A nice appreciation (what could go wrong?) of Murphy and Stapp

The Today I Found Out blog has a nice appreciation of two—really three—people who shared an Ig Nobel Prize for (probably) giving Murphy’s Law it’s name. The appreciation is called “WHO WAS ‘MURPHY’ IN ‘MURPHY’S LAW’ AND THE AMAZING DR. JOHN PAUL STAPP WHO GAVE US THE EXPRESSION.”

The 2003 Ig Nobel Prize for engineering was awarded to the late John Paul Stapp, the late Edward A. Murphy, Jr., and George Nichols, for jointly giving birth in 1949 to Murphy’s Law, the basic engineering principle that “If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, someone will do it “(or, in other words: “If anything can go wrong, it will”).

By pretty much all accounts, John Stapp was the central figure. That’s him, undergoing extreme decelleration in a rocket-powered sled, in this series of photos:


At the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony at Harvard University, the prize presentation involved: Author Nick T. Spark , on behalf of John Paul Stapp’s widow, Lilly; (2) Edward Murphy’s son Edward A. Murphy III, on behalf of his late father; and (3) George Nichols, via audio tape. You can watch video of that historic happening.

For a deep and fun exploration of the history (and slight mystery, still) behind that, see “The Fastest Man on Earth,” Nick T. Spark, Annals of Improbable Research, vol. 9, no. 5, Sept/Oct 2003. Spark expanded that long article into a delightful book called A History of Murphy’s Law.

Here’s a US Air Force documentary film about some of John Stapp’s work: