Eponymous Laws

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Sturgeon’s Law:  Ninety percent of everything is crap.” [1]

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Benford’s Law:  In any collection of statistics, a given statistic has roughly a 30% chance of starting with the digit 1.” [2]

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Betteridge’s Law of Headlines:  Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by ‘No’. (This is because if the answer were ‘Yes’, the headline would take the form of a statement instead, since that would be more interesting than the question.)” [3]

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Dunning-Kruger Effect:  When we’re incompetent at something, we don’t realize that we’re incompetent, because we lack the skill to distinguish between competence and incompetence. In other words, the unskilled suffer from illusory superiority.” [4]

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Goodhart’s Law:  When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” [5] For instance, if test scores are chosen as the indicator of student learning, then some schools would likely try to ‘game the system’ and focus ultimately on raising test scores, consequently making them a less accurate indicator of student learning.

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Hanlon’s Razor:  Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” [6]

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Hofstadter’s Law:  It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.” [7]

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Humphrey’s Law:  Conscious attention to a task normally performed automatically can impair its performance.” [8]

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Benford’s Law of Controversy:  Passion is inversely proportional to the amount of real information available.” [9] It seems like there are some significant counterexamples to this one, but I still think it gets at something important. The classic example is the way in which discussions about religion and politics often get so heated. “The opinions that are held with passion are very often those for which no good justification exists; indeed, the passion is the measure of the holder’s lack of rational conviction.” [Bertrand Russell]

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Rothbard’s Law:  Everyone specializes in their own area of weakness.” [10] When we’re naturally bad at something, we’ll sometimes put a great deal of time and effort into learning more about it, hoping to make it less of a weakness. This causes us to gain a (conscious) repertoire of knowledge and strategies that the people naturally good in the area don’t have, since they never needed it.

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Gall’s Law:  A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. (The inverse also appears to be true: a complex system designed from scratch never works.)” [11]

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Postel’s Law:  Be conservative in what you do and liberal in what you accept from others.” [12] The terms aren’t quite being used in the modern political sense. An example of adhering to Postel’s law could take the form of feeling that it’s unacceptable for yourself not to exercise without looking down on others who don’t, or feeling that it’s important to offer food and drinks to your guests without holding it against others who don’t do the same for you. It’s like a benevolent form of hypocrisy.

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Parkinson’s Law:  Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” [13]

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Clarke’s Third Law:  Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” [14]

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Segal’s Law:  A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.” [15]

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Littlewood’s Law:  You can expect miracles to happen to you at the rate of about once per month.” [16]

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Citations

  1. Theodore Sturgeon & Wikipedia’s Sturgeon’s Law article
  2. Frank Benford & Wikipedia’s Benford’s Law article
  3. Ian Betteridge & Wikipedia’s Betteridge’s Law of Headlines article
  4. David Dunning, Justin Kruger, & Wikipedia’s Dunning-Kruger Effect article
  5. Charles Goodhart & Wikipedia’s Goodhart’s Law article
  6. Robert J. Hanlon’s & Wikipedia’s Hanlon’s Razor article
  7. Douglas Hofstadter & Wikipedia’s Hofstadter’s Law article
  8. George Humphrey & Wikipedia’s The Centipede’s Dilemma article
  9. Gregory Benford & Wikipedia’s Gregory Benford article
  10. Murray Rothbard
  11. John Gall & Wikipedia’s John Gall article
  12. Jon Postel & Wikipedia’s Postel’s Law article
  13. Cyril Northcote Parkinson & Wikipedia’s Parkinson’s Law article
  14. Arthur C. Clarke & Wikipedia’s Clarke’s Three Laws article
  15. The San Diego Union & Wikipedia’s Segal’s Law article
  16. John Edensor Littlewood & Wikipedia’s Littlewood’s Law article

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