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Who said: “Nature does nothing in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.”
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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index A > Category: Astronomer

Astronomer Quotes (50 quotes)

...by shortening the labours doubled the life of the astronomer.
On the benefit of Napier's logarithms.
Quoted in H. Eves, In Mathematical Circles (1969).
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A century ago astronomers, geologists, chemists, physicists, each had an island of his own, separate and distinct from that of every other student of Nature; the whole field of research was then an archipelago of unconnected units. To-day all the provinces of study have risen together to form a continent without either a ferry or a bridge.
From chapter 'Jottings from a Note-book', in Canadian Stories (1918), 182-183.
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A cosmic mystery of immense proportions, once seemingly on the verge of solution, has deepened and left astronomers and astrophysicists more baffled than ever. The crux ... is that the vast majority of the mass of the universe seems to be missing.
[Reporting a Nature article discrediting explanation of invisible mass being due to neutrinos]
In 'If Theory is Right, Most of Universe is Still “Missing”', New York Times (11 Sep 1984).
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According to astronomers, next week Wednesday will occur twice. They say such a thing happens only once every 60,000 years and although they don’t know why it occurs, they’re glad they have an extra day to figure it out.
In Napalm and Silly Putty (2002), 105.
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An undevout astronomer is mad.
…...
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As a confirmed astronomer
I’m always for a better sky.
From 'The Objection to Being Stepped On', collected in Edward Connery Latham (ed.), The Poetry of Robert Frost (1971), 451.

As a reminder to the prospective observer of extraterrestrial radio noise, I shall conclude by offering the following motto for radio astronomers (with apologies to Gertrude Stein): Signals in the grass, alas!
From address to the 101st Meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Gainesville, Florida (27 Dec 1958). Printed in 'An Account of the Discovery of Jupiter as a Radio Source', The Astronomical Journal (Mar 1959), 64, No. 2, 39.
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Astronomers = Moon Starers = No More Stars
Anagram
From 'The Anagram Hall of Fame' on the wordsmith.org website.
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Astronomers and physicists, dealing habitually with objects and quantities far beyond the reach of the senses, even with the aid of the most powerful aids that ingenuity has been able to devise, tend almost inevitably to fall into the ways of thinking of men dealing with objects and quantities that do not exist at all, e.g., theologians and metaphysicians. Thus their speculations tend almost inevitably to depart from the field of true science, which is that of precise observation, and to become mere soaring in the empyrean. The process works backward, too. That is to say, their reports of what they pretend actually to see are often very unreliable. It is thus no wonder that, of all men of science, they are the most given to flirting with theology. Nor is it remarkable that, in the popular belief, most astronomers end by losing their minds.
Minority Report: H. L. Mencken's Notebooks (1956), Sample 74, 60.
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Astronomers have built telescopes which can show myriads of stars unseen before; but when a man looks through a tear in his own eye, that is a lens which opens reaches into the unknown, and reveals orbs which no telescope, however skilfully constructed, could do.
Life Thoughts (1858), 20.
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Astronomers work always with the past; because light takes time to move from one place to another, they see things as they were, not as they are.
The Telescope Handbook and Star Atlas (1967), 33.
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But that which will excite the greatest astonishment by far, and which indeed especially moved me to call the attention of all astronomers and philosophers, is this: namely, that I have observed four planets, neither known nor observed by any one of the astronomers before my time, which have their orbits round a certain bright star [Jupiter], one of those previously known, like Venus or Mercury round the sun, and are sometimes in front of it, sometimes behind it, though they never depart from it beyond certain limits. All of which facts were discovered and observed a few days ago by the help of a telescope devised by me, through God’s grace first enlightening my mind.
In pamphlet, The Sidereal Messenger (1610), reprinted in The Sidereal Messenger of Galileo Galilei: And a Part of the Preface to the Preface to Kepler's Dioptrics Containing the Original Account of Galileo's Astronomical Discoveries (1880), 9.
