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Desirable Quotes (33 quotes)

A smattering of everything is worth little. It is a fallacy to suppose that an encyclopaedic knowledge is desirable. The mind is made strong, not through much learning, but by the thorough possession of something.
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 145.
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Almost daily we shudder as prophets of doom announce the impending end of civilization and universe. We are being asphyxiated, they say, by the smoke of the industry; we are suffocating in the ever growing mountain of rubbish. Every new project depicts its measureable effects and is denounced by protesters screaming about catastrophe, the upsetting of the land, the assault on nature. If we accepted this new mythology we would have to stop pushing roads through the forest, harnessing rivers to produce the electricity, breaking grounds to extract metals, enriching the soil with chemicals, killing insects, combating viruses … But progress—basically, an effort to organise a corner of land and make it more favourable for human life—cannot be baited. Without the science of pomiculture, for example, trees will bear fruits that are small, bitter, hard, indigestible, and sour. Progress is desirable.
Anonymous
Uncredited. In Lachman Mehta, Stolen Treasure (2012), 117.
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Euler was a believer in God, downright and straightforward. The following story is told by Thiebault, in his Souvenirs de vingt ans de séjour à Berlin, … Thiebault says that he has no personal knowledge of the truth of the story, but that it was believed throughout the whole of the north of Europe. Diderot paid a visit to the Russian Court at the invitation of the Empress. He conversed very freely, and gave the younger members of the Court circle a good deal of lively atheism. The Empress was much amused, but some of her counsellors suggested that it might be desirable to check these expositions of doctrine. The Empress did not like to put a direct muzzle on her guest’s tongue, so the following plot was contrived. Diderot was informed that a learned mathematician was in possession of an algebraical demonstration of the existence of God, and would give it him before all the Court, if he desired to hear it. Diderot gladly consented: though the name of the mathematician is not given, it was Euler. He advanced toward Diderot, and said gravely, and in a tone of perfect conviction:
Monsieur, (a + bn) / n = x, donc Dieu existe; repondez!

Diderot, to whom algebra was Hebrew, was embarrassed and disconcerted; while peals of laughter rose on all sides. He asked permission to return to France at once, which was granted.
In Budget of Paradoxes (1878), 251. [The declaration in French expresses, “therefore God exists; please answer!” This Euler-Diderot anecdote, as embellished by De Morgan, is generally regarded as entirely fictional. Diderot before he became an encyclopedist was an accomplished mathematician and fully capable of recognizing—and responding to—the absurdity of an algebraic expression in proving the existence of God. See B.H. Brown, 'The Euler-Diderot Anecdote', The American Mathematical Monthly (May 1942), 49, No. 5, 392-303. —Webmaster.]
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Generally speaking, geologists seem to have been much more intent on making little worlds of their own, than in examining the crust of that which they inhabit. It would be much more desirable that facts should be placed in the foreground and theories in the distance, than that theories should be brought forward at the expense of facts. So that, in after times, when the speculations of the present day shall have passed away, from a greater accumulation of information, the facts may be readily seized and converted to account.
Sections and Views Illustrative of Geological Phenomena (1830), iv.
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Geology is intimately related to almost all the physical sciences, as is history to the moral. An historian should, if possible, be at once profoundly acquainted with ethics, politics, jurisprudence, the military art, theology; in a word, with all branches of knowledge, whereby any insight into human affairs, or into the moral and intellectual nature of man, can be obtained. It would be no less desirable that a geologist should be well versed in chemistry, natural philosophy, mineralogy, zoology, comparative anatomy, botany; in short, in every science relating to organic and inorganic nature. With these accomplishments the historian and geologist would rarely fail to draw correct and philosophical conclusions from the various monuments transmitted to them of former occurrences.
Principles of Geology (1830-3), Vol. 1, 2-3.
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I have always felt that astronomical hypotheses should not be regarded as articles of faith, but should only serve as a framework for astronomical calculations, so that it does not matter whether they were right or wrong, as long as the phenomena can be characterized precisely. For who could possibly be certain as to whether the uneven movement of the sun, if we follow the hypotheses of Ptolemy, can be explained by assuming an epicycle or eccentricity. Both assumptions are plausible. That’s why I would consider it quite desirable for you to tell something about that in the preface. In this way you would appease the Aristotelians and the theologians, whose opposition you dread.
