Everybody else, less addicted than I to annoying alliteration, calls it Pareto’s Law, or the 80/20 Rule. A curious phenomenon first noticed in the 19th century by an Italian sociologist, Wilfedo Pareto, it has become a rule of thumb for people in all walks of life, notably in business, where it would appear generally applicable to the ratio of the profits made from a company’s products. It seems that just 20% of the products produce 80% of the profits. Identical unexpected ratios have been discovered in similar serious domains, but inevitably the wags will say, for example, that at best 20% of my blog Reflections deserve to be read, while the other 80% make no sense at all.
A recent Reflection was devoted to Gall-Stones. At the time of writing this, I am resting between two operations. The first harvested two magnicent specimens, and next week I hope the third’s products will also end up on display on my mantle-piece. Since the operation a week ago, my convalescence has allowed me to do some reading and writing but also viewing of TV programs which I would otherwise have never seen. Thank Whatever, French TV offers quite a few first-class nature studies produced by the BBC. Prime-time viewers would never see them, as they are screened at unlikely hours such as 3:30 in the afternoon. One I saw brought Pareto’s Law to mind. I hope that what I have to say about it figures among the 20% of this blog (perhaps) worth reading.
The subject was seals in the Antarctic, and specifically their breeding habits. Thousands of these noble creatures fill the beaches of remote islands during the mating season, and film-crews have been able to record not only their rituals but especially the competition between dominant males and young challengers intent on the copulation and fecondation which is the point of their existence. I witnessed a few bloody battles and the shameful retreat of several frustrated, conquered, banished intruders. I discovered that only 20% of the male population succeed in siring the subsequent seal generation.
The well-known prolific waste in nature is an extraordinary guarantee of the survival of species and the survival of the fittest. It is, however, a quantum leap to jump to the conclusion that this is intended by an Intelligent Designer, let alone that Pareto’s Law is part of His master-plan for seals.