Decoder Ring: Murphy’s Law

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership.

S2: This podcast contains explicit language.

S3: There’s a place out in the Mojave Desert called Edwards Air Force Base after World War 2. It became the desolate hub of the dawning jet age, the place where the Army had its best test. Pilots do the incredibly dangerous work of trying out a whole new generation of experimental aircraft. In 1947. It’s where the pilot, Chuck Yeager, first cracked the sound barrier. Eventually, it’s where others achieved unprecedented speeds of over 4000 miles per hour, six times the speed of sound. It’s where pilots flew as high as 100000 feet right to the edges of outer space, where over 40 different type of jets were tested out for the first time. That’s where dozens died in the process. Tom Wolfe in his book The Right Stuff about the early years of the space program describes Edwards like this.

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S1: The place was utterly primitive, nothing but bare bones, bleached tarpaulins and corrugated tin rippling in the heat. A fossil landscape that had long since been left behind by the rest of terrestrial evolution. In the summer, the temperature went up to 110 degrees. The sun baked the ground hard. The lakebeds became the greatest natural landing fields ever discovered.

S4: It’s a kind of storied, evocative place that has fascinated many people.

S5: Nick Spark is one of them. Well, I had read the book The Right Stuff before I saw the movie and just was infatuated with it. Just loved all those stories.

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S6: By the early 2000s, Nick had turned this interest into a job. He was an associate editor at Wings and Air Power, a magazine about military aviation history, and regularly going up to Edwards himself, talking to historians and old test pilots. He was living in Santa Monica and his neighbor was interested in aviation history, too.

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S7: Nick would sometimes bring him copies of the magazine, and at one point he said, well, you know, my father used to work at Edwards Air Force Base. And in fact, he knew Murphy. And I said, Murphy who?

S8: He said, well, Murphy’s Law, the guy that, you know, came up with Murphy’s Law, Murphy’s Law as the saying anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

S9: I can almost promise you that the next few weeks, probably even in the next few days, you will see a reference to it somewhere out there in the world. It comes up a lot.

S8: And I just thought that was crazy story. I mean, I would just dismissed it immediately because if there was a Murphy, this is just some mythical Irish figure. For the next day, his neighbor left a book by his front door and it was entitled Murphy’s Law. Here’s the interesting thing. The very front of this book, there is a preface and it actually has a story in there that kind of jibed with what my neighbor said and that kind of gave me a little bit of pause. I was like, wow, what if Murphy actually existed?

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S5: It just appeared like I had a hot lead on some crazy events that happened, you know, 50 years ago. Why not run with that?

S10: This is Decoder Ring, a show about cracking cultural mysteries. I’m Willa Paskin. Every month we take on a cultural question, habit or idea. Crack it open and try to figure out what it means and why it matters. A few months ago, we got an email from a listener, Nick Spark, who told us that in 2002 and 2003 he’d gone on a hunt for Murphy’s Law and being a documentarian. He brought his tape recorder along. In this episode, we’re going to tag along a next quest to discover the origins of Murphy’s Law from its birth in a secret project at Edwards Air Force Base through a feud about its creation to world dominance. It’s a journey that involves high speed rocket sleds, the vagaries of memory, and one extraordinarily sticky concept which has come to mean in keeping with Murphy’s Law, something it wasn’t quite intended to. So today on Decoder Ring, where does Murphy’s Law come from?

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S4: These days, Murphy’s Law is everywhere. It’s on mugs and T-shirts, on calendars and in pop up books. It’s been the title of TV shows and a movie starring Charles Bronson. There’s a cartoon based on a fictional, very unlucky descendant of the original Murphy. And it’s common in both regular conversation and scripted dialogue, like in this bit of narration from a recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy, which, as you’ll soon learn, gargles the history quite a bit.

S11: In 1949, Edward Murphy conducted a rockets’ led experiment. To see how much pressure a human being could withstand or Murphy’s experiment failed spectacularly. Not over and over. Needless to say, he didn’t start off on the right foot. That’s why it’s called Murphy’s Law.

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S6: Because if anything can go wrong, it will in order to understand how Murphy’s Law became this ubiquitous. I need to give you some background. Set the scene. Tell you about a secret research project happening at Edwards Air Force Base in the late 1940s, because this project is where Murphy’s Law comes from.

S7: Nick Spark again during World War 2, when the advancement of airplanes was really I mean, just an incredibly rapid advance in aviation. There were some questions actually that were brought up about the human factor.

