Stigler’s Law of Eponymy (2017)

Stigler’s Law of Eponymy (2017)

Many discoveries are named for somebody other than the discoverer, an observation known as Stigler’s Law of Eponymy. It has a particularly strong effect on discoveries by women and minorities. The scientific paper shown in this piece reports a phenomenon discovered by Austrian-Swedish physicist Lisa Meitner in 1922 but which was named for Pierre Auger, who re-discovered it a year later. The paper is erased based on cosmic ray data recorded at the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina.

Stigler’s Law was discovered by Robert K. Merton.

Stigler’s Law of Eponymy (2017) [installation view]


Stigler’s Law of Eponymy (2017) [screen view]


Scientific notes

Meitner’s discovery of the “Auger effect”: Meitner, Lisa, (1922), “Über die Entstehung der β-Strahl-Spektren radioaktiver Substanzen”, Z. Physik (1922) 9: 131.

Auger’s re-publication of the same result: Auger, Pierre, (1923), “Sur les rayons β secondaires produits dans un gaz par des rayons X”, C.R.A.S. 177: 169-171.

Cosmic ray data is from the public release of data from the Pierre Auger Observatory. The cosmic ray events, collected over 30,000 km^2 of Argentinian pampas, are mapped onto the pages of Meitner’s paper, with the erasure radii proportional to the energy of the cosmic rays and the erasure spots corresponding to the number and layout of detectors in the Observatory array.

Technical notes

Due to lack of an API for data access, data download was completed via a sequence of approximately 90,000 reverse-engineered web requests. The download and subsequent analysis were executed using the Processing language. The visual erasure effect was custom-coded in Processing with the generated frames composited in Adobe Premiere Pro.