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Dr. Walter Baade of Mount Wilson Observatory facetiously accused the present generation of Milky Way astronomers of not having looked sufficiently far beyond our “local swimming hole”.
At then-recent symposium of the American Astronomical Society, as stated in Leaflet The Cemter of the Galaxy (1948), No. 230, 254.
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Exact science and its practical movements are no checks on the greatest poet, but always his encouragement and support … The sailor and traveller, the anatomist, chemist, astronomer, geologist, phrenologist, spiritualist, mathematician, historian and lexicographer are not poets, but they are the lawgivers of poets and their construction underlies the structure of every perfect poem.
In Walt Whitman and William Michael Rossetti (ed.), 'Preface to the First Edition of Leaves of Grass', Poems By Walt Whitman (1868), 46.
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First, the chief character, who is supposed to be a professional astronomer, spends his time fund raising and doing calculations at his desk, rather than observing the sky. Second, the driving force of a scientific project is institutional self-aggrandizement rather than intellectual curiosity.
[About the state of affairs in academia.]
In Marc J. Madou, Fundamentals of Microfabrication: the Science of Miniaturization (2nd ed., 2002), 535
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For it is the duty of an astronomer to compose the history of the celestial motions or hypotheses about them. Since he cannot in any certain way attain to the true causes, he will adopt whatever suppositions enable the motions to be computed correctly from the principles of geometry for the future as well as for the past.
From unauthorized preface Osiander anonymously added when he was entrusted with arranging the printing of the original work by Copernicus. As translated in Nicolaus Copernicus and Jerzy Dobrzycki (ed.), Nicholas Copernicus on the Revolutions (1978), xvi.
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For some months the astronomer Halley and other friends of Newton had been discussing the problem in the following precise form: what is the path of a body attracted by a force directed toward a fixed point, the force varying in intensity as the inverse of the distance? Newton answered instantly, “An ellipse.” “How do you know?” he was asked. “Why, I have calculated it.” Thus originated the imperishable Principia, which Newton later wrote out for Halley. It contained a complete treatise on motion.
In The Handmaiden of the Sciences (1937), 37.
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Happy the men who made the first essay,
And to celestial regions found the way!
No earthly vices clogg’d their purer souls,
That they could soar so high as touch the poles:
Sublime their thoughts and from pollution clear,
Bacchus and Venus held no revels there;
From vain ambition free; no love of war
Possess’d their minds, nor wranglings at the bar;
No glaring grandeur captivates their eyes,
For such see greater glory in the skies:
Thus these to heaven attain.
In Craufurd Tait Ramage (ed., trans.), Beautiful Thoughts From Latin Authors, with English Translations (1864),
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However much we may enlarge our ideas of the time which has elapsed since the Niagara first began to drain the waters of the upper lakes, we have seen that this period was one only of a series, all belonging to the present zoological epoch; or that in which the living testaceous fauna, whether freshwater or marine, had already come into being. If such events can take place while the zoology of the earth remains almost stationary and unaltered, what ages may not be comprehended in those successive tertiary periods during which the Flora and Fauna of the globe have been almost entirely changed. Yet how subordinate a place in the long calendar of geological chronology do the successive tertiary periods themselves occupy! How much more enormous a duration must we assign to many antecedent revolutions of the earth and its inhabitants! No analogy can be found in the natural world to the immense scale of these divisions of past time, unless we contemplate the celestial spaces which have been measured by the astronomer.
Travels in North America (1845), Vol. 1, 51-2.
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I am a Christian which means that I believe in the deity of Christ, like Tycho de Brahe, Copernicus, Descartes, Newton, Leibnitz, Pascal ... like all great astronomers mathematicians of the past.
…...
