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Life is a Bell Curve

There are a couple of laws of nature that, if observed, help make life just a little bit more enjoyable because they are the keys that unlock the mysterious.

Now, this isn’t Murphy’s Law whereby whichever checkout line you choose will inevitably be the slowest. I wish I could crack that mystery, though.  Instead, these are laws that seem to prevail regardless of human intervention like the 80/20 rule, known scientifically as the Pareto Principle, a theory that says 80% of the effects of something occur as a result of 20% of the inputs.  Anybody that has been a part of any team-based project knows this one by heart. Another is the “Gaussian distribution” which is better known as the “Bell Curve” or “normal distribution.”  This basically says distribution of a large number of basic random processes follow a general and natural symmetry, akin to the shape of a bell.

Think about the normal distribution in terms of any pop culture item—a music band, an actor, a phenomena like the DaVinci Code, etc.  There’s a slow build up, there’s a peak (critical acclaim or popular opinion) and then there’s a descent.

That’s life. 

This becomes important because the Wall Street Journal article about Robert Parker today rekindled last months kerfuffle about Parker and his influence.  Now, mind you, on the surface, this was about Parker and ethical standards, but below the simmering surface this becomes an issue of anti-Parker hostility and sticking the shovel in the dirt to get the first toss of earth.

Is Parker’s influence on the wane?  Of course it is, he’s been at the peak of his game for 20 years.  Bloggers have nothing to do with it, if bloggers didn’t exist it would be some other form of communication that’s beginning its ascent up the normal distribution curve.  Yes, of course, Parker’s on the slide down the other side of the curve.  But, that’s where legacy comes in, and it cannot be understated—his legacy will prevail long after he’s gone.

Who the eff is Carl Friedrich Gauss?  I have no idea, but his normal distribution idea lives long after he does.

Methinks those that use Parker as a lightning rod and dump bucket for a larger conversation on his influence and the 100 point scale might be better off letting the law of normal distribution continue its natural course while assailing just the 100 pt. scale.  Parker will fade soon enough.


Previous post on this topic: 
On Legacies, Music and the 100-pt Scale

What I Wrote About a Year Ago:
Vin de Napkin - R.I.P. Wine-ing 2.0

Elin McCoy, Author of The Emperor of Wine, on Parker:
Via Viddler and David Horowitz


Posted in, Around the Wine Blogosphere. Permalink | Comments (10) |


On 05/26, Vinogirl wrote:

I love your blackboard bell curve, very clever.

On 05/26, mydailywine wrote:

Yes, Parker had a nice long ride on the bucking bronco of wine writing. And he was an iconoclast in his day.

On 05/27, beth - the wine school wrote:

thank you, thank you, thank you.  truly refreshing (and needed) take on the whole “kerfuffle” (and thanks for that, as well!).

On 05/27, Dr. Horowitz wrote:

Thanks for the link!

Nice drawing!

If Parker is waning then will this be the last time people talk about him this much?  I doubt it.

On 05/27, Hardy / Dirty wrote:

Great graph-

I credit RMP’s slide less to bloggers than to a perfect storm—
-05 BDX (to some extent 05 Burg too) hype (futures and pricing out of control)

-Tanking econ (people needing to dump wine, and can’t get $.50 on the dollar for what they paid). Also, interest in highly scored wines (with big price tags) way down, due to being burnt and less available $.

-Weaker 06, with still high pricing (who cares what you have to say when few are interested in buying)

-The market that is growing in Gen Y (and some X) and RMP is not their guy.

-The market that is getting decimated are the RMP readers who are looking more into their retirement accounts vs what is in their cellars)

-The conversation isn’t eBob or msg boards anymore- It is everywhere.

-Bad publicity / Worse reaction RMP’s travelgate will be looked at years from now as to “What not to do when a Sh*z storm blows your way”

On 05/27, tom merle wrote:

Parker, like theater critic Clive Barnes years ago in the NY Times, has an outsized influence in his field which happens to be wine. Those who challenge his dominance are like gnats buzzing around his head or dogs barking.  He shoes them away and continues to rule.  Stating that his influence is on the wane does not make it so. Where’s the evidence (the changing scene is not evidence)?  Yes, there is more commentary, and the youngsters don’t have an interest in his pronouncements, but when it comes to making or breaking a release or a vintage, he still sets the standard (and I don’t read him myself).  Parker will cease being so powerful when he chooses to retire.

The dogs bark but the caravan moves on.

On 05/27, Hardy / Dirty wrote:


I think if you asked any winemaker in Australia if RMP’s influence is starting to wane and their response would be a deafening yes.

Yes, he is still King Kong, but he is mostly irrelevant to the groups of wine drinkers that are growing (Gen Y/X grew by 30% last year), and he matters mostly to the part that is shrinking fastest.  I think that = a loss of influence in the overall picture.

On 05/27, Laurie Tadayon wrote:

The blackboard bell curve is a cool visual.  Well done. 

I don’t think Robert Parker’s 100 point scale will ever entirely fade.  Wine consumers will continue to be dazzled by wines with high numbers.  It’s a feature we recognize and a standard some put their trust in for a “good” bottle of wine.

Parker’s opinion will simply no longer be the resounding voice of authority.  We will have more opinions to consider and more knowledge to form our own.  I look forward to the day when a wine blogger’s notes appear on a shelf talker, even if alongside the 100 point scale.

On 01/10, contractor mortgages wrote:

It seems that everybody is into this kind of stuff lately. Don’t really understand it though, but thanks for trying to explain it. Appreciate you shedding light into this matter. Keep up your work.

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