[Ads-l] a podcast about "Murphy's Law"

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Wed Dec 11 10:35:03 UTC 2019

At Slate, Willa Paskin posted a podcast on "Murphy's Law." [1] It includes comments by Fred Shapiro, me, and others.
I'll avoid using comments with the words "right" and "wrong," but try a few pros and cons.
At times the podcast says flatly that (Muroc, later named) Edwards Air Force base is where the (so-called) law got the name Murphy's. That's a con because Edward Murphy arrived there on November 2, 1949 [2]* and that is *after* Prof. Robertson of Cal Tech--twice--told Anne Roe about Murphy's Law, further saying he "always liked Murphy's Law"--that is, for a considerable time before (i.e., before 1949)--and that he had been told about it by an architect, in the past.
I can understand why a podcast would be tempted to accept taped audio interviews offered by Nick T. Spark, who defends the Air Force Base origin story, since aspects of the work done there are interesting. Some people agree about hearing the "law" first there, but that does not mean it was the first time anyone heard it anywhere. Reportedly the law was mentioned in a 1950 press conference and reporters liked it and printed it. But no newspaper is cited. Remember, Barry Popik went to the AFB and eventually read all issues up to 1959 of the base newspaper, called Desert Wings: no trace of Murphy's Law was there or in other related documents.
I give some credit (a pro) to Willa Paskin for, at times, apparently, eventually accepting that there is earlier evidence and including it. But nowhere does she seem to directly confront Spark with it, who, in my hearing, basically sticks to his story and remains to the end of this podcast oblivious to facts.

Stephen Goranson

[1] https://slate.com/podcasts/decoder-ring/2019/12/nick-spark-murphys-law-origin-rocket-tests-california-desert

[2] Page 136 in Craig Ryan, Sonic Wind: The Story of John Paul Stapp and How a Renegade Doctor Became the Fastest Man on Earth (2015).

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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