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In this great celestial creation, the catastrophy of a world, such as ours, or even the total dissolution of a system of worlds, may possibly be no more to the great Author of Nature, than the most common accident in life with us, and in all probability such final and general Doomsdays may be as frequent there, as even Birthdays or mortality with us upon the earth. This idea has something so cheerful in it, that I know I can never look upon the stars without wondering why the whole world does not become astronomers; and that men endowed with sense and reason should neglect a science they are naturally so much interested in, and so capable of enlarging their understanding, as next to a demonstration must convince them of their immortality, and reconcile them to all those little difficulties incident to human nature, without the least anxiety. All this the vast apparent provision in the starry mansions seem to promise: What ought we then not to do, to preserve our natural birthright to it and to merit such inheritance, which alas we think created all to gratify alone a race of vain-glorious gigantic beings, while they are confined to this world, chained like so many atoms to a grain of sand.
In The Universe and the Stars: Being an Original Theory on the Visible Creation, Founded on the Laws of Nature (1750, 1837), 132.
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Interestingly, according to modern astronomers, space is finite. This is a very comforting thought—particularly for people who can never remember where they have left things.
Side Effects (1981), 36.
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It calls Devotion! genuine growth of night!
Devotion! Daughter of Astronomy!
An undevout astronomer is mad!
The Complaint: or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality (1742, 1750), Night 9, 260.
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It must have appeared almost as improbable to the earlier geologists, that the laws of earthquakes should one day throw light on the origin of mountains, as it must to the first astronomers, that the fall of an apple should assist in explaining the motions of the moon.
Principles of Geology(1830-3), Vol. 3, 5.
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It was an admirable reply of a converted astronomer, who, when interrogated concerning his comparative estimate of religion and the science he had formerly idolized, answered, 'I am now bound for heaven, and I take the stars in my way.'
Anonymous
In Tryon Edwards. A Dictionary of Thoughts (1908), 506.
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Just as the spectroscope opened up a new astronomy by enabling the astronomer to determine some of the constituents of which distant stars are composed, so the seismograph, recording the unfelt motion of distant earthquakes, enables us to see into the earth and determine its nature with as great a certainty, up to a certain point, as if we could drive a tunnel through it and take samples of the matter passed through.
'The Constitution of the Interior of the Earth, as Revealed by Earthquakes', Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society (1906), 62, 456.
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MAGNITUDE, n. Size. Magnitude being purely relative, nothing is large and nothing small. If everything in the universe were increased in bulk one thousand diameters nothing would be any larger than it was before, but if one thing remained unchanged all the others would be larger than they had been. To an understanding familiar with the relativity of magnitude and distance the spaces and masses of the astronomer would be no more impressive than those of the microscopist. For anything we know to the contrary, the visible universe may be a small part of an atom, with its component ions, floating in the life-fluid (luminiferous ether) of some animal. Possibly the wee creatures peopling the corpuscles of our own blood are overcome with the proper emotion when contemplating the unthinkable distance from one of these to another.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  209.
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OBSERVATORY, n. A place where astronomers conjecture away the guesses of their predecessors.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  232.
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Physicists and astronomers see their own implications in the world being round, but to me it means that only one-third of the world is asleep at any given time and the other two-thirds is up to something.
Dean Rusk
Speech to American Bar Association, Atlanta, Ga. (22 Oct 1964), quoted in The Atlanta Constitution (23 Oct 1964), 10. In James H. Billington, Respectfully Quoted (2010), 380.
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So I want to admit the assumption which the astronomer—and indeed any scientist—makes about the Universe he investigates. It is this: that the same physical causes give rise to the same physical results anywhere in the Universe, and at any time, past, present, and future. The fuller examination of this basic assumption, and much else besides, belongs to philosophy. The scientist, for his part, makes the assumption I have mentioned as an act of faith; and he feels confirmed in that faith by his increasing ability to build up a consistent and satisfying picture of the universe and its behavior.
From Science and the Nation (1957), 49. Also quoted in Ronald Keast, Dancing in the Dark: The Waltz in Wonder of Quantum Metaphysics (2009), 106.
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So the astronomer is on common ground with the physicist both in the subject and in the predicate of the conclusion, but the physicist demonstrates the predicate to belong to the subject by nature, whereas the astronomer does not care whether it belongs by nature or not. What, therefore, is the predicate for the physicist, is abstracted as the subject for the pure mathematician.
