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False Quotes (100 quotes)

27% des statistiques sont fausses. Et 95% des plaisanteries sur les statistiques sont éculées.
27% of statistics are false. And 95% of jokes about statistics are stale.
Matyo
Translated from cartoon in magazine Pour la Science (Feb 2004), No. 316. Éculées may also be translated as corny, banal, or worn out.
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Ac kynde wit cometh
Of alle kynnes syghtes,
Of briddes and of beestes,
Of tastes of truthe and of deceites.

Mother-Wit comes from all kinds of experiences,
Of birds and beasts and of tests both true and false.
In William Langland and B. Thomas Wright (ed.) The Vision and Creed of Piers Ploughman (1842), 235. Modern translation by Terrence Tiller in Piers Plowman (1981, 1999), 123.
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I cannot give any scientist of any age better advice than this: the intensity of the conviction that a hypothesis is true has no bearing on whether it is true or not. The importance of the strength of our conviction is only to provide a proportionally strong incentive to find out if the hypothesis will stand up to critical examination.
In Advice to a Young Scientist (1979), 39.
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Nous avons l’obligation aux Anciens de nous avoir épuisé la plus grande partie des idées fausses qu’on le pouvait faire
We are under obligation to the ancients for having exhausted all the false theories that could be formed.
In Digression sur les Anciens et les Modernes (1688), 165. Collected in Oeuvres Diverses (1727), Vol. 3, 139. English version as quoted in John Bagnell Bury, The Idea of Progress: An Inquiry Into Its Origin and Growth (1920), 104.
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A learned man is an idler who kills time with study. Beware of his false knowledge: it is more dangerous than ignorance.
In 'Maxims for Revolutionists: Education', in Man and Superman (1905), 230.
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A man avails himself of the truth so long as it is serviceable; but he seizes on what is false with a passionate eloquence as soon as he can make a momentary use of it; whether it be to dazzle others with it as a kind of half-truth, or to employ it as a stopgap for effecting all apparent union between things that have been disjointed.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 193.
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A neat and orderly laboratory is unlikely. It is, after all, so much a place of false starts and multiple attempts.
[Unverified. Please contact Webmaster if you can identify the primary source.]
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A political law or a scientific truth may be perilous to the morals or the faith of individuals; but it cannot on this ground be resisted by the Church. … A discovery may be made in science which will shake the faith of thousands; yet religion cannot regret it or object to it. The difference in this respect between a true and a false religion is, that one judges all things by the standard of their truth, the other by the touchstone of its own interests. A false religion fears the progress of all truth; a true religion seeks and recognises truth wherever it can be found.
From 'Cardinal Wiseman and the Home and Foreign Review' (1862), collected in John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton Baron Acton, John Neville Figgis (ed.) and Reginald Vere Laurence (ed.), The History of Freedom and Other Essays (1907), 449-450. The Darwinian controversy was at its height when this was written.
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A religion contradicting science and a science contradicting religion are equally false.
In 'Forms of Knowledge', Tertium Organum: The Third Canon of Thought; a Key to the Enigmas of the World (1922), 231.
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A “pacifist male” is a contradiction in terms. Most self-described “pacifists” are not pacific; they simply assume false colors. When the wind changes, they hoist the Jolly Roger.
In 'From the Notebooks of Lazarus Long', Time Enough for Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long (1973), 258.
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Alexander the king of the Macedonians, began like a wretch to learn geometry, that he might know how little the earth was, whereof he had possessed very little. Thus, I say, like a wretch for this, because he was to understand that he did bear a false surname. For who can be great in so small a thing? Those things that were delivered were subtile, and to be learned by diligent attention: not which that mad man could perceive, who sent his thoughts beyond the ocean sea. Teach me, saith he, easy things. To whom his master said: These things be the same, and alike difficult unto all. Think thou that the nature of things saith this. These things whereof thou complainest, they are the same unto all: more easy things can be given unto none; but whosoever will, shall make those things more easy unto himself. How? With uprightness of mind.
In Thomas Lodge (trans.), 'Epistle 91', The Workes of Lucius Annaeus Seneca: Both Morrall and Naturall (1614), 383. Also in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica (1914), 135.
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All our knowledge has been built communally; there would be no astrophysics, there would be no history, there would not even be language, if man were a solitary animal. What follows? It follows that we must be able to rely on other people; we must be able to trust their word. That is, it follows that there is a principle, which binds society together because without it the individual would be helpless to tell the truth from the false. This principle is truthfulness.
In Lecture at M.I.T. (19 Mar 1953), collected in 'The Sense of Human Dignity', Science and Human Values (1956, 1990), 57.
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An educated person is one who has learned that information almost always turns out to be at best incomplete and very often false, misleading, fictitious, mendacious—just dead wrong.
'Sunday Observer: Terminal Education', New York Times Magazine (9 Nov 1980), 8.
