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Carbon Quotes (34 quotes)

Question: Why do the inhabitants of cold climates eat fat? How would you find experimentally the relative quantities of heat given off when equal weights of sulphur, phosphorus, and carbon are thoroughly burned?
Answer: An inhabitant of cold climates (called Frigid Zoans) eats fat principally because he can't get no lean, also because he wants to rise is temperature. But if equal weights of sulphur phosphorus and carbon are burned in his neighbourhood he will give off eating quite so much. The relative quantities of eat given off will depend upon how much sulphur etc. is burnt and how near it is burned to him. If I knew these facts it would be an easy sum to find the answer.
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1880), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 183, Question 32. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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A force unconnected with matter, hovering loose over matter, is an utterly empty conception. In nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, in sulphur and phosphorus, their several properties have dwelt from all eternity.
As quoted in Ludwig Büchner, Force and Matter: Or, Principles of the Natural Order of the Universe (1891), 1.
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A man in twenty-four hours converts as much as seven ounces of carbon into carbonic acid; a milch cow will convert seventy ounces, and a horse seventy-nine ounces, solely by the act of respiration. That is, the horse in twenty-four hours burns seventy-nine ounces of charcoal, or carbon, in his organs of respiration to supply his natural warmth in that time ..., not in a free state, but in a state of combination.
In A Course of Six Lectures on the Chemical History of a Candle (1861), 117.
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Built up of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, together with traces of a few other elements, yet of a complexity of structure that has hitherto resisted all attempts at complete analysis, protoplasm is at once the most enduring and the most easily destroyed of substances; its molecules are constantly breaking down to furnish the power for the manifestations of vital phenomena, and yet, through its remarkable property of assimilation, a power possessed by nothing else upon earth, it constantly builds up its substance anew from the surrounding medium.
In History of the Human Body (1919), 1.
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Carbon is, as may easily be shown and as I shall explain in greater detail later, tetrabasic or tetratomic, that is 1 atom of carbon = C = 12 is equivalent to 4 At.H.
'On the so-called Copulated Compounds and the Theory of Polyatomic Radicals', Annalen (1857), 4, 133. Trans. in J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry (1972), Vol. 4, 536.
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Jöns Jacob Berzelius quote Jons Berzelius quote on chemical symbols - with background of bottles of chemicals
Laboratory chemicals shelf at Miami University (1911) (source)
Chemical signs ought to be letters, for the greater facility of writing, and not to disfigure a printed book ... I shall take therefore for the chemical sign, the initial letter of the Latin name of each elementary substance: but as several have the same initial letter, I shall distinguish them in the following manner:— 1. In the class which I shall call metalloids, I shall employ the initial letter only, even when this letter is common to the metalloid and to some metal. 2. In the class of metals, I shall distinguish those that have the same initials with another metal, or a metalloid, by writing the first two letters of the word. 3. If the first two letters be common to two metals, I shall, in that case, add to the initial letter the first consonant which they have not in common: for example, S = sulphur, Si = silicium, St = stibium (antimony), Sn = stannum (tin), C = carbonicum, Co = colbaltum (colbalt), Cu = cuprum (copper), O = oxygen, Os = osmium, &c.
'Essay on the Cause of Chemical Proportions, and on some circumstances relating to them: together with a short and easy method of expressing them', Annals of Philosophy, 1814, 3,51-2.
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Chemistry dissolves the goddess in the alembic,
Venus, the white queen, the universal matrix,
Down to the molecular hexagons and carbon-chains.
'The Human Form Divine', in The Collected Poems of Kathleen Raine (1956), 86.
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Each of us has read somewhere that in New Guinea pidgin the word for 'piano' is (I use English spelling) 'this fellow you hit teeth belonging to him he squeal all same pig'. I am inclined to doubt whether this expression is authentic; it looks just like the kind of thing a visitor to the Islands would facetiously invent. But I accept 'cut grass belong head belong me' for 'haircut' as genuine... Such phrases seem very funny to us, and make us feel very superior to the ignorant foreigners who use long winded expressions for simple matters. And then it is our turn to name quite a simple thing, a small uncomplicated molecule consisting of nothing more than a measly 11 carbons, seven hydrogens, one nitrogen and six oxygens. We sharpen our pencils, consult our rule books and at last come up with 3-[(1, 3- dihydro-1, 3-dioxo-2H-isoindol-2-yl) oxy]-3-oxopropanoic acid. A name like that could drive any self-respecting Papuan to piano-playing.