From surviving fragment of a Letter (20 Apr 1541) answering a query from Copernicus as to whether he should publish his book (De Revolutionibus). From the German in Leopold Friedrich Prowe, Nicolaus Coppernicus (1883), Vol. 1, Part 2, 521-522. Translated from Prowe by Webmaster using web resources. Original German: “Hypothesen nicht als Glaubens-Artikel zu betrachten seien, sondern nur als Grundlage für die astronomischen Rechnungen zu dienen hätten, so dass es nicht darauf ankomme, ob sie richtig oder falsch seien, wofern sich nur die Erscheinungen dadurch genau bestimmen liessen. »Denn wer dürfte uns wohl darüber sichere Auskunft geben, ob die ungleiche Bewegung der Sonne, wenn wir den Hypothesen des Ptolemaeus folgen, durch Annahme eines Epicykels oder der Ekcentricität zu erklären sei. Beide Annahmen sind gestattet. Daher würde ich—so schliesst Osiander—es für recht wünschenswerth erachten, wenn Du hierüber in der Vorrede etwas beibrächtest. Auf diese Weise würdest Du die Aristoteliker und die Theologen milder stimmen, von denen Du befürchtest, dass sie heftigen Widerspruch kundthun werden.«” Compare Latin text, from Johannes Kepler, 'Apologia Tychonia', Astronomi Opera Omnia (1858), Vol. 1, 246: “De hypothesibus ego sic sensi semper, non esse articulos fidei, sed fundamenta calculi ita ut, etiamsi falsae sint, modo motuum φαινομενα exacte exhibeant, nihil referat; quis enim nos certiores reddet, an Solis inaequalis motus nomine epicycli an nomine eccentricitatis contingat, si Ptolemaei hypotheses sequamur, cum id possit utrumque. Quare plausibile fore videretur, si hac de re in praefatione nonnihil attingeres. Sic enim placidiores redderes peripatheticos et theologos, quos contradicturos metuis.”
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I think it would be desirable that this form of word [mathematics] should be reserved for the applications of the science, and that we should use mathematic in the singular to denote the science itself, in the same way as we speak of logic, rhetoric, or (own sister to algebra) music.
In Presidential Address to the British Association, Exeter British Association Report (1869); Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2, 669.
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If we evolved a race of Isaac Newtons, that would not be progress. For the price Newton had to pay for being a supreme intellect was that he was incapable of friendship, love, fatherhood, and many other desirable things. As a man he was a failure; as a monster he was superb.
Interview with J.W.N. Sullivan, Contemporary Mind, London, 1934. As cited in James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 4, 2222.
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In its earliest development knowledge is self-sown. Impressions force themselves upon men’s senses whether they will or not, and often against their will. The amount of interest in which these impressions awaken is determined by the coarser pains and pleasures which they carry in their train or by mere curiosity; and reason deals with the materials supplied to it as far as that interest carries it, and no further. Such common knowledge is rather brought than sought; and such ratiocination is little more than the working of a blind intellectual instinct. It is only when the mind passes beyond this condition that it begins to evolve science. When simple curiosity passes into the love of knowledge as such, and the gratification of the æsthetic sense of the beauty of completeness and accuracy seems more desirable that the easy indolence of ignorance; when the finding out of the causes of things becomes a source of joy, and he is accounted happy who is successful in the search, common knowledge passes into what our forefathers called natural history, whence there is but a step to that which used to be termed natural philosophy, and now passes by the name of physical science.
In this final state of knowledge the phenomena of nature are regarded as one continuous series of causes and effects; and the ultimate object of science is to trace out that series, from the term which is nearest to us, to that which is at the farthest limit accessible to our means of investigation.
The course of nature as it is, as it has been, and as it will be, is the object of scientific inquiry; whatever lies beyond, above, or below this is outside science. But the philosopher need not despair at the limitation on his field of labor; in relation to the human mind Nature is boundless; and, though nowhere inaccessible, she is everywhere unfathomable.
The Crayfish: an Introduction to the Study of Zoölogy (1880), 2-3. Excerpted in Popular Science (Apr 1880), 16, 789-790.
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In light of new knowledge ... an eventual world state is not just desirable in the name of brotherhood, it is necessary for survival ... Today we must abandon competition and secure cooperation. This must be the central fact in all our considerations of international affairs; otherwise we face certain disaster. Past thinking and methods did not prevent world wars. Future thinking must prevent wars.
…...