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At this point, however, I have no intention whatever of criticizing the false teachings of Galen, who is easily first among the professors of dissection, for I certainly do not wish to start off by gaining a reputation for impiety toward him, the author of all good things, or by seeming insubordinate to his authority. For I am well aware how upset the practitioners (unlike the followers of Aristotle) invariably become nowadays, when they discover in the course of a single dissection that Galen has departed on two hundred or more occasions from the true description of the harmony, function, and action of the human parts, and how grimly they examine the dissected portions as they strive with all the zeal at their command to defend him. Yet even they, drawn by their love of truth, are gradually calming down and placing more faith in their own not ineffective eyes and reason than in Galen’s writings.
From De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem: (1543), Book I, iv, as translated by William Frank Richardson, in On The Fabric of the Human Body: Book I: The Bones and Cartilages (1998), Preface, liv.
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Besides accustoming the student to demand, complete proof, and to know when he has not obtained it, mathematical studies are of immense benefit to his education by habituating him to precision. It is one of the peculiar excellencies of mathematical discipline, that the mathematician is never satisfied with à peu près. He requires the exact truth. Hardly any of the non-mathematical sciences, except chemistry, has this advantage. One of the commonest modes of loose thought, and sources of error both in opinion and in practice, is to overlook the importance of quantities. Mathematicians and chemists are taught by the whole course of their studies, that the most fundamental difference of quality depends on some very slight difference in proportional quantity; and that from the qualities of the influencing elements, without careful attention to their quantities, false expectation would constantly be formed as to the very nature and essential character of the result produced.
In An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1878), 611. [The French phrase, à peu près means “approximately”. —Webmaster]
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But although in theory physicists realize that their conclusions are ... not certainly true, this ... does not really sink into their consciousness. Nearly all the time ... they ... act as if Science were indisputably True, and what's more, as if only science were true.... Any information obtained otherwise than by the scientific method, although it may be true, the scientists will call “unscientific,” using this word as a smear word, by bringing in the connotation from its original [Greek] meaning, to imply that the information is false, or at any rate slightly phony.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 176-77.
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Children are told that an apple fell on Isaac Newton’s head and he was led to state the law of gravity. This, of course, is pure foolishness. What Newton discovered was that any two particles in the universe attract each other with a force that is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. This is not learned from a falling apple, but by observing quantities of data and developing a mathematical theory that can be verified by additional data. Data gathered by Galileo on falling bodies and by Johannes Kepler on motions of the planets were invaluable aids to Newton. Unfortunately, such false impressions about science are not universally outgrown like the Santa Claus myth, and some people who don’t study much science go to their graves thinking that the human race took until the mid-seventeenth century to notice that objects fall.
In How to Tell the Liars from the Statisticians (1983), 127.
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Considering that, among all those who up to this time made discoveries in the sciences, it was the mathematicians alone who had been able to arrive at demonstrations—that is to say, at proofs certain and evident—I did not doubt that I should begin with the same truths that they have investigated, although I had looked for no other advantage from them than to accustom my mind to nourish itself upon truths and not to be satisfied with false reasons.
In Discourse upon Method, Part 2, in Henry A. Torrey (ed., trans. )Philosophy of Descartes in Extracts from His Writings , (1892), 47-48.
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Creation science has not entered the curriculum for a reason so simple and so basic that we often forget to mention it: because it is false, and because good teachers understand why it is false. What could be more destructive of that most fragile yet most precious commodity in our entire intellectual heritage—good teaching—than a bill forcing our honorable teachers to sully their sacred trust by granting equal treatment to a doctrine not only known to be false, but calculated to undermine any general understanding of science as an enterprise?.
In 'The Verdict on Creationism' The Sketical Inquirer (Winter 1987/88), 12, 186.
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Duration is not a test of true or false.
In 'Double-Sunrise', Gift From the Sea (1955), 76.
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Error is often nourished by good sense. … The meaning is, that the powers of the understanding are frequently employed to defend favourite errors; and that a man of sense frequently fortifies himself in his prejudices, or in false opinions which he received without examination, by such arguments as would not have occurred to a fool.
In Maxims, Characters, and Reflections, Critical, Satyrical and Moral (2nd ed., 1757), 9. The meaning is given as a footnote.
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Even a wise experiment when made by a fool generally leads to a false conclusion, but that fools’ experiments conducted by a genius often prove to be leaps through the dark into great discoveries.
Commenting on Charles Darwin’s “fool’s experiments”, in 'Charles Robert Darwin', collected in C.D. Warner (ed.), Library of the World’s Best Literature Ancient and Modern (1896), Vol. 2, 4391-4392.
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Even mistaken hypotheses and theories are of use in leading to discoveries. This remark is true in all the sciences. The alchemists founded chemistry by pursuing chimerical problems and theories which are false. In physical science, which is more advanced than biology, we might still cite men of science who make great discoveries by relying on false theories. It seems, indeed, a necessary weakness of our mind to be able to reach truth only across a multitude of errors and obstacles.
