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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index G > Martin Gardner Quotes

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Martin Gardner
(21 Oct 1914 - 22 May 2010)

American science writer who wrote the highly popular mathematical games column for Scientific American for 25 years. Though never an academic, and having never formally studied mathematics or science, he has written widely on both subjects, including such popular books as The Ambidextrous Universe and The Relativity Explosion.


Science Quotes by Martin Gardner (45 quotes)

The Annotated Alice, of course, does tie in with math, because Lewis Carroll was, as you know, a professional mathematician. So it wasn’t really too far afield from recreational math, because the two books are filled with all kinds of mathematical jokes. I was lucky there in that I really didn’t have anything new to say in The Annotated Alice because I just looked over the literature and pulled together everything in the form of footnotes. But it was a lucky idea because that’s been the best seller of all my books.
— Martin Gardner
In Anthony Barcellos, 'A Conversation with Martin Gardner', The Two-Year College Mathematics Journal (Sep 1979), 10, No. 4, 241.
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A surprising proportion of mathematicians are accomplished musicians. Is it because music and mathematics share patterns that are beautiful?
— Martin Gardner
In 'Introduction' contributed to Donald J. Albers and Gerald L. Alexanderson, More Mathematical People: Contemporary Conversations (1990), xi.
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Although Lewis Carroll thought of The Hunting of the Snark as a nonsense ballad for children, it is hard to imagine—in fact one shudders to imagine—a child of today reading and enjoying it.
— Martin Gardner
In 'Introduction', The Annotated Snark (1962), 11.
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As Bertrand Russell once wrote, two plus two is four even in the interior of the sun.
— Martin Gardner
In When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish: And Other Speculations About This and That (2009), 124.
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As I have often said, electrons and gerbils don’t cheat.
— Martin Gardner
In 'Science: Why I Am Not A Paranormalist', The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener (1983), Chap. 3, 64.
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Bad science contributes to the steady dumbing down of our nation. Crude beliefs get transmitted to political leaders and the result is considerable damage to society. We see this happening now in the rapid rise of the religious right and how it has taken over large segments of the Republican Party.
— Martin Gardner
As quoted in Kendrick Frazier, 'A Mind at Play: An Interview with Martin Gardner', Skeptical Inquirer (Mar/Apr 1998), 22, No. 2, 37.
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Biographical history, as taught in our public schools, is still largely a history of boneheads: ridiculous kings and queens, paranoid political leaders, compulsive voyagers, ignorant generals—the flotsam and jetsam of historical currents. The men who radically altered history, the great creative scientists and mathematicians, are seldom mentioned if at all.
— Martin Gardner
Opening paragraph of book review, 'Adventures Of a Mathematician: The Man Who Invented the H-Bomb', New York Times (9 May 1976), 201.
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Chess combines the beauty of mathematical structure with the recreational delights of a competitive game.
— Martin Gardner
In 'Preface', Mathematics, Magic, and Mystery (1956), ix.
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Consider a cow. A cow doesn’t have the problem-solving skill of a chimpanzee, which has discovered how to get termites out of the ground by putting a stick into a hole. Evolution has developed the brain’s ability to solve puzzles, and at the same time has produced in our brain a pleasure of solving problems.
— Martin Gardner
In John Tierney, 'For Decades, Puzzling People With Mathematics', New York Times (20 Oct 2009), D2.
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Debunking bad science should be constant obligation of the science community, even if it takes time away from serious research or seems to be a losing battle. One takes comfort from the fact there is no Gresham’s laws in science. In the long run, good science drives out bad.
— Martin Gardner
In preamble to 'Part III: Pseudoscience', The Night Is Large: Collected Essays 1938-1995 (1996), 171.
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Ever since I was a boy, I’ve been fascinated by crazy science and such things as perpetual motion machines and logical paradoxes. I’ve always enjoyed keeping up with those ideas. I suppose I didn’t get into it seriously until I wrote my first book, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. I was influenced by the Dianetics movement, now called Scientology, which was then promoted by John Campbell in Astounding Science Fiction. I was astonished at how rapidly the thing had become a cult.
— Martin Gardner
In Scot Morris, 'Interview: Martin Gardner', Omni, 4, No. 4 (Jan 1982), 68.
