Ehrlich’s Law(s)

Does anyone out there know anything about the various statements purporting to be Ehrlich’s Law? I was researching a German scientist named Ehrlich when I came across this in Wikipedia:

Ehrlich’s Law:  “People pay way too much attention to things that are easily quantified.”

Seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to say, very John Allen Paulos. So I tried to look into it. Wikipedia drew a blank. did the same. So I googled it and found that Ehrlich the quote-writer was a busy person indeed. There wasn’t just one Ehrlich’s Law, there was a litter of them. Included in that litter were:

  • The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts.
  • It is a mistake to allow any mechanical object to realize that you are in a hurry.

Many Ehrlichs. Many quotations. No hard facts. Any ideas out there?

6 thoughts on “Ehrlich’s Law(s)”

  1. On a similar note, I had to go back to my decades old AI textbook to find
    Martin’s Law:

    You can’t learn anything unless you almost know it already.

    I think its named after Willaim A. Martin – but can’t find quote on the web.

  2. Reminds me of this one (who’s original author I no longer remember):

    “Learning occurs at the fringes of what you already know. So the more you know, the more you can learn.”

  3. Bill Barnett’s comment reminds me of a central tenet in the strategy and organization theory literature about ‘absorptive capacity.’ In simple terms–an organization can only absorb knowledge in the neighborhood of what it knows. It cannot radically shift and evolve its knowledgebase.

  4. The cognitive bias mentioned in “Ehrlich’s Law” is related, but different, to my favorite economist joke:

    Late one evening, a man who was walking his dog comes upon an economist (you can always tell an economist from anyone else at first glance, of course) who is searching the ground under a street light. The passerby asks the economist what he is doing.

    “I’m looking for my lost keys,” says the man searching the ground. “I dropped them on my way home from that bar down there” he says with a slight slur, pointing to an establishment of somewhat disreputable appearance at the far end of the street.

    The passerby offers to help search for the keys, but after several minutes of searching under the street light they have no luck. “Are you sure you dropped them here?” asks the passerby.

    “Oh, I have no idea if I dropped them here,” says the economist, now swaying ever so slightly. “All I know is that I think I’m pretty sure that I dropped them somewhere on this street on my way home.”

    “Then why are you only looking under this street light?”

    “Well…” replies the economist very slowly, blinking with the effort. “Because this is where I can see the best.”

    I cut and pasted the above directly from the aptly named Street Light Blog:

    I’m an economist and I represent that joke. Now I must return to my data mining here under this street light.


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