first to market? Stigler’s law of eponymy!

One of the greatest takeways from my semester at Yale was that no matter how original you think you are, or an idea you have, someone has thought of it before, and has a little academic activity established around that thought already.

some, hundreds of years ago.

so, a bit of humility

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”.  In its simplest and strongest form it says: “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer.”

Stigler’s Law was discovered many times before Stigler named it

Historical acclaim and reputation tend to be allocated to people unevenly. Scientific observations and results are often associated with people who have high visibility and social status, and are named long after their discovery. Eponymy is a striking example of this phenomenon. Particularly important scientific observations are often associated with a person, as in the case of Gaussian distribution, Halley’s comet, and Planck’s constant. Nature never works in isolation. Ideas arrive in parallel, and theoretical or practical works/experiments too are near simultaneous in time-space. It is the publicizing and recording of the work that assumes identity relationship with the one most famously connected with it. Indeed many ideas never see fruition for their time has not come or they are not fully recognised, appreciated or properly advertised.

Often the person who is associated with the particular observation, theory, or result was not its original inventor. Based on his studies on the history of statistics, Stephen Stigler therefore proposed his own “Stigler’s Law of Eponymy.” Stigler attributes the discovery of Stigler’s Law to sociologist  Robert K. Merton (which makes the law self-referencing).

merton, by the way. was a distinguished American sociologist perhaps best known for having coined the phrase “self-fulfilling prophecy.” He also coined many other phrases that have gone into everyday use, such as “role model” and “unintended consequences“. his son, robert merton is a noble prize winner in economics. he is the one of black scholes fame and long term capital management LTCM.

press here for a good article about how great ideas are not rare

who usually gets the credit? the most popular or powerful person at the time at which it gained wide acceptance.

the lesson here is:

  • there is already a principle named after a person for this. the  matthew principle, (more will be given to those that already have, matthew 25:29)
  • for israeli startups,  to invest in marketing

and time markets,

and get lucky.

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4 Responses to “first to market? Stigler’s law of eponymy!”

  1. Ran Arad Says:

    זוכר את האימרה המפורסמת של סבתא של זיו גלברט מהשרדות הפיליפינים? “יותר טוב סנטימטר מזל מקילומטר שכל”. אני מניח אגב שהאימרה קרויה שלא-בצדק על שם סבתא של זיו, והיא בטח הומצאה על ידי מישהו פחות מפורסם עוד לפניכן

  2. Kevin Mullet Says:

    Great article Adi.. fascinating… I’ll bet there were some fascinating conversations around the Merton family dinner table!

    • adisababa Says:

      thanks, kevin
      it is time for us to have one of those conversations
      i should take some time to come visit you in reno

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