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I believe that the human mind, or even the mind of a cat, is more interesting in its complexity than an entire galaxy if it is devoid of life.
— Martin Gardner
In Kendrick Frazier, 'A Mind at Play: An Interview with Martin Gardner', Skeptical Inquirer (Mar/Apr 1998), 37.
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I can’t think of any definition of the words mathematician or scientist that would apply to me. I think of myself as a journalist who knows just enough about mathematics to be able to take low-level math and make it clear and interesting to nonmathematicians. Let me say that I think not knowing too much about a subject is an asset for a journalist, not a liability. The great secret of my column is that I know so little about mathematics that I have to work hard to understand the subject myself. Maybe I can explain things more clearly than a professional mathematician can.
— Martin Gardner
In Scot Morris, 'Interview: Martin Gardner', Omni, 4, No. 4 (Jan 1982), 68.
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I don’t know whether there is a finite set of basic laws of physics or whether there are infinite sets of structure like an infinite set of Chinese boxes. Will the electron turn out to have an interior structure? I wish I knew!
— Martin Gardner
In Kendrick Frazier, 'A Mind at Play: An Interview with Martin Gardner', Skeptical Inquirer (Mar/Apr 1998), 37.
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I have recently read an article on handwriting and forgeries in which it is stated that ink eradicators do not remove ink: but merely bleach it, and that ink so bleached can be easily brought out by a process of fuming: known to all handwriting experts. Can you give me a description of this process, what chemicals are used: and how it is performed?
— Martin Gardner
Showing his early interest in science, at age 16, while a student at Tulsa Central High School. From the first time Gardner’s writing appeared in print: a query printed in a magazine in Hugo Gernsback (ed.), 'Now It Is Now It Isn’t', Science and Invention (Apr 1930), 1119. As quoted and cited in Dana Richards, 'Martin Gardner: A “Documentary”', collected in Elwyn R. Berlekamp and Tom Rodgers (ed.) The Mathemagician and Pied Puzzler: A Collection in Tribute to Martin Gardner (1999), 3.
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I think of myself as a journalist who writes mainly about math and science, and a few other fields of interest.
— Martin Gardner
In Kendrick Frazier, 'A Mind at Play: An Interview with Martin Gardner', Skeptical Inquirer (Mar/Apr 1998), 22, No. 2, 36.
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I think popular belief in bogus sciences is steadily increasing. … Almost every paper except the New York Times, not to mention dozens of magazines, features a horoscope column. Professional astrologers now outnumber astronomers.
— Martin Gardner
As quoted in Kendrick Frazier, 'A Mind at Play: An Interview with Martin Gardner', Skeptical Inquirer (Mar/Apr 1998), 22, No. 2, 37.
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Ideologues of all persuasions think they know how the economy will respond to the Administration’s strange mixture of Lafferism and monetarism. Indeed, their self-confidence is so vast, and their ability to rationalize so crafty, that one cannot imagine a scenario for the next few years, that they would regard as falsifying their dogma. The failure of any prediction can always be blamed on quirky political decisions or unforeseen historical events.
— Martin Gardner
In 'Mathematical Games: The Laffer Curve', Scientific American (Dec 1981), 245, No. 6, 30. Collected in The Night Is Large: Collected Essays, 1938-1995 (1997), 135.
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If all sentient beings in the universe disappeared, there would remain a sense in which mathematical objects and theorems would continue to exist even though there would be no one around to write or talk about them. Huge prime numbers would continue to be prime, even if no one had proved them prime.
— Martin Gardner
In When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish: And Other Speculations About This and That (), 124.
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If you look over my Scientific American columns you will see that they get progressively more sophisticated as I began reading math books and learning more about the subject. There is no better way to learn anything than to write about it!
— Martin Gardner
In Kendrick Frazier, 'A Mind at Play: An Interview with Martin Gardner', Skeptical Inquirer (Mar/Apr 1998), 22, No. 2, 36.
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Imagine Aristotle revivified and visiting Manhattan. Nothing in our social, political, economic, artistic, sexual or religious life would mystify him, but he would be staggered by our technology. Its products—skyscrapers, cars, airplanes, television, pocket calculators—would have been impossible without calculus.