As quoted in Alistair Cameron Crombie, Robert Grosseteste and the Origins of Experimental Science, 1100-1700 (1971), 94.
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Students of the heavens are separable into astronomers and astrologers as readily as the minor domestic ruminants into sheep and goats, but the separation of philosophers into sages and cranks seems to be more sensitive to frames of reference.
Theories and Things (1981), 192.
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That the main results of the astronomer’s work are not so immediately practical does not detract from their value. They are, I venture to think, the more to be prized on that account. Astronomy has profoundly influenced the thought of the race. In fact, it has been the keystone in the arch of the sciences under which we have marched out from the darkness of the fifteenth and preceding centuries to the comparative light of to-day.
In 'The Nature of the Astronomer’s Work', North American Review (Jun 1908), 187, No. 631, 915.
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The astronomer may speak to you of his understanding of space, but he cannot give you his understanding. … And he who is versed in the science of numbers can tell of the regions of weight and measure, but he cannot conduct you thither.
In Kahlil Gibran: The Collected Works (207), 134.
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The astronomer who catalogues the stars cannot add one atom to the universe; the poet can call an universe from the atom.
From Zanoni (1842), 6.
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The astronomers said, ‘Give us matter and a little motion and we will construct the universe. It is not enough that we should have matter, we must also have a single impulse, one shove to launch the mass and generate the harmony of the centrifugal and centripetal forces.’ ... There is no end to the consequences of the act. That famous aboriginal push propagates itself through all the balls of the system, and through every atom of every ball.
From essay, 'Nature', collected in Ralph Waldo Emerson and J.E. Cabot (ed.), Emerson's Complete Works: Essays, Second Series (1884), Vol. 3, 176-177.
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The chemist works along his own brilliant line of discovery and exposition; the astronomer has his special field to explore; the geologist has a well-defined sphere to occupy. It is manifest, however, that not one of these men can tell the whole tale, and make a complete story of creation. Another man is wanted. A man who, though not necessarily going into formal science, sees the whole idea, and speaks of it in its unity. This man is the theologian. He is not a chemist, an astronomer, a geologist, a botanist——he is more: he speaks of circles, not of segments; of principles, not of facts; of causes and purposes rather than of effects and appearances. Not that the latter are excluded from his study, but that they are so wisely included in it as to be put in their proper places.
In The People's Bible: Discourses Upon Holy Scripture: Vol. 1. Genesis (1885), 120.
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The development of mathematics is largely a natural, not a purely logical one: mathematicians are continually answering questions suggested by astronomers or physicists; many essential mathematical theories are but the reflex outgrowth from physical puzzles.
In 'The Teaching of the History of Science', The Scientific Monthly (Sep 1918), 194.
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The fate of human civilization will depend on whether the rockets of the future carry the astronomer’s telescope or a hydrogen bomb.
Concluding remark, BBC Reith Lecture (30 Nov 1958), 'Astronomy and the State', published as The Individual and the Universe (1959, 1961), 73.
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The field cannot be well seen from within the field. The astronomer must have his diameter of the earth's orbit as a base to fix the parallax of any other star
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 427:37.
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The greatest of all spectral classifiers, Antonia Maury had two strikes on her: the biggest one was, she was a woman. A woman had no chance at anything in astronomy except at Harvard in the 1880’s and 1890’s. And even there, things were rough. It now turns out that her director, E.C. Pickering, did not like the way she classified; she then refused to change to suit him; and after her great publication in Harvard Annals 28 (1897), she left Harvard—and in a sense, astronomy. ... I would say the most remarkable phenomenological investigation in modern astronomy is Miss Maury’s work in Harvard Annals 28. She didn’t have anything astrophysical to go on. Investigations between 1890 and 1900 were the origin of astrophysics. But these were solar, mostly. And there Miss Maury was on the periphery. I’ve seen pictures of groups, where she’d be standing away a little bit to one side of the other people, a little bit in the background. It was a very sad thing. When Hertzsprung wrote Pickering to congratulate him on Miss Maury’s work that had led to Hertzsprung’s discovery of super giants, Pickering is supposed to have replied that Miss Maury’s work was wrong — could not possibly be correct.