The Chemist's English (1990), 3rd Edition, 57.
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Finally I got to carbon, and as you all know, in the case of carbon the reaction works out beautifully. One goes through six reactions, and at the end one comes back to carbon. In the process one has made four hydrogen atoms into one of helium. The theory, of course, was not made on the railway train from Washington to Ithaca ... It didn't take very long, it took about six weeks, but not even the Trans-Siberian railroad [has] taken that long for its journey.
'Pleasure from Physics', From A Life of Physics: Evening Lectures at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Trieste, Italy. A Special Supplement of the IAEA Bulletin (1968), 14.

Food is at present obtained almost entirely from the energy of the sunlight. The radiation from the sun produces from the carbonic acid in the air more or less complicated carbon compounds which serve us in plants and vegetables. We use the latent chemical energy of these to keep our bodies warm, we convert it into muscular effort. We employ it in the complicated process of digestion to repair and replace the wasted cells of our bodies. … If the gigantic sources of power become available, food would be produced without recourse to sunlight. Vast cellars, in which artificial radiation is generated, may replace the cornfields and potato patches of the world.
From 'Fifty Years Hence', Strand Magazine (Dec 1931). Reprinted in Popular Mechanics (Mar 1932), 57, No. 3, 396-397.
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Four elements, Hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen, also provide an example of the astonishing togetherness of our universe. They make up the “organic” molecules that constitute living organisms on a planet, and the nuclei of these same elements interact to generate the light of its star. Then the organisms on the planet come to depend wholly on that starlight, as they must if life is to persist. So it is that all life on the Earth runs on sunlight. [Referring to photosynthesis]
In lecture, 'Life and Mind in the Universe', versions of which George Wald delivered throughout the 1980s. On the website of his son, Elijah Wald, who states it was the last of his father's major lectures.
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I should like to call the number of atom groups, with which an elementary atom coordinates … to form a complex radical, the coordination number of the atom in question … We must differentiate between valence number and coordination number. The valence number indicates the maximum number of monovalent atoms which can be bound directly to the atom in question without the participation of other elementary atoms … Perhaps this concept [of coordination number] is destined to serve as a basis for the theory of the constitution of inorganic compounds, just as valence theory formed the basis for the constitutional theory of carbon compounds.
In 'Beitrag zur Konstitution anorganischer Verbindungen', Zeitschrift fur anorganische Chemie, (1893), 3, 267-330. Translated in George G. Kauffman (ed.), Classics in Coordination Chemistry: Part I: The Selected Papers of Alfred Werner (1968), 84-87.
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I tell my students, with a feeling of pride that I hope they will share, that the carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen that make up ninety-nine per cent of our living substance were cooked in the deep interiors of earlier generations of dying stars. Gathered up from the ends of the universe, over billions of years, eventually they came to form, in part, the substance of our sun, its planets, and ourselves. Three billion years ago, life arose upon the earth. It is the only life in the solar system.
From speech given at an anti-war teach-in at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (4 Mar 1969) 'A Generation in Search of a Future', as edited by Ron Dorfman for Chicago Journalism Review, (May 1969).
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I try to identify myself with the atoms ... I ask what I would do If I were a carbon atom or a sodium atom.
Comment made to George Gray (Rockefeller's resident science writer and publicist). Quoted In Thomas Hager, Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling (1995), 377.
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I was sitting writing at my textbook but the work did not progress; my thoughts were elsewhere. I turned my chair to the fire and dozed. Again the atoms were gambolling before my eyes. This time the smaller groups kept modestly in the background. My mental eye, rendered more acute by the repeated visions of the kind, could now distinguish larger structures of manifold confirmation: long rows, sometimes more closely fitted together all twining and twisting in snake like motion. But look! What was that? One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes. As if by a flash of lightning I awoke; and this time also I spent the rest of the night in working out the rest of the hypothesis. Let us learn to dream, gentlemen, then perhaps we shall find the truth... But let us beware of publishing our dreams till they have been tested by waking understanding.
Kekule at Benzolfest in Berichte (1890), 23, 1302.
