cargill of Bell Labs,
and popularized by Jon Bentley's September 1985 "Bumper-Sticker Computer
Science" column in "Communications of the ACM". It was there called the
"Rule of Credibility", a name which seems not to have stuck.

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