S5: It was they had a lot of data about the strength of aluminum and the power of airplane engines, things like this. But nobody really fully understood what the impact of traveling it, you know, high speed, high altitude on the human body might be.

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S12: And one of the things that really became kind of startling was the lack of data that anybody had about the human bodies capability that withstand G-force.

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S13: OK. So when you’re in a car and stops abruptly, rapidly decelerating and you pitch forward the pressure you feel on your body, that’s G-force. If a car going 30 miles an hour slams into a wall, a driver of about 160 pounds wearing a seatbelt will experience around 30 GS of force, 30 times the force of gravity back in the 1940s when airplane pilots were starting to go hundreds of miles per hour. It was widely believed that the human body could only withstand 18 G’s of force.

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S12: And so everything was designed in these airplanes around that concept. So the seat of an aircraft critically might have been designed to withstand 18 G’s of force. So you could imagine if somebody crash landed an airplane and they exceeded 18 GS, that seat would fail. It would break loose. There was an assessment that, hey, maybe this person, this pilot was killed not because of exceeding the 18 g limit, but because their seat broke loose and they hit the windscreen. The instrument panel and they were killed.

S4: The army brass stationed in Right Field, an army base in Ohio named after the Wright brothers that had become the center of aviation medical research, decided they had to figure out what amount of G force the human body could actually tolerate.

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S7: Then one of the things they did was to set up a project that Edwards Air Force Base called AirMax 981.

S4: Amex 981 was largely staffed by civilians, but it was headed up by an army doctor who had cajoled and lobbied right field into investing in the sort of research in the first place.

S14: Dr. John Paul stap guidance that colonel was an amazing feat.

S4: John Paul staff who retire from the armed forces as a colonel was born in 1910. He grew up in Bahia, Brazil. The son of Methodist missionaries drafted into the army in World War 2. He wound up at Wright Field, where he ran a number of tests to figure out what happens to pilots flying at high altitude and in low oxygen situations. But he was also interested in plane and car crashes.

S15: He ended up focusing on the problem of how can we take people who are getting injured in crashes, acceleration and impact injuries.

S6: Craig Ryan wrote a biography of John Postop called Sonic Wind.

S15: What can we do to keep people from dying in? Well, he later, just like all the kinetic plague at the steel age.

S4: Stop was extremely skeptical about the 18 g limit. He thought the human body could withstand more. He set out to prove this with a series of experiments. The experiment was as follows. There was a 2000 meter narrow gauge railroad track. Out in the desert on that track satta sled that looked kind of like a built up soapbox. Inside of that sled sat a test subject. On the back of that sled were rocket engines. The team would fire the rockets. The sled would curl forward going from zero to hundreds of miles an hour and a few seconds. And then just as suddenly it would be stopped by powerful brakes and later pools of water. It was the stoppings, the moment of maximum deceleration when G forces were at their highest. That the team was interested in studying. Originally, dummies and chimpanzees were supposed to be the test subjects, but stop thought that the only way to really learn how G-force affected the human body was to do the tests on a human body. Unwilling to risk anyone else’s life, he decided he would do the tests on himself.

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S16: The test is in the atmosphere here. These men work quietly and efficiently. Now just think that will come from over 600 miles per hour to a stop in less than one second.

S17: That’s not black and white film reel from around 1954.

S4: In it you can see stap riding the rocket sled. An image of his face during deceleration so distorted it looks like a large, invisible hand smashing into it would appear, in science textbooks for years. From the end of 1947 to the end of 1954, stop road on over 30 rocket sleds eventually going 632 miles an hour and feeling a 46 G is the highest G-force ever voluntarily experienced. Here he is in another film, real, describing what a test felt like.

S14: First volley sled took off and it was like being hit in the back by a freight train. After which, my eyeballs hit my eyelids with such force that I was seeing red and shimmering lights until the sled came to a stop. They took the equipment off of me. I wasn’t feeling very good, and I felt even worse when I held my eyes open and my fingers and I couldn’t see anything. That lasted for eight and a half minutes. Did you have any lasting effects? None whatsoever. Well, let’s put it this way. The morning after the run, I had a couple of very black eyes. In fact, I might say they were supersonic shiners in addition to almost losing his eyesight.

S4: He lost fillings in his teeth, broke his wrists and ribs, and suffered intense back pain. The tests were also harrowing for his colleagues, who’d been tasked with keeping their much admired boss safe. George Nichols was the chief engineer on the Amex 981 team and he became close friends with stap. He spoke with Nick Spark about stops, a final rocket sled run, this last run on the tour.