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If we wish to give an account of the atomic constitution of the aromatic compounds, we are bound to explain the following facts:
1) All aromatic compounds, even the most simple, are relatively richer in carbon than the corresponding compounds in the class of fatty bodies.
2) Among the aromatic compounds, as well as among the fatty bodies, a large number of homologous substances exist.
3) The most simple aromatic compounds contain at least six atoms of carbon.
4) All the derivatives of aromatic substances exhibit a certain family likeness; they all belong to the group of 'Aromatic compounds'. In cases where more vigorous reactions take place, a portion of the carbon is often eliminated, but the chief product contains at least six atoms of carbon These facts justify the supposition that all aromatic compounds contain a common group, or, we may say, a common nucleus consisting of six atoms of carbon. Within this nucleus a more intimate combination of the carbon atoms takes place; they are more compactly placed together, and this is the cause of the aromatic bodies being relatively rich in carbon. Other carbon atoms can be joined to this nucleus in the same way, and according to the same law, as in the case of the group of fatty bodies, and in this way the existence of homologous compounds is explained.
Bulletin de la Societé Chimique de France (1865), 1, 98. Trans. W. H. Brock.
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In experimenting on the arc, my aim was not so much to add to the large number of isolated facts that had already been discovered, as to form some idea of the bearing of these upon one another, and thus to arrive at a clear conception of what takes place in each part of the arc and carbons at every moment. The attempt to correlate all the known phenomena, and to bind them together into one consistent whole, led to the deduction of new facts, which, when duly tested by experiment, became parts of the growing body, and, themselves, opened up fresh questions, to be answered in their turn by experiment.
In The Electric Arc (1902), Preface, iii. Ayrton described the growth of her published work on the electric arc, from a series of articles in The Electrician in 1895-6, to the full book, which “has attained to its present proportions almost with the growth of an organic body.”
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It took us five thousand years to put wheels on our luggage, so we’re not that smart as a design species. If you look at a tree and think of it as a design assignment, it would be like asking you to make something that makes oxygen, sequesters carbon, fixes nitrogen, distills water, provides habitat for hundreds of species, accrues solar energy’s fuel, makes complex sugars and food, changes colors with the seasons, creates microclimates, and self-replicates.
In audio segment, 'William McDonough: Godfather of Green', WNYC, Studio 360 broadcast on NPR radio (18 Mar 2008) and archived on the station website.
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Judging from our experience upon this planet, such a history, that begins with elementary particles, leads perhaps inevitably toward a strange and moving end: a creature that knows, a science-making animal, that turns back upon the process that generated him and attempts to understand it. Without his like, the universe could be, but not be known, and this is a poor thing. Surely this is a great part of our dignity as men, that we can know, and that through us matter can know itself; that beginning with protons and electrons, out of the womb of time and the vastnesses of space, we can begin to understand; that organized as in us, the hydrogen, the carbon, the nitrogen, the oxygen, those 16-21 elements, the water, the sunlight—all having become us, can begin to understand what they are, and how they came to be.
In 'The Origins of Life', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (1964), 52, 609-110.
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Life exists in the universe only because the carbon atom possesses certain exceptional properties.
The Mysterious Universe (1930), 8.
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Organic chemistry is the chemistry of carbon compounds. Biochemistry is the study of carbon compounds that crawl.
Often seen quoted, though without source, for example, in Vassilis Mougios, Exercise Biochemistry (2006), 1. [Please contact webmaster if you can identify the author and a primary source.]
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Our atom of carbon enters the leaf, colliding with other innumerable (but here useless) molecules of nitrogen and oxygen. It adheres to a large and complicated molecule that activates it, and simultaneously receives the decisive message from the sky, in the flashing form of a packet of solar light; in an instant, like an insect caught by a spider, it is separated from its oxygen, combined with hydrogen and (one thinks) phosphous, and finally inserted in a chain, whether long or short does not matter, but it is the chain of life. All this happens swiftly, in silence, at the temperature and pressure of the atmosphere, and gratis: dear colleagues, when we learn to do likewise we will be sicut Deus [like God], and we will have also solved the problem of hunger in the world.
Levi Primo and Raymond Rosenthal (trans.), The Periodic Table (1975, 1984), 227-228. In this final section of his book, Levi imagines the life of a carbon atom. He calls this his first “literary dream”. It came to him at Auschwitz.