— Martin Gardner
In book review, 'Adventures Of a Mathematician: The Man Who Invented the H-Bomb', New York Times (9 May 1976), 201.
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In many cases a dull proof can be supplemented by a geometric analogue so simple and beautiful that the truth of a theorem is almost seen at a glance.
— Martin Gardner
In 'Mathematical Games', Scientific American (Oct 1973), 229, 114.
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In the medical field [scientific ignorance] could lead to horrendous results. People who don’t understand the difference between a controlled experiment and claims by some quack may die as a result of not taking medical science seriously. One of the most damaging examples of pseudoscience is false memory syndrome. I’m on the board of a foundation exposing this problem.
— Martin Gardner
As quoted by Lawrence Toppman, 'Mastermind', The Charlotte Observer (20 Jun 1993), 6E. As quoted and cited in Dana Richards, 'Martin Gardner: A “Documentary”', collected in Elwyn R. Berlekamp and Tom Rodgers (ed.) The Mathemagician and Pied Puzzler: A Collection in Tribute to Martin Gardner (1999), 11.
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It took me so long to understand what I was writing about, that I knew how to write about it so most readers would understand it.
— Martin Gardner
As quoted in Alex Bellos, 'Martin Gardner Obituary', The Guardian (27 May 2010)
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I’ve never consciously tried to keep myself out of anything I write, and I’ve always talked clearly when people interview me. I don’t think my life is too interesting. It’s lived mainly inside my brain.
— Martin Gardner
As quoted by Lawrence Toppman, 'Mastermind', The Charlotte Observer (20 Jun 1993), 1E, 6E. As quoted and cited in Dana Richards, 'Martin Gardner: A “Documentary”', collected in Elwyn R. Berlekamp and Tom Rodgers (ed.) The Mathemagician and Pied Puzzler: A Collection in Tribute to Martin Gardner (1999), 3.
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I’ve never made a discovery myself, unless by accident. If you write glibly, you fool people. When I first met Asimov, I asked him if he was a professor at Boston University. He said no and … asked me where I got my Ph.D. I said I didn’t have one and he looked startled. “You mean you’re in the same racket I am,” he said, “you just read books by the professors and rewrite them?” That’s really what I do.
— Martin Gardner
Quoted in Sally Helgeson, 'Every Day', Bookletter (6 Dec 1976), 3, No. 8, 3. As quoted and cited in Dana Richards, 'Martin Gardner: A “Documentary”', collected in Elwyn R. Berlekamp and Tom Rodgers (ed.) The Mathemagician and Pied Puzzler: A Collection in Tribute to Martin Gardner (1999), 8-9.
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Just as knowing how a magic trick is done spoils its wonder, so let us be grateful that wherever science and reason turn they finally plunge into darkness.
— Martin Gardner
John Mitchinson and John Lloyd, If Ignorance Is Bliss, Why Aren’t There More Happy People?: Smart Quotes for Dumb Times (2009), 274.
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Many professional mathematicians regard their work as a form of play, in the same way professional golfers or basketball stars might.
— Martin Gardner
In his final retrospective article, 'A Quarter-Century of Recreational Mathematics', Scientific American (Aug 1998).
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Mathematical magic combines the beauty of mathematical structure with the entertainment value of a trick.
— Martin Gardner
In 'Preface', Mathematics, Magic, and Mystery (1956), ix. Webmaster checked the actual page, in the 1956 edition, and there Gardner plainly uses the beginning words “Mathematical magic.” On page 113, Gardner credits Royal V. Heath for originating the term “Mathemagic,” used as Heath’s book title in 1933. Anywhere you see the quote incorrectly beginning with “Mathemagical mathematics…” or saying Gardner coined the term “mathemagical” obviously did not check the primary source.
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Mathematics is not only real, but it is the only reality. That is that entire universe is made of matter, obviously. And matter is made of particles. It’s made of electrons and neutrons and protons. So the entire universe is made out of particles. Now what are the particles made out of? They’re not made out of anything. The only thing you can say about the reality of an electron is to cite its mathematical properties. So there’s a sense in which matter has completely dissolved and what is left is just a mathematical structure.