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S18: He got a condition in that where his eyes were just totally red chrome hemorrhaging. You couldn’t see anything. For a long time, nightmares from that.

S19: Well, when I got up to the sled, Lex Luthor. His eyes were just for a while.

S18: What career was there was no sacrifice and really being injured or losing, as I thought? Certainly no. No justification for being killed from the deceleration. And I didn’t want to see it, but he wanted to go. So we set it up.

S9: Granted hearing these stories about John Postop, I kept wondering what kind of person does something like this?

S20: Well, the unspoken question is, was he crazy or something? Did he have a death wish? Was a daredevil? Sadly, the matter was he was one of those Creg Ryan stop’s biographer again.

S21: When Stamp was in college at Baylor in Texas, he met a young woman so loved. She was a also missionaries child. And she died in a car crash in Los Angeles while they were in college.

S22: And she had never got over it. She was the car that she was in with her parents was hit by a drunk driver. Believe it or not, at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine and Stanford, serious thinking, why can’t we keep people safe in car crashes? And so it became this sort of Rosebud moment that just focused him on his life’s work.

S4: All of this stop the rockets blood test stops. Intense passion for safety research is the high stakes context in which Murphy’s Law was maybe born. So now I’m going to get back to Nick Spark and his quest to find the origins of Murphy’s Law. Nick was doing this work in the early aughts already 50 years after the Amex 981 team had done its research. Many of the men who had been on the team had died. And the ones who were still alive were well into their 70s and 80s. Nick was aware of all of this, that the window for talking to the man who had been personally involved in this mystery was closing. His first move was to follow up on his first lead. His next door neighbor’s father, a man named David Hill senior who supposedly knew Murphy David Hill, is a really interesting man.

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S5: His sort of slightly slowed down by the effects of Parkinson’s disease. But he is one of these people. He is an engineer and he had a razor sharp mind in a very clear recall of events.

S6: It turns out David Hale, senior had also been a member of the IMEX 981 team, an engineer and telemetry specialist. He told Nick that early on they’ve been having a hard time getting good data off the rocket sled. But there was an engineer out at right field, Captain Edward Murphy, who had developed some nifty strain gauge transducers, gauges that measured the strain on the rocket sleds harness that they thought would be more accurate.

S7: They installed these strain gauges that Edward Murphy had brought them. But when they ran the test. They got no data.

S5: Instead of getting more accurate data, they got no data.

S6: When Murphy learned this, he flew out to Edwards to investigate. Upon realizing that the gauges had been installed incorrectly, they would go on to work just fine. He said something approximately like the now famous Murphy’s Law.

S23: David Hill, senior and could be done wrong, he advised. Done wrong.

S6: This all seemed incredibly promising to Nick.

S7: I kind of sat there after listening to David Hill kind of pinching myself and saying, Wow, this really seems actually credible. I really thought this was not gonna pan out. And I thought, wow, I have a chance to unravel some of this. But, you know, the frustration is I knew. Dr. John Paul stap was deceased, and the only other lead I really had was. The foreword to the Murphy’s Law book.

S6: It was essentially written by this fellow, George Nicoles George Nichols, who you heard from earlier, talking about how upsetting it was to see Stop Bleeding from the eyes. Was the chief engineer of the IMEX 981 team. You heard from him earlier. Because Nick tracked him down and got him to elaborate on his story.

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S24: We had a activity going on with our project where their operations team coming up with different laws. We had a Nicholas Law and we had a stepson, ironical paradox and we had a sunshine law. We had quite a few steps. Ironical paradox. One time was the universal aptitude for ineptitude makes any human accomplishment an incredible miracle.

S25: And then Murphy and the faulty strain gauges entered the picture and Murphy was unhappy about what was going on. And they said if that guy has any way of doing something wrong, he’ll do it wrong. And Ruffing went back to the right field the next day and that’s the last thing we saw. MURPHY Surui third talking about what we thought it ought to be in his statement. It was too long and didn’t really fit into the category of a law and were just describing some individual. And so we tried many different things and we finally came up with if it can happen, it will happen. And we thought there was kitchy enough to be a be a good law in Nicoles version of events.

S4: Murphy is almost ancillary to Murphy’s Law. He’s a guy who comes in for a few days and leaves. Then his comments get workshopped by the group streamlined, made, catchier and dubbed Murphy’s Law by.

