So I hopped into town for a satellite dish
I tied it to the top of my Japanese car
I came home and I pointed it out into the stars
A message came back from the great beyond:
There's fifty-seven channels and nothin' on"
90% of everything is complete shit.
This is Sturgeon's Revelation, but common usage has it that this phrase is what is meant when the Law is cited. (The actual quote for the Law is "Nothing is always absolutely so.")
The first reference to Sturgeon's Revelation appears in the March 1958 issue of Venture Science Fiction, where science fiction author Theodore 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 crap."
There is also a (possibly apocryphal) story that tells of Sturgeon making the above comment during a panel discussion at a science fiction convention. When the audience protested, Sturgeon reportedly blinked and replied, "90% of everything is crap."
Sturgeon's Revelation is sometimes expanded as follows:
- 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. (Note: It is clear this doesn't necessarily follow from the Revelation — sci-fi has minor advantages and disadvantages compared to other genres, and differing amounts of literature compared to other genres. If a thousand write sci-fi, but a hundred thousand write real world, do the maths.)
- Crawford's Corollary: Should you ever find that less than 90% seems to be [crap], your standard is set too low and should be adjusted.
- Critic's Corollary: 90% of people lack the taste necessary to distinguish between crap and non-crap.
- Critic's Second Corollary: 90% of people will criticize 90% of what they see regardless of their ability to distinguish crap from non-crap.
- Ghetto Corollary: A "respectable" genre of fictional media will always be judged by the 10% of good works, but a stigmatized genre will always be judged by the 90% of bad works. (See the Ghetto Index for examples of such stigmatized genres.)
- TV Tropes Corollary: The difficulty of getting a group of people to agree on which 10% is not crap exponentially approaches infinity as the size of the group increases. (Or, "Crap is in the eye of the beholder... so to speak.")
- The Theorem of Narrow Interests: The more constrained the thing you're looking for, the fewer good examples exist.
- Video Game Corollary: If a video game has user-created content, then 90% of it will be based on male or female genitalia or "LittleBigHolocaust."'note
- Ruri's Law: "The vast majority of people are idiots". or, in other words, ''You're probably crap.''
- Evonix's Corollary: Crap is fractal, 90% of crap is crappier and the non crap is 90% tainted.
Sturgeon's Law is particularly obvious when the barriers to entry -- the whims of publishers — are removed. Self-publishing, especially in the virtually cost-free environment of the Internet, makes the crappy 90% visible to the public; it no longer languishes in an aspiring writer's desk drawer. This often leads to the false impression that Fan Fic attracts poor writers; the fact is that the poor writers have always been out there, but until recently, their poor writing had few outlets to the public. As one writer put it, "flipping through Fan Fiction Dot Net is like flipping through hell with an occasional slice of the heavenly cheesecake thrown in."
If we assume that the 90% figure applies only to published works, then about one in a million of all things out there is not crap. Most people, though, have seen more than one non-crappy thing in their lifetime.
Often the phrase is followed by the even more cynical addendum, "... including the other 10%." Rarely, a more optimistic (but even more stratifying) second clause is added: "...but the remaining 10% is worth dying for."
A more ominous reading has it that Sturgeon's Law is a baseline. In other words, though at least 90% of a given thing is crap, it does not necessarily follow that the remaining tenth is all good. For a given subtype of medium, genre, etc., the percentage of crap may range from the minimum 90%, to 95%, to 99.99[vapor trail of 9s]%.
A related adage is employed by critic Yahtzee Croshaw, known as the Guantánamo Bay approach, who declares in one review: "Everything is shit until proven otherwise." In another review, he elaborates: "Even if declaring a game to be shit after its first few hours of gameplay is perfectly professional, one should never assume that a game that starts out good will stay that way."
In person, Theodore Sturgeon didn't use the word 'crap' when this subject came up, in 1979. According to the Portland Pattern Repository, however, the true story is the opposite: Theodore Sturgeon said "crud", but the law is quoted using the word "crap".
There is a related principle actually observed in economics, the Pareto Principle or "80-20 rule": 80% of the work is done by 20% of the group. This makes sense if you think about it: in a given group, there will be, for whatever reason, variation in the capability of its constituent individuals, and by and large, variation tends to take the form of a bell-curve distribution: the vast majority are average or near-average, with occurrence correlating to rarity. So, if you take that curve (representing the number of individuals at each level of performance) and multiply by said level of performance, you get a plot showing how the total amount of work done is distributed among the various levels of performance, which will obviously be skewing towards the higher-performance end. The rule is an approximation and the exact ratio will vary with the situation, but the general principle is very widespread in situations involving normal and power law distributions. The principle is also used in Statistical Process Control, a mathematical approach to quality control, stating that generally, 80% of total defects are caused by 20% of known failure modes.
Also relevant are two psychological principles known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect and the Worse-Than-Average Effect, which basically boil down to "Incompetent people know too little about the subject to accurately assess their own competence" and "Competent people are more likely to evaluate their work as worse than it is," respectively. The net effect of these two phenomena is that people who produce genuinely good work tend to constantly second-guess themselves, which reduces their output, while their less-talented peers crank out work that's "good enough" and put it out there without a second thought because they don't know enough to realize how bad their work actually is.
May be Older Than They Think; Benjamin Disraeli wrote in 1870: "Books are fatal: they are the curse of the human race. Nine-tenths of existing books are nonsense, and the clever books are the refutation of that nonsense."
This just defines the fan-speak term. No examples, please.