Peter Principle


This post was inspired by this latest piece of offensive nonsense from Australia’s Pope-in-waiting, the awe-full Cardinal P-ll. It compares the pathways to the top of their professions followed by scientists and religious leaders.

To get promotion
Religious leaders – on the way up show absolute willingness to obey, follow, believe, totally accept authority. Are fearful. Reach top by being able to demonstrate more than your rivals that you completely accept dogmatically every piece of dogma, that you are in fact holier than the pope. Remain unchanged as the world changes, in fact go backwards where possible. Apply old conclusions to new issues.

Leading scientists – on the way up show an ability to question, investigate, and an inability to accept authority, even the highest authority and the most popularly accepted theories. Lack fear. Reach top by overturning old theories, ideas, authorities. Change as data changes, ideas shift, debates are won or lost. Apply new hypotheses to old problems.

Increasingly I find, as I age (as gracefully as a belly-flop from a diving board), that I do all my best writing when I have no access to a keyboard or even a pencil. Driving down the highway, or drifting fitfully into sleep, blog posts spring unbidden, fully-formed – metaphors, clever titles, literary allusions, and all – into my head. Only to disappear almost entirely, leaving only a lingering taste like a madeleine, when I reach my destination, or shake my sleepy head, and put fingers to keyboard ready to reconstruct the masterpiece.

The above post was one of those. I have put back together what I can, but it is a mere ghost of a post, a shadow of its former bedtime glory. Perhaps next time I sleep, perchance to blog, more of it will return to beguile you. Or perhaps my more wide-awake readers, keyboards at the ready, can add to my lists.

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4 comments on “Peter Principle

  1. Queen of Fractal Beauty says:

    Glad to hear I’m not the only one with this blogging issue. I seem to do my best blog writing while driving. Then I get home and can’t remember 90% of what I had in my head.


    • David Horton says:

      I was reduced, working on my second book, in long ago pre-blogging times, to try to keep a thought in my head long enough while driving to reach the next set of traffic lights, rummage hastily on the floor of the car for an old parking voucher, or in wallet for an old supermarket sales slip, find, after discarding a biro that didn’t work, a blunt, and small, pencil in the glove box, and scribbling a couple of hasty words before the lights turned green to try to remind myself of the great thought later. Sort of like searching for an old half smoked cigarette in my smoking days I suppose, an addiction to words though being somewhat less harmful. I guess.


  2. witsendnj says:

    Joe Romm of Climate Progress blogs driving around DC wearing his pajamas while using voice-recognition software (which he uses to excuse his spelling errors) I have it on good authority (mine – I made it up except for the voice-recognition software).

    As the ex-wife of a member of the National Academy of Science, and a reject from Real Climate and Tamino, I thank you for that list.


    • David Horton says:

      Yeah, I tried one of those little voice-activated recorders. Trouble was when I remembered to take it in the car it has a little known side-effect of completely suppressing brain wave activity, so it was only when I didn’t have it that the ideas came. Catch-22 or what!


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