S7: What George Nichols really wanted to relate to me was the point that Murphy’s Law was something that he had named, that he had discovered it. He named it after Edward Murphy, who made, you know, a terrible mistake at Project M X 981.

S4: Needless to say, Nicoles proprietory feelings about Murphy’s Law did not sit that well with Murphy. Edward Murphy died in 1990. So Nick couldn’t speak with him directly. But he did come across a radio interview Murphy had done, or he says it was stap, not Nichols, who named the mob.

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S26: So I guess the thought that I might as well. I really made a terrible mistake here. Didn’t we cover every possibility of putting these things together? And then I made the steps as well. A good candidate for Murphy’s Law. I in a court martial because that’s all he said. What’s is Murphy’s Law? He said, well, we have a number of other laws like those laws. Needless to say, judgment day. I think that that is a down of history. At least you realize what has happened here. And from now on, we’re going to have things done according to Murphy’s Law. That’s about the way I think it happened.

S4: One way to look at this. Everyone next spoke with generally agrees the inciting incident was the strain gauge transducers. Murphy said something that wasn’t exactly Murphy’s Law. And then some member of the Amex 981 team turned it into its sleeker, more famous self.

S6: They also agreed on something more philosophical. But the statement wasn’t inherently pessimistic.

S27: George Nichols Again, if it can’t happen, I don’t want it to happen. It’s what reliability engineering is supposed to do if it can happen. And the consequences are what I know see.

S4: Then I got this vote for engineers who are trying to keep their boss from flying off a rocket sled or a pilot from crashing into a dashboard or dying upon being ejected at high speed from an airplane or astronauts safe hundreds of miles from Earth, anticipating all the ways that things can go wrong. It’s a way to keep things from going wrong instead of being the equivalent of shit happens. Murphy’s Law is more like be prepared.

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S6: But shit does happen and feelings about who should get credit for Murphy’s Law ran very high between Nickels and Murphy. Instead of treating it like the collaboration, it seems to be proprietary claims were made heated phone calls or exchange territory was staked out. Here’s Nick Spark again.

S7: You know what I hadn’t appreciated? When I first started, my quest to discover the origins of Murphy’s Law is that I was bringing up something that was essentially the subject of of a nasty feud that had lasted over many decades about who was really responsible for discovering Murphy’s Law.

S6: The wildest thing about this feud, though, is that it might be over nothing, because there’s a distinct possibility that Murphy’s Law originated somewhere else entirely. This being an episode about Murphy’s Law. We needed to consider Murphy’s Law, which in this case meant wondering if despite all the agreement and corroboration, the whole thing just wasn’t true. Nick Spark had the same instinct.

S7: You know, I’m a writer and a documentary filmmaker, and I’ve always taken to heart this phrase that Mark Twain said the truth is so precious that sometimes it has to be stretched. But sometimes it’s really important to really try to nail down the facts. And I hope to do that with the origin story of Murphy’s Law. It turned out to really be impossible because so much time had elapsed since the point that it was allegedly discovered. And I say allegedly discovered because. You know, it’s not even a hundred percent clear that this is where Murphy’s Law came from.

S4: While he was doing his research, Nick got in touch with Fred SHAPIRO, a law librarian at Yale Law School and the editor of the Yale Book of Quotations who had been extremely skeptical of this origin story. I reached back out to SHAPIRO.

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S28: Really, what we’re getting into here is this great distinction between legends and documented historical facts. Human beings have trouble accepting that they want. They want to go for the colorful story. They want to believe that every quotation, folksy, humorous quotation was invented by Mark Twain was in fact, you know, anytime someone tells you Mark Twain said this, the one thing you know is that Mark Twain didn’t say that. One of the great examples of that is Murphy’s Law. The standard story that it originated at Edwards Air Force Base with Edward Murphy and George Nichols and John Paul Stepp is absolutely not true.

S9: There are two ways to think about Murphy’s Law. One is as an idea independent of its name and that idea that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. It’s been around for thousands of years. Going back to the Romans when Fred SHAPIRO says it’s absolutely not true that Murphy’s Law originated at Edwards Air Force Base. He’s not talking about the idea. He’s talking about a book by a psychologist named and Rowe called The Making of a Scientist. This book, which contains interviews with dozens of scientists, was published in 1952. Barrow started conducting her interviews in the late 1940s. And according to her papers in early 1949, she interviewed a physicist who told her about Murphy’s Law. But early 1949 is months before Murphy arrived at Edwards Air Force Base. Steven, an, a librarian at Duke University, explained all of this to me, at least from her notes.