— Martin Gardner
In 'Gardner on Gardner: JPBM Communications Award Presentation', Focus-The Newsletter of the Mathematical Association of America (Dec 1994), 14, No. 6. Also, first sentence as filler, with citation, after Washek F. Pfeffer, 'A Devil's Platform', The American Mathematical Monthly (Dec 2008), 115, No. 10, 947.
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Mathematics, a creation of the mind, so accurately fits the outside world. … [There is a] fantastic amount of uniformity in the universe. The formulas of physics are compressed descriptions of nature's weird repetitions. The accuracy of those formulas, coupled with nature’s tireless ability to keep doing everything the same way, gives them their incredible power.
— Martin Gardner
In book review, 'Adventures Of a Mathematician: The Man Who Invented the H-Bomb', New York Times (9 May 1976), 201. The book is a biography of Stanislaw Ulam, and this is Gardner’s description of one of Ulam’s reflections on nature and mathematics.
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Phrenology is the only major pseudoscience I know about that once flourished around the world and has since faded away.
— Martin Gardner
In Kendrick Frazier, 'A Mind at Play: An Interview with Martin Gardner', Skeptical Inquirer (Mar/Apr 1998), 37.
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Politicians, real-estate agents, used-car salesmen, and advertising copy-writers are expected to stretch facts in self-serving directions, but scientists who falsify their results are regarded by their peers as committing an inexcusable crime. Yet the sad fact is that the history of science swarms with cases of outright fakery and instances of scientists who unconsciously distorted their work by seeing it through lenses of passionately held beliefs.
— Martin Gardner
In 'Great Fakes Of Science', Science Good, Bad and Bogus (1983), 123. Excerpted in John Carey (ed.), Eyewitness to Science (1995), 451.
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Politicians, real-estate agents, used-car salesmen, and advertising copy-writers are expected to stretch facts in self-serving directions, but scientists who falsify their results are regarded by their peers as committing an inexcusable crime. Yet the sad fact is that the history of science swarms with cases of outright fakery and instances of scientists who unconsciously distorted their work by seeing it through lenses of passionately held beliefs.
— Martin Gardner
Science Good, Bad and Bogus (1981), 123.
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Speaking about symmetry, look out our window, and you may see a cardinal attacking its reflection in the window. The cardinal is the only bird we have who often does this. If it has a nest nearby, the cardinal thinks there is another cardinal trying to invade its territory. It never realizes it is attacking its own reflection. Cardinals don’t know much about mirror symmetry!
— Martin Gardner
In István Hargittai, 'A Great Communicator of Mathematics and Other Games: A Conversation with Martin Gardner', The Mathematical Intelligencer. (1997), 194(4), 36-40. Quoted in István and Magdolna Hargittai, In Our Own Image (2000), 9.
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Superstrings are totally lacking in empirical support, yet they offer an elegant theory with great explanatory power. I wish I could be around fifty years from now to know whether superstrings turn out to be a fruitful theory or whether they are just another blind alley in the search for a “theory of everything.”
— Martin Gardner
As quoted in Kendrick Frazier, 'A Mind at Play: An Interview with Martin Gardner', Skeptical Inquirer (Mar/Apr 1998), 22, No. 2, 37.
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Suppose physics soon succeeds, as Stephen Hawking and a few other physicists hope and believe, in reducing physics to a single equation or a small set of equations that will “explain” all of nature’s fundamental laws. We can then ask the unanswerable question, "Why this set of equations?”
— Martin Gardner
In Introduction, The Night Is Large: Collected Essays 1938-1995 (1996), xvii.
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Thanks to the freedom of our press and the electronic media, the voices of cranks are often louder and clearer than the voices of genuine scientists. Crank books—on how to lose weight without cutting down on calories, on how to talk to plants, on how to cure your ailments by rubbing your feet, on how to apply horoscopes to your pets, on how to use ESP in making business decisions, on how to sharpen razor blades by putting them under little models of the great Pyramid of Egypt—far outsell many books… I reserve the right of moral indignation.
— Martin Gardner
As quoted, without citation, in obituary by Morton Schatzman, 'Martin Gardner: Scientific and Philosophical Writer Celebrated for his Ingenious Mathematical Puzzles and Games', Independent (28 May 2010).