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It is admitted by all that a finished or even a competent reasoner is not the work of nature alone; the experience of every day makes it evident that education develops faculties which would otherwise never have manifested their existence. It is, therefore, as necessary to learn to reason before we can expect to be able to reason, as it is to learn to swim or fence, in order to attain either of those arts. Now, something must be reasoned upon, it matters not much what it is, provided it can be reasoned upon with certainty. The properties of mind or matter, or the study of languages, mathematics, or natural history, may be chosen for this purpose. Now of all these, it is desirable to choose the one which admits of the reasoning being verified, that is, in which we can find out by other means, such as measurement and ocular demonstration of all sorts, whether the results are true or not. When the guiding property of the loadstone was first ascertained, and it was necessary to learn how to use this new discovery, and to find out how far it might be relied on, it would have been thought advisable to make many passages between ports that were well known before attempting a voyage of discovery. So it is with our reasoning faculties: it is desirable that their powers should be exerted upon objects of such a nature, that we can tell by other means whether the results which we obtain are true or false, and this before it is safe to trust entirely to reason. Now the mathematics are peculiarly well adapted for this purpose, on the following grounds:
1. Every term is distinctly explained, and has but one meaning, and it is rarely that two words are employed to mean the same thing.
2. The first principles are self-evident, and, though derived from observation, do not require more of it than has been made by children in general.
3. The demonstration is strictly logical, taking nothing for granted except self-evident first principles, resting nothing upon probability, and entirely independent of authority and opinion.
4. When the conclusion is obtained by reasoning, its truth or falsehood can be ascertained, in geometry by actual measurement, in algebra by common arithmetical calculation. This gives confidence, and is absolutely necessary, if, as was said before, reason is not to be the instructor, but the pupil.
5. There are no words whose meanings are so much alike that the ideas which they stand for may be confounded. Between the meaning of terms there is no distinction, except a total distinction, and all adjectives and adverbs expressing difference of degrees are avoided.
In On the Study and Difficulties of Mathematics (1898), chap. 1.
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It is impossible to travel faster than light, and certainly not desirable, as one’s hat keeps blowing off.
Side Effects (1981), 36.
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It is not of the essence of mathematics to be conversant with the ideas of number and quantity. Whether as a general habit of mind it would be desirable to apply symbolic processes to moral argument, is another question.
An Investigation of the Laws of Thought (1854), 12.
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It is very desirable to have a word to express the Availability for work of the heat in a given magazine; a term for that possession, the waste of which is called Dissipation. Unfortunately the excellent word Entropy, which Clausius has introduced in this connexion, is applied by him to the negative of the idea we most naturally wish to express. It would only confuse the student if we were to endeavour to invent another term for our purpose. But the necessity for some such term will be obvious from the beautiful examples which follow. And we take the liberty of using the term Entropy in this altered sense ... The entropy of the universe tends continually to zero.
Sketch of Thermodynamics (1868), 100-2.
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Man is a free moral agent and can be magnanimous and deal disinterestedly, humanity is a definite goal, social justice is desirable and possible, individual lives may be gloriously diversified, uniquely individualized, and yet socially useful; or, these are mere phrases, snares to catch gulls, soothing syrup for our troubled souls.
From Why We Behave Like Human Beings (1925), 476.
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Mathematical economics is old enough to be respectable, but not all economists respect it. It has powerful supporters and impressive testimonials, yet many capable economists deny that mathematics, except as a shorthand or expository device, can be applied to economic reasoning. There have even been rumors that mathematics is used in economics (and in other social sciences) either for the deliberate purpose of mystification or to confer dignity upon commonplaces as French was once used in diplomatic communications. …. To be sure, mathematics can be extended to any branch of knowledge, including economics, provided the concepts are so clearly defined as to permit accurate symbolic representation. That is only another way of saying that in some branches of discourse it is desirable to know what you are talking about.
In J.R. Newman (ed.), Commentary on Cournot, Jevons and the Mathematics of Money', The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 2, 1200.
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Quite distinct from the theoretical question of the manner in which mathematics will rescue itself from the perils to which it is exposed by its own prolific nature is the practical problem of finding means of rendering available for the student the results which have been already accumulated, and making it possible for the learner to obtain some idea of the present state of the various departments of mathematics. … The great mass of mathematical literature will be always contained in Journals and Transactions, but there is no reason why it should not be rendered far more useful and accessible than at present by means of treatises or higher text-books. The whole science suffers from want of avenues of approach, and many beautiful branches of mathematics are regarded as difficult and technical merely because they are not easily accessible. … I feel very strongly that any introduction to a new subject written by a competent person confers a real benefit on the whole science. The number of excellent text-books of an elementary kind that are published in this country makes it all the more to be regretted that we have so few that are intended for the advanced student. As an example of the higher kind of text-book, the want of which is so badly felt in many subjects, I may mention the second part of Prof. Chrystal’s Algebra published last year, which in a small compass gives a great mass of valuable and fundamental knowledge that has hitherto been beyond the reach of an ordinary student, though in reality lying so close at hand. I may add that in any treatise or higher text-book it is always desirable that references to the original memoirs should be given, and, if possible, short historic notices also. I am sure that no subject loses more than mathematics by any attempt to dissociate it from its history.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section A (1890), Nature, 42, 466.