S29: He said Murphy’s Law. And he said it twice. And he said, I’ve always liked Murphy’s Law, which kind of suggests that he said it before somewhere.

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S6: So basically, a man who seemed even using Murphy’s Law for years popped up months before the IMEX 981 team supposedly created Murphy’s Law.

S30: I have to admit, when I first saw this, I just was not having it. It sounds plausible, but but but there are so many people who agree on the origins of Murphy’s Law. Who remember it. Who were there? Isn’t that irrefutable? How can you nit pick that fat on these granular killjoy details?

S9: I said it more nicely, though. So the thing about the Nikbakht story that’s that’s convincing to me is just that it seems like there’s so many people who are telling the same story.

S29: So it’s possible that this thing was floating around and upturns this guy named Murphy and they attached something that somehow somebody had got wind of. In other words, even if their memory is totally correct, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the first time that this statement was called Murphy’s Law.

S9: It’s like, imagine this guy, Captain Edward Murphy. He says a phrase that is kind of like an existing phrase. It’s already called Murphy’s Law. But what if not everyone on the Amex 981 team was familiar with that law? One of them hazily remembered it. Someone on the team might have connected the dots between the two. Murphy’s. Not exactly knowingly or certainly without anyone else knowing it. And suddenly there would be a new origin story for an existing law.

S4: If something like this did happen, then it’s not that Nick Spark was too late to fully uncover the origins of Murphy’s Law is that it was always too late to uncover the origins of Murphy’s Law, because it’s not just a mystery, it’s a miscommunication. If everyone who worked on the AirMax 981 team could be interviewed right now, we still might not know what happened. And God, isn’t that so unsatisfying?

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S31: And we don’t know whether there was a real Murphy. It sounds good because there was this army guy or Air Force guy named Murphy, but Murphy might have been just a stereotypical Irishman or something.

S6: This would take the origin story all the way around where Nick Sparks started from.

S5: And I just thought that was crazy story. I mean, I would just dismissed it immediately because if there was a Murphy, this is just, um, mythical Irish figure Nick.

S6: For his part, is not ready to go there.

S5: I I really do think that Murphy’s Law came out of these tests because, dammit, there was a guy there named Murphy. All these engineers were talking constantly about these funny little laws.

S7: And and and you had somebody who was interacting with the press and and was a public figure who was doubting these things all the time.

S5: Dr. Stamp, who, you know, probably is he probably really is the guy most responsible for getting Murphy’s Law out in the world.

S6: This last part about Dr. Stop’s role in popularizing Murphy’s Law. That’s mostly trail. So I’m going to turn to that now. How Murphy’s Law, wherever it comes from, conquered the world. After Murphy’s visit to Edwards in late 1949, Murphy’s Law quickly became an inside joke and sage piece of wisdom within the IMEX 981 team. And then John Paul stopped, transmitted it to the public during the years of the rocket sled tests. Stop became very famous. Kerry was this heroic, noble, down to earth doctor who not for nothing, was also good with the media. In 1954, he would appear on the cover of Time magazine as the fastest man in the world. He would go on to be featured in episode of This Is Your Life. There was a bad Hollywood movie based on him called On the Threshold of Space, which had a scene dramatizing the final sled test or stop almost lost his eyesight.

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S32: I guess I won’t need a seeing eye dog after all.

S6: So in 1950, when stap mentioned Murphy’s Law at a press conference, everyone made it up.

S33: Craig Ryan, Stop’s biographer, again, one of the reporters asked them how they managed to do this without hurting people. Steps said We do our work in consideration of the Murphy’s Law. If anything can go wrong, Will DesJarlais step said in the Dakotas. Love the line. And so they kind of grabbed it. They printed it. They meant to get an aide. They called her star staff and called it there.

S34: And that was where it was first publicly and similarly stated. And it got out. So we went from there.

S4: The law started to appear in articles and became particularly popular among engineers and scientists. It was on its way, but it got another boost of attention in 1977 when a man named Arthur BLOCK published a book called Murphy’s Law All the Reasons Everything Goes Wrong. It’s a collection of aphorisms, dozens of other cute little laws like Murphy’s. It’s probably what’s most responsible for spreading Murphy’s Law around the world. It’s had a dozen spinoffs and been published in 32 countries. It’s also the book The Next Neighbor Left on his doorstep, the one that has a preface containing George Nicoles version of events. That preface came to be because unsolicited, Nichols wrote a letter to block the author, asking if he wanted to know the origins of Murphy’s Law. His explanation is quoted at length in the preface, where became a breadcrumb left for Nick to find 30ish years later. The book Restocked Interest in John Postop involvement as well. Even though stap did not like talking about it.