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She discovered in a series of beautifully executed researches the fundamental distinction between carbons that turned on heating into graphite and those that did not. Further she related this difference to the chemical constitution of the molecules from which carbon was made. She was already a recognized authority in industrial physico-chemistry when she chose to abandon this work in favour of the far more difficult and more exciting fields of biophysics.
Comment in The Times, 19 Apr 1958, shortly after Franklin's death. In Jenifer Glynn, 'Rosalind Franklin', in E. Shils and C. Blacker (eds.), Cambridge Women: Twelve Portraits (1996), 206.
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The absorption of oxygen and the elimination of carbon dioxide in the lungs take place by diffusion alone. There is no trustworthy evidence of any regulation of this process on the part of the organism.
Krogh summing up his results related to a quote from The Mechanism of gas Exchange (1910), 257, as cited by E. Snorrason, 'Krogh, Schack August Steenberg', in Charles Coulton Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1973), Vol 7, 502.
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The world's forests need to be seen for what they are—giant global utilities, providing essential public services to humanity on a vast scale. They store carbon, which is lost to the atmosphere when they burn, increasing global warming. The life they support cleans the atmosphere of pollutants and feeds it with moisture. They act as a natural thermostat, helping to regulate our climate and sustain the lives of 1.4 billion of the poorest people on this Earth. And they do these things to a degree that is all but impossible to imagine.
Speech (25 Oct 2007) at the World Wildlife Fund gala dinner, Hampton Court Palace, announcing the Prince's Rainforests Project. On the Prince of Wales website.
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There's antimony, arsenic, aluminium, selenium,
And hydrogen and oxygen and
nitrogen and rhenium,
And nickel, neodymium, neptunium, germanium,
And iron, americium, ruthenium, uranium,
Europium, zirconium, lutetium, vanadium,
And lanthanum and osmium and astatine and radium,
And gold and protactinium and indium and gallium,
And iodine and thorium and thulium and thallium.
There's yttrium, ytterbium, actinium, rubidium,
And boron, gadolinium, niobium, iridium,
And strontium and silicon and silver and samarium,
And bismuth, bromine, lithium, beryllium and barium.
There's holmium and helium and hafnium and erbium,
And phosphorus and francium and fluorine and terbium,
And manganese and mercury, molybdenum, magnesium,
Dysprosium and scandium and cerium and cesium,
And lead, praseodymium and platinum, plutonium,
Palladium, promethium, potassium, polonium,
And tantalum, technetium, titanium, tellurium,
And cadmium and calcium and chromium and curium.
There's sulfur, californium and fermium, berkelium,
And also mendelevium, einsteinium, nobelium,
And argon, krypton, neon, radon, xenon, zinc and rhodium,
And chlorine, cobalt, carbon, copper, tungsten, tin and sodium.
These are the only ones of which the news has come to Harvard,
And there may be many others, but they haven't been discarvard.
[To the tune of I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General.]
Song, 'The Elements' (1959). In Tom Lehrer,Too Many Songs by Tom Lehrer: With Not Enough Drawings by Ronald Searle (1981), 151.
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Those of us who were familiar with the state of inorganic chemistry in universities twenty to thirty years ago will recall that at that time it was widely regarded as a dull and uninteresting part of the undergraduate course. Usually, it was taught almost entirely in the early years of the course and then chiefly as a collection of largely unconnected facts. On the whole, students concluded that, apart from some relationships dependent upon the Periodic table, there was no system in inorganic chemistry comparable with that to be found in organic chemistry, and none of the rigour and logic which characterised physical chemistry. It was widely believed that the opportunities for research in inorganic chemistry were few, and that in any case the problems were dull and uninspiring; as a result, relatively few people specialized in the subject... So long as inorganic chemistry is regarded as, in years gone by, as consisting simply of the preparations and analysis of elements and compounds, its lack of appeal is only to be expected. The stage is now past and for the purpose of our discussion we shall define inorganic chemistry today as the integrated study of the formation, composition, structure and reactions of the chemical elements and compounds, excepting most of those of carbon.
Inaugural Lecture delivered at University College, London (1 Mar 1956). In The Renaissance of Inorganic Chemistry (1956), 4-5.