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Science is not gadgetry. The desirable adjuncts of modern living, although in many instances made possible by science, certainly do not constitute science. Basic scientific knowledge often (but not always) is a prerequisite to such developments, but technology primarily deserves the credit for having the financial courage, the ingenuity, and the driving energy to see to it that so-called ‘pure knowledge’ is in fact brought to the practical service of man. And it should also be recognized that those who have the urge to apply knowledge usefully have themselves often made significant contribution to pure knowledge and have even more often served as a stimulation to the activities of a pure researcher.
Warren Weaver (1894–1978), U.S. mathematician, scientist, educator. Science and Imagination, ch. 1, Basic Books (1967).
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Scientific theories tell us what is possible; myths tell us what is desirable. Both are needed to guide proper action.
…...
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Sheppey hath long been noted for producing large quantities of Sheep (whence probably its name is derived) as well as Corn; and exhibits to the Curious Naturalist a most desirable Spot, by affording many rare Plants, and more especially in the of its Northern Cliffs, so great a Quantity and Variety of Fossils, both native and extraneous are scarcely to be paralleled. These Cliffs length about six miles; Minster, Shurland and Warden are the Manors to which they appertain, the more elevated parts whereof reach about thirds of their extension, and are at the very highest of them not less than fifty yards perpendicular height above the Beach and Shore.
Quoted in Augustus A. Daly, History of the Isle of Sheppey (1975), 247.
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The Mathematics are Friends to Religion, inasmuch as they charm the Passions, restrain the Impetuosity of the Imagination, and purge the Mind from Error and Prejudice. Vice is Error, Confusion, and false Reasoning; and all Truth is more or less opposite to it. Besides, Mathematical Studies may serve for a pleasant Entertainment for those Hours which young Men are apt to throw away upon their Vices; the Delightfulness of them being such as to make Solitude not only easy, but desirable.
In An Essay On the Usefulness of Mathematical Learning, (1701) 8-9.
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The efforts of most human-beings are consumed in the struggle for their daily bread, but most of those who are, either through fortune or some special gift, relieved of this struggle are largely absorbed in further improving their worldly lot. Beneath the effort directed toward the accumulation of worldly goods lies all too frequently the illusion that this is the most substantial and desirable end to be achieved; but there is, fortunately, a minority composed of those who recognize early in their lives that the most beautiful and satisfying experiences open to humankind are not derived from the outside, but are bound up with the development of the individual's own feeling, thinking and acting. The genuine artists, investigators and thinkers have always been persons of this kind. However inconspicuously the life of these individuals runs its course, none the less the fruits of their endeavors are the most valuable contributions which one generation can make to its successors.
In letter (1 May 1935), Letters to the Editor, 'The Late Emmy Noether: Professor Einstein Writes in Appreciation of a Fellow-Mathematician', New York Times (4 May 1935), 12.
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The idealistic tinge in my conception of the physical world arose out of mathematical researches on the relativity theory. In so far as I had any earlier philosophical views, they were of an entirely different complexion.
From the beginning I have been doubtful whether it was desirable for a scientist to venture so far into extra-scientific territory. The primary justification for such an expedition is that it may afford a better view of his own scientific domain.
From 'Introduction', The Nature of the Physical World (1928), vi.
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The need for a quick, satisfactory copying machine that could be used right in the office seemed very apparent to me—there seemed such a crying need for it—such a desirable thing if it could be obtained. So I set out to think of how one could be made.
In interview with Dumond (1947) quoted in David owen, Copies in Seconds: How a Lone Inventor and an Unknown Company Created the Biggest Communications Breakthrough Since Gutenberg (2008), 70.
