Date: Jul 17, 2000 6:30 PM
Author: Barry Cipra
Subject: Re: [HM] L'Hopital, Pythagoras, Ptolemy and Hilbert

This topic ran its course a couple months ago, but I just came across a
pertinent weference at the Lingua Franca website, an article by Jim Holt
titled "MISTAKEN IDENTITY THEORY - Why Scientists Always Pick the Wrong
Man." Here's a snippet:
The practice of naming things after people (real or mythical) who are
associated with them is called eponymy. There are eponymous words, like
"guillotine," "bowdlerize," and "sadism." There are eponymous place-names,
like Pennsylvania and the Peloponnisos. And there are eponymous compound
expressions, like "Copernican system" and "Halley's comet." When such
expressions occur in the sciences, the presumption is that the thing
designated was discovered by the scientist whose name is affixed to it. That
presumption is nearly always false.

If you think I exaggerate, you are obviously not familiar with Stigler's Law
of Eponymy. This law, which in its simplest form states that "no scientific
discovery is named after its original discoverer," was so dubbed by Stephen
Stigler in his recent book Statistics on the Table (Harvard). An immodest
act of nomenclature? Not really. If Stigler's law is true, its very name
implies that Stigler himself did not discover it. By explaining that the
credit belongs instead to the great sociologist of science Robert K. Merton,
Stigler not only wins marks for humility; he makes the law to which he has
lent his name self-confirming.
The url for the whole piece is

[Note: Robert Merton was mentioned by David Fowler in his reply of 19

Barry Cipra

> From: Julio Gonzalez Cabillon <>
> At 03:31 p.m. 16/03/00 -0500, Andrew Bowering typed:
> |
> | I am in my final year of a degree course in Mathematics and in need of
> | big help. I have noticed the wealth of knowledge out there amongst
> | you but now I need to tap into this knowledge. Firstly I need some
> | examples of results which are not named after the people who derived
> | them - ie - L'Hopital's rule, found by his tutor Johann Bernoulli.
> |
> Mind the "Boyer's Law" in the history of mathematics:
> "Mathematical formulas and theorems are usually
> not named after their original discoverers."
> Best regards,
> Julio Gonzalez Cabillon