Darwin observed that multiple, lowly organized, rudimentary, or exaggerated structures show increased relative variability. However, the cellular basis for these laws has never been investigated. Some animals, such as the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, are famous for having organs that possess the same number of cells in all individuals, a property known as eutely. But for most multicellular creatures, the extent of cell number variability is unknown. Here we estimate variability in organ cell number for a variety of animals, plants, slime moulds, and volvocine algae. We ﬁnd that the mean and variance in cell number obey a power law with an exponent of 2, comparable to Taylor’s law in ecological processes. Relative cell number variability, as measured by the coefﬁcient of variation, differs widely across taxa and tissues, but is generally independent of mean cell number among homologous tissues of closely related species. We show that the power law for cell number variability can be explained by stochastic branching process models based on the properties of cell lineages. We also identify taxa in which the precision of developmental control appears to have evolved. We propose that the scale independence of relative cell number variability is maintained by natural selection.