Eponymous laws

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The following is a list of eponymous laws of varying degrees. Some are well known, others exist only on the internet. For laws specifically about the internet, see the main article on Internet laws.

For the literally minded, none of these are actual laws of nature or legislature. A more proper name would be "adages", or, if you dislike Latin, "sayings".

Acton's Law[edit]

Lord Acton's dictum:

Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Named after John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton,Wikipedia usually mercifully shortened to "Lord Acton". The origin is an excerpt from a letter of his to Bishop Mandell Creighton,Wikipedia a historian, written in 1887. Here's the broader context in which it appears:

I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.[1]

Acton was a historian and the letter itself was written to defend his view that a historian has the right to make moral judgements on the actions of historical figures and institutions. (How sound any particular historian's particular moral judgements are is a separate question.) This is a view that non-historians tend to agree with in substance even if not in form. While it tends to appear as if power must have corrupted whomever holds it, the truth is far darker: Because power is so important, people tend to consider corrupt ways they may acquire or retain it.

Augustine's laws[edit]

Augustine's laws are a set of laws coined by Norman Ralph Augustine in 1983 pertaining to the military-industrial complex.

Benford's Law[edit]

Benford's Law describes the expected distribution of the digits in statistical samples. It can be used for detecting made-up data, especially in very large sets.

Crislip's Law[edit]

Crislip’s law of the CAM transitive relationship is a tongue-in-cheek syllogism:

Alternative medicine is a placebo and therefore ineffective.

This "law" was proposed by Dr. Mark Crislip of the Quackcast podcast on alternative medicine and a blogger on Medscape and Science-Based Medicine. Note that Dr. Crislip refers to alternate medicine as "Supplements, Complementary and Alternative Medicine", forming the rather appropriate acronym of SCAM.

The law is stated as follows: "SCAM effect = placebo and placebo effect = nothing, therefore the SCAM effect = nothing."[2]

Dykstra's Law[edit]

Dykstra's Law:

Everybody is somebody else's weirdo.

Ebert's Law[edit]

Ebert's Law, a law about film interpretation:

It's not what it's about, it's how it's about it.

Firestone's Forecasting Law[edit]

Firestone's Forecasting Law:

Chicken Little only has to be right once.

Gall's Law[edit]

Gall's Law is a rule of thumb taken from John Gall's Systemantics: How Systems Really Work and How They Fail. It states:

A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system. (p. 71)

The work cites Murphy's Law and the Peter Principle and is filled with similar sayings.

Although the quote may seem to validate the merits of simple systems, it is preceded by the qualifier "A simple system may or may not work." (p. 70), to say nothing of the fact that the quote above already specifies a working simple system.

What it exemplifies is that while modern evolutionary theory may seem incredibly complex, it is based on three very simple rules - inheritance, mutation, and selection (survival, not of the fittest, but of the contextually 'fit-enough').

Gibson's Law[edit]

Gibson's Law holds that:

For every PhD there is an equal and opposite PhD.

The term specifically refers to the conflict between testimony of expert witnesses called by opposing parties in a trial under an adversarial system of justice. It is also applied to conflicting scientific opinion injected into policy decisions by interested parties creating a controversy to promote their interests.[3]

Gumperson's Law[edit]

Gumperson's Law:

The probability of a given event occurring is inversely proportional to its desirability.

Gygax's Law[edit]

Named after Gary Gygax,Wikipedia inventor of Dungeons & Dragons, a role-playing game in which one rolls dice (notably a 20-sided die) in order to determine how tasks go. The law, closely related to Murphy's Law, reads:

The more vital the intended outcome, the higher chance of failing the roll.

Hofstadter's Law[edit]

Hofstadter's Law is a recursive statement about how long it will take to accomplish a task:

It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.[4]

Kitman's Law[edit]

Kitman's Law:

Pure drivel tends to drive away ordinary drivel.

Machiavelli's Law[edit]

Machiavelli's Law (other dicta might qualify, but this is most famous):

Never do your enemy a minor injury.

Mencken's Law[edit]

Mencken's Law (or Shaw's Law):

Those who can, do. Those who cannot, teach.[5]

Some corollaries:

  • Martin's Extension: Those who cannot teach, teach education (or teach teachers; or administrate).
  • Short's Extension: Those who cannot teach, criticize.
  • Russell’s Extension: Those who cannot teach, write.[6]
  • Some Yale Prof's Extension: Those who cannot teach, do research.
  • Allen's Extension: Those who cannot teach, teach gym.

Muphry's law[edit]

Muphry's Law:

If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written.

Napoleon's Law[edit]

Napoleon's Law:

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

Parkinson's Law[edit]

Parkinson's Law:

Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.[7]

This has some corollaries, namely:

  • Data expands to fill the space available for storage.
  • Your stuff accumulates to fill the size of your home.

The Peter Principle[edit]

The Peter Principle is an observation coined by Prof. Lawrence Peter in his book titled The Peter Principle in 1968.[8] It generally holds:

[I]n an organizational hierarchy, every employee will rise or get promoted to their level of incompetence.

In essence, the principle is based on the observation that in an organization new employees move up the hierarchy, each time they prove to be competent at their current level. Eventually, they will reach a point where they are no longer competent, or skilled enough, to perform the required tasks, and at this point they cease to be promoted.

It can be applied to evolution by saying "in evolution[,] systems tend to develop up to the limit of their adaptive competence."[9] Except of course, if a species mutates beyond "competence", it doesn't get to keep its job. It dies out.

