Stigler's law of eponymy

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Stigler's law of eponymy is a process proposed by University of Chicago statistics professor Stephen Stigler in his 1980 publication "Stigler’s law of eponymy".[1] In its simplest and strongest form it says: "No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer." Stigler named the sociologist Robert K. Merton as the discoverer of "Stigler's law", so as to avoid this law about laws disobeying its very own decree.

Derivation[edit]

Historical acclaim for discoveries is often assigned to persons of note who bring attention to an idea that is not yet widely known, whether or not that person was its original inventor – theories may be named long after their discovery. In the case of eponymy, the idea becomes named after that person, even if that person is acknowledged by historians of science not to be the one who discovered it. Often, several people will arrive at a new idea around the same time, as in the case of calculus. It can be dependent on the publicity of the new work and the fame of its publisher as to whether the scientist's name becomes historically associated.

Similar concepts[edit]

Stephen Stigler's father, the economist George Stigler, also examined the process of discovery in economics. He said that "If an earlier, valid statement of a theory falls on deaf ears, and a later restatement is accepted by the science, this is surely proof that the science accepts ideas only when they fit into the then-current state of the science". He gave several examples in which the original discoverer was not recognized as such.[2]

The Matthew effect was coined by Robert K. Merton to describe how eminent scientists get more credit than a comparatively unknown researcher, even if their work is similar, so that credit will usually be given to researchers who are already famous. Merton notes that "this pattern of recognition, skewed in favor of the established scientist, appears principally (i) in cases of collaboration and (ii) in cases of independent multiple discoveries made by scientists of distinctly different rank."[3]

Boyer's Law was named by Hubert Kennedy in 1972. It says Mathematical formulas and theorems are usually not named after their original discoverers and was named after Carl Boyer, whose book History of Mathematics contains many examples of this law. Kennedy observed that "it is perhaps interesting to note that this is probably a rare instance of a law whose statement confirms its own validity."[4]

"Everything of importance has been said before by somebody who did not discover it" is an adage attributed to Alfred North Whitehead.[5]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Gieryn, T. F., ed. (1980). Science and social structure: a festschrift for Robert K. Merton. New York: NY Academy of Sciences. pp. 147–57. ISBN 0-89766-043-9. , republished in Stigler's collection "Statistics on the Table"
  2. ^ Diamond Jr., Arthur M (Spring 2006). "Measurement, Incentives, and Constraints in Stigler’s Economics of Science". The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought 13 (1). 
  3. ^ Merton, Robert K. (5 January 1968). "The Matthew Effect in Science". Science 159. doi:10.1126/science.159.3810.56. 
  4. ^ Kennedy, H.C. (January 1972). "Who Discovered Boyer's Law?". The American Mathematical Monthly 79 (1): 66–67. doi:10.2307/2978134. 
  5. ^ Menand, Louis (19 February 2007). "Notable Quotables". The New Yorker. Retrieved 27 March 2009. 

Further reading[edit]

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