Laws and Principles (Observational, Not Legal)

There are some laws and principles used in American journalism that are referenced very often. It’s presumed the audience knows them by their name.

Unlike Einstein and relativity, or Newton and gravity, I suspect everyone knows the ideas presented below, but not the man or woman behind them. These laws are not scientific, they are more behavioral observations.

I thought I’d devote a blogpost to summarizing a few of them here:

Dilbert Principle: Created by Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip. It says that companies promote the least talented employees while the most talented are stuck where they started. The most talented are so effective where they are, management doesn’t want to risk losing their output by moving them elsewhere.

Godwin’s Law: Created by Mike Godwin. It says the longer a discussion goes on, the likelihood someone will reference Hitler or Nazis, or compare someone or something to Nazis, reduces to 1.

Hofstadter’s Law: Dr. Douglas Hofstadter of observed this one. It says any activity takes longer than people originally think it will, even if those people take into account Hofstadter’s Law. 

Murphy’s Law: There wasn’t necessarily a “Murphy,” most likely it was a De Morgan. The gist of the law is, if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. [In the UK, this is called Sod’s Law.]

Pareto’s Law: Pareto was an Italian economist who noticed 80% of his peas came from 20% of his pods. Management consultant Joseph Juran created the law, and named it after Pareto. It says 80% of results come from the input of 20%. For example, companies find 80% sales come from 20% of customers.

Parkinson’s Law: Cyril Northcote Parkinson was a Naval historian who submitted a humor piece to The Economist in 1955, followed by two books on similar themes. His law says the amount of work expands to fill the time allowed to complete it.

A political spin on this idea is that bureaucracy will grow and grow unimpeded within an organization. Unfortunately, the more layers that exist, the less effective the whole thing becomes, and the more costly it is for the organization to do much of anything.

Parkinson’s Law of Triviality: Also the observation of Cyril Northcote Parkinson. The gist of the law: the more trivial the issue is, the more time is spent dwelling on it. The converse is also true, that difficult, complex, dangerous decisions are made in haste. 

Peter Principle: Introduced by Laurence J. Peter, it says that employees get promoted and continue to get promoted until they are barely effective, if not completely ineffective in their roles. 

Poe’s Law: Introduced by Nathan Poe on a Christian messageboard. The synopsis: Unless you accompany your humorous, sarcastic, kidding, or facetious posts online with an emoticon (later, emojis), or a phrase like *Sarcasm intended*, readers will assume you were serious about what you wrote. Without body language, voice inflection, or the benefit of knowing the other person’s humor, internet exchanges are prone to misunderstandings. Poe was originally talking about creationists, but the law has since bled over into any subject area discussed on the internet.

So, did I forget one of your faves? Please let me know and I can include it in a followup to this post. I will credit you for it, unless you tell me otherwise.