How the Peter Principle works

The Dilbert Principle describes a remedy for the Peter Principle, and is built on the assumption that leadership positions are filled by people who cannot (or will not) be fired, but are too dangerous to leave in a place where they can do damage. Prof. Peter calls the process "percussive sublimation," a euphemism for being "kicked upstairs" to a position with a more impressive title but fewer responsibilities. Alternatively, problem individuals may be treated to a "lateral arabesque" by moving them to another department, making them someone else's problem.

Leadership is nature's way of removing morons from the productive flow.

The results of the Peter Principle are further codified in Reynolds' Law:

The larger an organization, the more likely its continued successful operation will not be due to management, but in spite of management.

Sinclair's Law[edit]

Upton Sinclair's Law (named after the Pulitzer Prize-winning author) states that:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it![10]

First published in a newspaper in 1934 in an excerpt from his book I, Candidate for Governor, Sinclair's is similar to an observation from William Jennings Bryan in 1893: "It is useless to argue with a man whose opinion is based upon a personal or pecuniary interest; the only way to deal with him is to outvote him."[11]

Sturgeon's Law[edit]

Sturgeon's Law is an observation that in any given field, the vast majority of its works are of low quality. It is commonly stated as:

90 per cent of everything is crap.

The law was formulated by Theodore Sturgeon in defence of science fiction and was first known as Sturgeon's Revelation. In the March 1958 issue of Venture Science Fiction, 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.[note 1]

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

Corollary 2: The best science fiction is as good as the best fiction in any field.[12]

Sturgeon had originally intended his eponymous law to be "Nothing is always absolutely so", but the "90 per cent" statement has entered common usage instead.[13]

This law may be viewed additionally as a commentary on survivorship bias, for example in comparing the allegedly awful music of today to classics of the past, while ignoring the fact that the past music is remembered because it was the best of its time. There's no reason to think that there were no bad composers or musicians writing or performing during the lifetimes of Bach, Beethoven, or Mahler, and much reason to think otherwise.

Thoreau's Law[edit]

Thoreau's Law exists in several different versions but the original from Walden (1854) is:

If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life.[14]

Paraphrases are often given, such as:

If you see a man approaching you with the obvious intention of doing you good, you should run for your life.

Tuchman's Law[edit]

Tuchman's Law, formulated by German-American historian Barbara W. Tuchman in her book A Distant Mirror, states that:

The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold (or any other figure the reader would care to supply).[15]

The law was formed when Tuchman found that the different figures of, say, the population count of medieval France were so far apart due to dramatisation of historical events that nobody had any idea what the actual population count was.

Zeigler's Law[edit]

Zeigler's Law[note 2] is a principle for evaluating politicians, first formulated by Jon F. Zeigler on RPGnet. It states:

If a politician says that government is a problem, what he means is that if you elect him, government will be a problem.

Sci Fi Laws[edit]

The Three Laws of Robotics[edit]

Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics:

  • First law: A robot may not, through its actions or inactions, allow a human to come to harm.
  • Second law: A robot must obey any order given to it, unless in contradiction of the First Law.
  • Third law: A robot must protect its own existence, unless in contradiction of the First or Second Law.

In one of his much later novels, Asimov added a fourth law with a higher priority than the original three:

  • Zeroth law: A robot may not, through its actions or inactions, allow humanity as a whole to come to harm.

Clarke's Laws[edit]

Clarke's Laws:

  • First law: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  • Second law: The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  • Third law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
    • Gehm's Corollary: Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.
    • Heterodyne's Inversion: Any sufficiently well-understood magic is indistinguishable from technology.[note 3][16]
    • Ambrose's Appendix: Any technology, no matter how primitive, is magic to those who don't understand it.[17]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. The part of everything that is crud has a standard scoreWikipedia of 1.281 or less to three decimal places.
  2. Not to be confused with the Ziegler-Nichols method of tuning PID controllers.
  3. As "science" is defined as "the systematic study of the world through observation and experiment," and "technology" is defined as "the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes," well-understood "magic" is technology.


  1. Acton on Moral Judgements in History. Archived from oll.libertyfund.org, 9 December 2012.
  2. Science-Based medicine blog containing Crislip's law.
  3. Proctor, Robert N. (2004). "Should medical historians be working for the tobacco industry?". The Lancet 363 (9416): 1174–1175. PMID 15081644. Retrieved 2007-08-05. "There is a saying in American public-relations circles that for every PhD there is an equal and opposite PhD" 
  4. Hofstadter's Law
  5. Or, as put by Shaw in 1903: "He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches."
  6. Source of this and related quote extensions
  7. See the Wikipedia article on Parkinson's Law.
  8. Investopedia
  9. Principea Cybernetica
  10. I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked. Sinclair, Upton. (1935), ISBN 0-520-08198-6; repr. University of California Press, 1994, p. 109.
  11. It Is Difficult to Get a Man to Understand Something When His Salary Depends Upon His Not Understanding It, Quote Investigator, Nov 30, 2017
  12. Theodore Sturgeon FAQ, physics.emory.edu, 19 June 2007.
  13. Sturgeon’s Law, jessesword.com.
  14. Walden, Henry David Thoreau (1854), Project Gutenberg
  15. Tuchman, Barbara W. (1978). A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. New York: Ballantine Books. p. xviii. ISBN 0-345-34957-1. 
  16. Agatha Heterodyne as Cinderella, girlgeniusonline.com.
  17. Ambrose's Appendix, freefall.purrsia.com.