The above quote is related to Price’s work in “Bibliometrics,” where he looked at the exponential growth of science, the half-life of scientific literature, and the growth and distribution of citation networks between scientific papers.
His takeaway was that as time goes by, the number of works produced grows exponentially faster than the works cited. Thus if 100 papers are written by 25 authors, five authors will have contributed 50 papers.
This is sometimes related to the Matthew effect, which says “the rich get richer,” but can also be more broadly seen as a sort of libertarian justification of life where one says (as Jordan B Peterson does), “in practice, a tiny number of people produce all of everything” or in fancier terms “The square root of the number of people in a productive domain produce half of its total output.” Or, in the terms of the Pareto principle (80/20 Rule), roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes (this rule has also been interpreted a lot of different ways).
While one can see how these ideas all relate, one can also see how saying “some people do all the work” is different than saying something Price inspired, such as “people who came first are first to put ideas out and are thus cited more, and are thus relevant to more projects than people who come later.” As Price’s Law is about a sequence and chronology of citation, not a matter of effort or skill.
On this page, I am not going to break down whether or not Price’s law or Peterson’s version of Price’s law is true, half-true, or just interesting (like any sort of rule, such as Lotka’s Law on the frequency of publication, there are critics; see the citations). Instead, I just wanted to present the idea, mostly because I noticed people caring about this online, and Derek J. de Solla Price is my Grandfather, so I have some insight into the intentions and his work.
On that note, and as eluded to above, I would say 1. Price’s Law is a little disconnected from the idea of a few people doing all the work, despite it making some sense to bring up in the discussion. 2. proving what percentage of people do the work is a tall order.
I tried to look for metrics and academic articles to give an interested reader insight (something I would do for most pages on the site), but I couldn’t find any great studies on the subject. I know people like Musk must believe in this and see this, hence things like Twitter firings. However, that sort of event is anecdotal. And on that note, your Petersons of the world tend to be rather Anecdotal despite being motivational.
- This formula attempt for Price’s Law (Math that can be applied to objectively quantifiable printed objects): https://akjournals.com/view/journals/11192/11/1-2/article-p81.xml
- This paper on “Fact or Myth? The 80/20 Rule”: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/eb026772/full/html
Both are academic papers, but it seems studies quantifying productivity are harder to find (check for yourself, you can even filter by the number of citations, although older articles are likely to be cited more, as we know from the above, half-joking… https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5&q=80%2F20+rule&btnG=).
From what I can tell from internet chatter, some of us feel we instinctively know that sometimes small amounts of effort or that “vital few” produce the most or best results. However, it feels unlikely that devaluing the majority of, for example, a workforce or population or using the aforementioned to justify the current wealth gap is the best and only takeaway to whatever truth there is to the matter.
I mean that anecdotally, of course. Anyway, please drop your thoughts in the comments below and check out Peterson on Price below and check out the article from Darius Foroux below for more on the idea.Jordan B Peterson on Price’s Law.
NOTE: For more on Price, see this nifty website I put up, which features “the world’s first canned University course.” This was a recorded University course created in 1976. The idea was to put Ivy League courses on tape so people of all classes could have access to Ivy League education. The guy had a lot of good ideas, like using mass communication to democratize education.
- Price’s Law: Why Only A Few People Generate Half Of The Results. DariusForoux.com.
- Derek J. de Solla Price. Wikipedia.org.
- Price’s Law and how it applies to everything. ExpressingtheGeniusWithin.com.
- Price’s square root law: Empirical validity and relation to Lotka’s law. ResearchGate.net.