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To day we made the grand experiment of burning the diamond and certainly the phenomena presented were extremely beautiful and interesting... The Duke's burning glass was the instrument used to apply heat to the diamond. It consists of two double convex lenses ... The instrument was placed in an upper room of the museum and having arranged it at the window the diamond was placed in the focus and anxiously watched. The heat was thus continued for 3/4 of an hour (it being necessary to cool the globe at times) and during that time it was thought that the diamond was slowly diminishing and becoming opaque ... On a sudden Sir H Davy observed the diamond to burn visibly, and when removed from the focus it was found to be in a state of active and rapid combustion. The diamond glowed brilliantly with a scarlet light, inclining to purple and, when placed in the dark, continued to burn for about four minutes. After cooling the glass heat was again applied to the diamond and it burned again though not for nearly so long as before. This was repeated twice more and soon after the diamond became all consumed. This phenomenon of actual and vivid combustion, which has never been observed before, was attributed by Sir H Davy to be the free access of air; it became more dull as carbonic acid gas formed and did not last so long.
Entry (Florence, 27 Mar 1814) in his foreign journal kept whilst on a continental tour with Sir Humphry Davy. In Michael Faraday, Bence Jones (ed.), The Life and Letters of Faraday (1870), Vol. 1, 119. Silvanus Phillips Thompson identifies the Duke as the Grand Duke of Tuscany, in Michael Faraday, His Life and Work (1901), 21.
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We cannot hope to either understand or to manage the carbon in the atmosphere unless we understand and manage the trees and the soil too.
From From Eros to Gaia (1993). In Bill Swainson, Encarta Book of Quotations (2000), 299.
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We define organic chemistry as the chemistry of carbon compounds.
Lehrbuch der Organischen Chemie (1861), Vol. 1, 11. Trans. W. H. Brock.
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When carbon (C), Oxygen (o) and hydrogen (H) atoms bond in a certain way to form sugar, the resulting compound has a sweet taste. The sweetness resides neither in the C, nor in the O, nor in the H; it resides in the pattern that emerges from their interaction. It is an emergent property. Moreover, strictly speaking, is not a property of the chemical bonds. It is a sensory experience that arises when the sugar molecules interact with the chemistry of our taste buds, which in turns causes a set of neurons to fire in a certain way. The experience of sweetness emerges from that neural activity.
In The Hidden Connections (2002), 116-117.
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When the simplest compounds of this element are considered (marsh gas, chloride of carbon, chloroform, carbonic acid, phosgene, sulphide of carbon, hydrocyanic acid, etc.) it is seen that the quantity of carbon which chemists have recognised as the smallest possible, that is, as an atom, always unites with 4 atoms of a monatomic or with two atoms of a diatomic element; that in general, the sum of the chemical units of the elements united with one atom of carbon is 4. This leads us to the view that carbon is tetratomic or tetrabasic. In the cases of substances which contain several atoms of carbon, it must be assumed that at least some of the atoms are in some way held in the compound by the affinity of carbon, and that the carbon atoms attach themselves to one another, whereby a part of the affinity of the one is naturally engaged with an equal part of the affinity of the other. The simplest and therefore the most probable case of such an association of carbon atoms is that in which one affinity unit of one is bound by one of the other. Of the 2 x 4 affinity units of the two carbon atoms, two are used up in holding the atoms together, and six remain over, which can be bound by atom)' of other elements.
'Ueber die Konstitution und die Metamorphosen der chemischen Verbindungen', Annalen (1858) 5, 106. Trans. in J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry (1972), Vol. 4, 536.
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When the state is shaken to its foundations by internal or external events, when commerce, industry and all trades shall be at a stand, and perhaps on the brink of ruin; when the property and fortune of all are shaken or changed, and the inhabitants of towns look forward with dread and apprehension to the future, then the agriculturalist holds in his hand the key to the money chest of the rich, and the savings-box of the poor; for political events have not the slightest influence on the natural law, which forces man to take into his system, daily, a certain number of ounces of carbon and nitrogen.
Reflecting on events of 1848.
Familiar Letters on Chemistry (1851), 3rd edn., 483.
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You will be astonished when I tell you what this curious play of carbon amounts to. A candle will burn some four, five, six, or seven hours. What, then, must be the daily amount of carbon going up into the air in the way of carbonic acid! ... Then what becomes of it? Wonderful is it to find that the change produced by respiration ... is the very life and support of plants and vegetables that grow upon the surface of the earth.
In A Course of Six Lectures on the Chemical History of a Candle (1861), 117.
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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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