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The greatest scandal of the century in American psychiatry … is the growing mania among thousands of inept therapists, family counselors, and social workers for arousing false memories of childhood sexual abuse.
— Martin Gardner
In 'Notes of a Fringe-Watcher: The Tragedies of False Memories', Skeptical Inquirer (Fall 1994), 18, 464.
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The last level of metaphor in the Alice books is this: that life, viewed rationally and without illusion, appears to be a nonsense tale told by an idiot mathematician. At the heart of things science finds only a mad, never-ending quadrille of Mock Turtle Waves and Gryphon Particles. For a moment the waves and particles dance in grotesque, inconceivably complex patterns capable of reflecting on their own absurdity.
— Martin Gardner
In 'Introduction', The Annotated Alice (1974), viii.
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The line between entertaining math and serious math is a blurry one.
— Martin Gardner
His final retrospective article, 'A Quarter-Century of Recreational Mathematics', Scientific American (Aug 1998).
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The universe is made of particles and fields about which nothing can be said except to describe their mathematical structures. In a sense, the entire universe is made of mathematics. If the particles and fields are not made of mathematical structure, then please tell me what you think they are made of!
— Martin Gardner
As quoted in Kendrick Frazier, 'A Mind at Play: An Interview with Martin Gardner', Skeptical Inquirer (Mar/Apr 1998), 22, No. 2, 39.
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There are, and always have been, destructive pseudo-scientific notions linked to race and religion; these are the most widespread and damaging. Hopefully, educated people can succeed in shedding light into these areas of prejudice and ignorance, for as Voltaire once said: “Men will commit atrocities as long as they believe absurdities.”
— Martin Gardner
From an article in a periodical of Miami-Dade Junior College by Bernard Sussman, 'Exclusive Interview with Martin Gardner', Southwind (Fall 1968), 3, No. 1, 7-11. As quoted and cited in Dana Richards, 'Martin Gardner: A “Documentary”', collected in Elwyn R. Berlekamp and ‎Tom Rodgers (ed.) The Mathemagician and Pied Puzzler: A Collection in Tribute to Martin Gardner (1999), 11.
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There is still a difference between something and nothing, but it is purely geometrical and there is nothing behind the geometry.
— Martin Gardner
In The Mathematical Magic Show (1977), 21.
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Why does the universe, as Hawking has recently phrased it, go to all the bother of existing? Why is there something rather than nothing? Things would be so much simpler if nothing, absolutely nothing, existed, not even a God.
— Martin Gardner
In Introduction, The Night Is Large: Collected Essays 1938-1995 (1996), xvii.
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Quotes by others about Martin Gardner (5)

Martin Gardner is one of the greatest intellects produced in this country in this century.
As quoted in Kendrick Frazier, 'A Mind at Play: An Interview with Martin Gardner', Skeptical Inquirer (Mar/Apr 1998), 22, No. 2, 36.
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[Martin Gardner is] the single brightest beacon defending rationality and good science against the mysticism and anti-intellectualism that surround us.
As quoted in Kendrick Frazier, 'A Mind at Play: An Interview with Martin Gardner', Skeptical Inquirer (Mar/Apr 1998), 22, No. 2, 36.
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For more than half a century, Martin Gardner has been the single brightest beacon defending rationality and good science against the mysticism and anti-intellectualism that surround us.
As quoted on the back cover of several of the books by Martin Gardner.
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Gardner writes about various kinds of cranks with the conscious superiority of the scientist…. He asserts that the scientist, unlike the crank, does his best to remain open-minded, so how can he be so sure that no sane person has ever seen a flying saucer…? … A.J. Ayer once remarked wryly “I wish I was as certain of anything as he seems to be about everything”.
In The Quest For Wilhelm Reich (1981), 2.
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He was not a mathematician–he never even took a maths class after high school–yet Martin Gardner, who has died aged 95, was arguably the most influential and inspirational figure in mathematics in the second half of the last century.
In 'Martin Gardner Obituary', The Guardian (27 May 2010)
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See also:
  • 21 Oct - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Gardner's birth.
  • Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner, by Martin Gardner, Persi Diaconis, James Randi. - book suggestion.
  • Booklist for Martin Gardner.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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