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S35: Craig Ryan again, did you ever want to talk about Murphy’s Law? He thought it was. He thought it kind of overshadowed what was more important work that he did. He thought it was a trivial thing. He would like to talk about it.

S4: That work was really important in the years after the rocket sled tests. Would take all that he learned about safety harnesses and the effects of force on the human body and apply them to something else. Automobiles.

S36: He learned at some point that Miller Air Force officers were being killed in car crashes and were dying in aircraft accidents.

S37: We were losing 50000 people a year in America. Are our roads, highways were slaughterhouses. We had these cars that were going to 40 miles an hour. There were no seatbelts in them. It was just insane. Everyone else was looking at how do we prevent car crashes and steps that look, I’m not that interested. We. Car crashes, but I’m interested in is when the inevitable crash does happen. How can we keep the people inside their car from dying or suffering injury?

S38: That strikes me as being just in talking at the Murphy’s Law stuff and thinking about reliability testing and like how engineers think about things like you have to be ready for the worst thing to happen. Always think you can’t say like he’s saying like, okay, what’s the worst thing happens then? What do we how are we prepared for that? And that’s where you see the elephant kind of being like, let’s pretend the worst thing is not going to happen at all.

S39: Yeah. And that was where the car company Swirsky ended up repeatedly going to the United States Congress to testify for the safety committees to try to tell them what needed to happen. We need to get these car companies to put seatbelts in their cars and make mandatory factory installed equipment stops.

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S6: Advocacy eventually helped lead to the creation of the Department of Transportation. In 1966, he became the number three man there.

S39: He forced them to put the seatbelts in the cars, so Congress eventually airbags.

S40: It’s a real legacy. There are people that will get a problem that they do. John Paul step as indirectly so more lives than anyone in the history of the world. He brought auto safety to America.

S6: You can understand why for stop, Murphy’s Law might not have rated as a great accomplishment.

S17: When you’re working on an episode about Murphy’s Law, people make a lot of jokes about things going wrong, about audio being deleted, documents disappearing, accidents befalling. One thing I learned from doing this is that I have a really hard time believing in Murphy’s Law. Like in my bones. Yes, things can go wrong and they often do. But I move to the world expecting that they’ll mostly behave themselves, thinking most problems have potential resolutions, imagining that every quest can come to a satisfying conclusion that if you uncover enough information, anything can be decoded. It’s not true, of course, and in many ways the story proves that it’s an example of Murphy’s Law. As we’ve come to understand it in action, it’s all about things going wrong. Nick Sparks set out to solve this mystery, only to find it’s not 100 percent solvable in the process. He learned how this phrase got twisted from something optimistic into something pessimistic. How it turned to colleagues and collaborators into enemies. How obscured a heroic man’s best work and how much people want to believe. The most colorful tale, not necessarily the truest, but this story also contains an example of Murphy’s Law, as it was originally intended in action that you can keep things from going wrong. If you prepare for them, that’s what the IMX 981 team did. They didn’t just talk about Murphy’s Law, think they invented it and popularize it. They surmounted it, heating it helped them. They took on this huge problem and made headway on it. One backup plan at a time. They kept stap and the other rocket sled riders safe. Their work contributed to the safety of everyone who gets into a car. It’s pretty uplifting stuff, but their understanding of the law has faded out so completely. It seems to me we might be in need of an update. Call it Murphy’s corollary. Things do have a tendency to go wrong, but they don’t have to.

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S5: It’s fascinating. You know, where where did this come from? I’m I’m pretty satisfied with the work I did. But, you know, I can’t really. You know, I can’t ever say that it’s like definitive. It’s as definitive as anything can be. That’s as slippery as an whaled pig.

S30: This is decoder ring and Willa Paskin. You can find me on Twitter at Willa Paskin. And if you have any cultural mysteries you want us to decode. You can e-mail us at Decoder Ring at Slate.com. If you haven’t yet, subscribe and read our feed and apple podcasts or ever you get your podcasts and even better tell your friends. This podcast was written by Willa Paskin and was produced and edited by Benjamin Fresh, who also does illustrations for every episode. Cleo Levin is our research assistant. Thanks to June Thomas Arthur BLOCK and a very special thanks to Nick Spark, whose book A History of Murphy’s Law You Should Buy. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you in February of the New Year.