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The outlook seems grim. Natural selection under civilized conditions may lead mankind to evolve towards a state of genetic overspecialization for living in gadget-ridden environments. It is certainly up to man to decide whether this direction of his evolution is or is not desirable. If it is not, man has, or soon will have, the knowledge requisite to redirect the evolution of his species pretty much as he sees fit. Perhaps we should not be too dogmatic about this choice of direction. We may be awfully soft compared to paleolithic men when it comes to struggling, unaided by gadgets, with climatic difficulties and wild beasts. Most of us feel most of the time that this is not a very great loss. If our remote descendants grow to be even more effete than we are, they may conceivably be compensated by acquiring genotypes conducive to kindlier dispositions and greater intellectual capacities than those prevalent in mankind today.
[Co-author with American statistician Gordon Allen.]
Theodosius Dobzhansky and Gordon Allen, 'Does Natural Selection Continue to Operate in Modern Mankind?', American Anthropologist, 1956, 58 599.
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The specific goals we set for ourselves are almost always subsidiary to our long range intentions. A good parent, a good neighbour, a good citizen, is not good because his specific goals are acceptable, but because his successive goals are ordered to a dependable and socially desirable set of values. (1947)
Presidential Address to the first annual Meeting of the American Psychological Asssociation (1947). As cited by Charles Abraham and Paschal Sheeran, 'Implications of Goal Theories for the Theories of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior' in Christopher J. Armitage and Julie Christian (eds.), Planned Behavior: The Relationship Between Human Thought and Action (2004), 101.
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The trained nurse has given nursing the human, or shall we say, the divine touch, and made the hospital desirable for patients with serious ailments regardless of their home advantages.
Collected Papers of the Mayo Clinic and Mayo Foundation (1913).
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There is nothing, in itself, valuable or despicable, desirable or hateful, beautiful or deformed; but that these attributes arise from the particular constitution and fabric of human sentiment and affection.
Essay XVIII, 'The Sceptic', Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects (1742, New ed. 1767), Vol. 1, 184.
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We fondly imagine that evolution drives toward higher intelligence. But eagles would think evolution favored flight, elephants would naturally prefer the importance of great strength. Sharks would feel that swimming was the ultimate desirable trait, and eminent Victorians would be quite convinced that evolution preferred Victorians.
Eater (2000). In Gary Westfahl, Science Fiction Quotations: From the Inner Mind to the Outer Limits (2006), 116.
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We might call it the transformational content of the body … But as I hold it better to borrow terms for important magnitudes from the ancient languages, so that they may be adopted unchanged in all modern languages, I propose to call [it] the entropy of the body, from the Greek word “trope” for “transformation” I have intentionally formed the word “entropy” to be as similar as possible to the word “energy”; for the two magnitudes to be denoted by these words are so nearly allied in their physical meanings, that a certain similarity in designation appears to be desirable.
In 'The Bulldog: A Profile of Ludwig Boltzmann', The American Scholar (1 Jan 1999), 99.
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We must raise the salaries of our operators or they will all be taken from us, that is, all that are good for anything. You will recollect that, at the first meeting of the Board of Directors, I took the ground that 'it was our policy to make the office of operator desirable, to pay operators well and make their situation so agreeable that intelligent men and men of character will seek the place and dread to lose it.' I still think so, and, depend upon it, it is the soundest economy to act on this principle.
Letter to T.S. Faxton, one of his lieutenants (15 Mar 1848). Samuel F. B. Morse, His Letters and Journals (1914), vol. 2, 274.
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When there are two independent causes of variability capable of producing in an otherwise uniform population distributions with standard deviations s1 and s2, it is found that the distribution, when both causes act together, has a standard deviation vs12 + s22. It is therefore desirable in analysing the causes of variability to deal with the square of the standard deviation as the measure of variability. We shall term this quantity the Variance of the normal population to which it refers, and we may now ascribe to the constituent causes fractions or percentages of the total variance which they together produce.
'The Correlation between Relatives on the Supposition of Mendelian Inheritance,' Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1918, 52, 399.
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[Decimal currency is desirable because] by that means all calculations of interest, exchange, insurance, and the like are rendered much more simple and accurate, and, of course, more within the power of the great mass of people. Whenever such things require much labor, time, and reflection, the greater number who do not know, are made the dupes of the lesser number who do.
Letter to Congress (15 Jan 1782). 'Coinage Scheme Proposed by Robert Morris, Superintendent of Finance', from MS. letters and reports of the Superintendent of Finance, No, 137, Vol. 1, 289-300. Reprinted as Appendix, in Executive Documents, Senate of the U.S., Third Session of the Forty-Fifth Congress, 1878-79 (1879), 430.
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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 -
Samuel Morse
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Thomas Edison
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- 60 -
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Avicenna
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- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
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- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
Carl Sagan
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- 10 -
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