'Oral History Transcript: Dr. William Wilson Morgan' (8 Aug 1978) in the Niels Bohr Library & Archives.
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The next care to be taken, in respect of the Senses, is a supplying of their infirmities with Instruments, and, as it were, the adding of artificial Organs to the natural; this in one of them has been of late years accomplisht with prodigious benefit to all sorts of useful knowledge, by the invention of Optical Glasses. By the means of Telescopes, there is nothing so far distant but may be represented to our view; and by the help of Microscopes, there is nothing so small, as to escape our inquiry; hence there is a new visible World discovered to the understanding. By this means the Heavens are open'd, and a vast number of new Stars, and new Motions, and new Productions appear in them, to which all the ancient Astronomers were utterly Strangers. By this the Earth it self, which lyes so neer us, under our feet, shews quite a new thing to us, and in every little particle of its matter, we now behold almost as great a variety of creatures as we were able before to reckon up on the whole Universe it self.
Micrographia, or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries thereupon (1665), preface, sig. A2V.
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The successful launching of the Sputnik was a demonstration of one of the highest scientific and technological achievements of man—a tantalizing invitation both to the militarist in search of ever more devastating means of destruction and to the astronomer searching for new means of carrying his instruments away from their earthbound environment.
In BBC Reith Lecture (9 Nov 1958), 'Astronomy Breaks Free', published as The Individual and the Universe (1959, 1961), 72.
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These earthly godfathers of heaven's lights
That give a name to every fixed star,
Have no more profit of their shining nights
Than those that walk and wot not what they are.
The Sonnets, (1906), 169.
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Those who study the stars have God for a teacher.
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When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
In Leaves of Grass (1881, 1882), 214.
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When I'm asked about the relevance to Black people of what I do, I take that as an affront. It presupposes that Black people have never been involved in exploring the heavens, but this is not so. Ancient African empires - Mali, Songhai, Egypt - had scientists, astronomers. The fact is that space and its resources belong to all of us, not to any one group.
In Current Biography Yearbook (1993), Vol. 54, 280.
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When they [radio astronomers] grew weary at their electronic listening posts. When their eyes grew dim with looking at unrevealing dials and studying uneventful graphs, they could step outside their concrete cells and renew their dull spirits in communion with the giant mechanism they commanded, the silent, sensing instrument in which the smallest packets of energy, the smallest waves of matter, were detected in their headlong, eternal flight across the universe. It was the stethoscope with which they took the pulse of the all and noted the birth and death of stars, the probe which, here on an insignificant planet of an undistinguishable star on the edge of its galaxy, they explored the infinite.
The Listeners (1968, 1972), 12.
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Yet the widespread [planetary theories], advanced by Ptolemy and most other [astronomers], although consistent with the numerical [data], seemed likewise to present no small difficulty. For these theories were not adequate unless they also conceived certain equalizing circles, which made the planet appear to move at all times with uniform velocity neither on its deferent sphere nor about its own [epicycle's] center … Therefore, having become aware of these [defects], I often considered whether there could perhaps be found a more reasonable arrangement of circles, from which every apparent irregularity would be derived while everything in itself would move uniformly, as is required by the rule of perfect motion.
From Nicholaus Copernicus, Edward Rosen (trans.), Pawel Czartoryski (ed.) 'Commentariolus', in Nicholas Copernicus: Minor Works (1985), 81-83. Excerpted in Lisa M. Dolling, Arthur F. Gianelli and Glenn N. Statile (eds.) The Tests of Time: Readings in the Development of Physical Theory (2003), 40.
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[Gauss calculated the elements of the planet Ceres] and his analysis proved him to be the first of theoretical astronomers no less than the greatest of 'arithmeticians.'
History of Mathematics (3rd Ed., 1901), 458.
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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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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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Bible
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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- 10 -
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