Sturgeon's revelation (as originally expounded by Theodore Sturgeon), commonly referred to as Sturgeon's law, is an adage commonly cited as "ninety percent of everything is crap." The sentence derives from quotations by Sturgeon, an American science fiction author and critic; although Sturgeon coined another adage that he termed "Sturgeon's law," the "ninety percent crap" remark has become Sturgeon's law.
The phrase was derived from Sturgeon's observation that while science fiction was often derided for its low quality by critics, the majority of examples of works in other fields could equally be seen to be of low quality, and that science fiction was thus no different in that regard from other art forms.
The first written reference to the adage appears in the March 1958 issue of Venture, where Sturgeon 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. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. is crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.
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.
In 2013, philosopher Daniel Dennett championed Sturgeon's law as one of his seven tools for critical thinking. "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.
The original Sturgeon's law
Sturgeon had originally deemed Sturgeon's law to mean that "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 originally 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 actually refer to the second, including the definition listed in the Oxford English Dictionary.
As the original version of the law, "nothing is always absolutely so", implies, the core of Sturgeon's Revelation is not just that most of everything is worthless. The inverse is obviously also true: if ninety percent of everything is crap, then even in areas that are generally considered inferior (such as soap operas, dime novels or fan fiction), there must be ten percent that may be worth something.
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- Venture 49, September 1957
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- "The Claustrophile", Galaxy August 1956
- "Sturgeon's Law". Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved 6 January 2019.