Sturgeon's law (or Sturgeon's revelation) is an adage stating "ninety-percent of everything is crud". It was coined by Theodore Sturgeon, an American science fiction author and critic, and was inspired by his observation that, while science fiction was often derided for its low quality by critics, most work in other fields was low quality too and so science fiction was thus no different.
The original Sturgeon's law
Sturgeon deemed Sturgeon's law to mean "nothing is always absolutely so" in the story "The Claustrophile" in a 1956 issue of Galaxy. The second adage, variously rendered as "ninety percent of everything is crud" or "ninety percent of everything is crap", was known as "Sturgeon's Revelation", formulated as such in his book review column for Venture in 1957. However, almost all modern uses of the term Sturgeon's law refer to the second, including the definition listed in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Four-fifths of everybody's work must be bad. But the remnant is worth the trouble for its own sake.
In much more than nine cases out of ten the only objectively truthful criticism would be "This book is worthless ..."
The first written reference to the adage is in the September 1957 issue of Venture:
And on that hangs Sturgeon’s revelation. It came to him that [science fiction] is indeed ninety-percent crud, but that also – Eureka! – ninety-percent of everything is crud. All things – cars, books, cheeses, hairstyles, people, and pins are, to the expert and discerning eye, crud, except for the acceptable tithe which we each happen to like.
The adage appears again in the March 1958 issue of Venture, where Sturgeon wrote:
It is in this vein that 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 S.F. is crud.
- The Revelation
- Ninety percent of everything is crud.
- 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.
According to Philip Klass (William Tenn), Sturgeon made this remark circa 1951, at a talk at New York University attended by Tenn. The statement was subsequently included in a talk Sturgeon gave at a 1953 Labor Day weekend session of the World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia.
90% of everything is crap. That is true, whether you are talking about physics, chemistry, evolutionary psychology, sociology, medicine – you name it – rock music, country western. 90% of everything is crap.
Its re-introduction to a modern audience received a positive reception, according to Dennett.
- Charles Clay Doyle; Fred R. Shapiro; Wolfgang Mieder, eds. (2012), The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Yale University Press, pp. 76–77, ISBN 9780300183351
- "The Claustrophile", Galaxy August 1956
- Sturgeon, Theodore (1957). "On Hand ... Offhand: Books". Venture Science Fiction. Vol. 1, no. 5. p. 49.
- "Sturgeon's Law". Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
- Kipling, Rudyard (1897). The Writings in Prose and Verse of Rudyard Kipling. ISBN 9785874724696.
- Orwell, G. (1946). Confessions of a Book Reviewer.
- Sturgeon, Theodore (1958). "Books: On Hand". Venture Science Fiction. Vol. 2, no. 2. p. 66.
- "SF citations for the OED". JessesWord.com. 6 July 2008. Archived from the original on 10 March 2007.
- "James Gunn, Addendum: Sturgeon's Law". Physics.emory.edu. Emory University. Retrieved 6 February 2010.
- Dennett, D. (21 May 2013). "Daniel Dennett presents Seven Tools for Critical Thinking". OpenCulture.com.
- Dennett, D. (2013). Seven Tools for Critical Thinking.
- Dennett, D. (10 June 2013). Daniel Dennett tools for thinking. Point of Inquiry (Audio recording). Event occurs at 39ᵐ.