An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865, translation 1927, 1957), 170.
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Every detection of what is false directs us towards what is true: every trial exhausts some tempting form of error.
In 'Lecture 7', Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy in England (1852), 101.
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Examine your words well, and you will find that even when you have no motive to be false, it is a very hard thing to say the exact truth, even about your own immediate feelings—much harder than to say something fine about them which is not the exact truth.
In Adam Bede (1859, 1860), 151.
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Exercise in the most rigorous thinking that is possible will of its own accord strengthen the sense of truth and right, for each advance in the ability to distinguish between correct and false thoughts, each habit making for rigour in thought development will increase in the sound pupil the ability and the wish to ascertain what is right in life and to defend it.
In Anleitung zum mathematischen Unterricht in den höheren Schulen (1906), 28.
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Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true.
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False interpretation of the Bible has often clashed with science, as false science has with true interpretation; but true science is the natural ally of religion, for both are from God.
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For of men it may in general be affirmed that they are thankless, fickle, false, studious to avoid danger, greedy of gain, devoted to you while you are able to confer benefits upon them …; but in the hour of need they forsake you.
In The Prince (1882), 111, as translated from the Italian by N.H.Thomson. Another translation gives: “Speaking generally, men are ungrateful, fickle, hypocritical, fearful of danger, and covetous of gain,” in Forbes Book of Quotations: 10,000 Thoughts on the Business of Life (2016).
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For the most part we humans live with the false impression of security and a feeling of being at home in a seemingly trustworthy physical and human environment. But when the expected course of everyday life is interrupted, we are like shipwrecked people on a miserable plank in the open sea, having forgotten where they came from and not knowing whither they are drifting. But once we fully accept this, life becomes easier and there is no longer any disappointment.
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Geometrical axioms are neither synthetic a priori conclusions nor experimental facts. They are conventions: our choice, amongst all possible conventions, is guided by experimental facts; but it remains free, and is only limited by the necessity of avoiding all contradiction. ... In other words, axioms of geometry are only definitions in disguise.
That being so what ought one to think of this question: Is the Euclidean Geometry true?
The question is nonsense. One might as well ask whether the metric system is true and the old measures false; whether Cartesian co-ordinates are true and polar co-ordinates false.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 110.
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However, all scientific statements and laws have one characteristic in common: they are “true or false” (adequate or inadequate). Roughly speaking, our reaction to them is “yes” or “no.” The scientific way of thinking has a further characteristic. The concepts which it uses to build up its coherent systems are not expressing emotions. For the scientist, there is only “being,” but no wishing, no valuing, no good, no evil; no goal. As long as we remain within the realm of science proper, we can never meet with a sentence of the type: “Thou shalt not lie.” There is something like a Puritan's restraint in the scientist who seeks truth: he keeps away from everything voluntaristic or emotional.
Essays in Physics (1950), 68.
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I am particularly fond of (Emmanuel Mendes da Costa’s) Natural History of Fossils because treatise, more than any other work written in English, records a short episode expressing one of the grand false starts in the history of natural science–and nothing can be quite so informative and instructive as a juicy mistake.
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I am very sorry, Pyrophilus, that to the many (elsewhere enumerated) difficulties which you may meet with, and must therefore surmount, in the serious and effectual prosecution of experimental philosophy I must add one discouragement more, which will perhaps is much surprise as dishearten you; and it is, that besides that you will find (as we elsewhere mention) many of the experiments published by authors, or related to you by the persons you converse with, false and unsuccessful (besides this, I say), you will meet with several observations and experiments which, though communicated for true by candid authors or undistrusted eye-witnesses, or perhaps recommended by your own experience, may, upon further trial, disappoint your expectation, either not at all succeeding constantly, or at least varying much from what you expected.
Opening paragraph of The First Essay Concerning the Unsuccessfulness of Experiments (1673), collected in The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle in Six Volumes to Which is Prefixed the Life of the Author (1772), Vol. 1, 318-319.
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I never said a word against eminent men of science. What I complain of is a vague popular philosophy which supposes itself to be scientific when it is really nothing but a sort of new religion and an uncommonly nasty one. When people talked about the fall of man, they knew they were talking about a mystery, a thing they didn’t understand. Now they talk about the survival of the fittest: they think they do understand it, whereas they have not merely no notion, they have an elaborately false notion of what the words mean.
In The Club of Queer Trades (1903, 1905), 241.
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I think and think for months and years. Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.
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If you have to prove a theorem, do not rush. First of all, understand fully what the theorem says, try to see clearly what it means. Then check the theorem; it could be false. Examine the consequences, verify as many particular instances as are needed to convince yourself of the truth. When you have satisfied yourself that the theorem is true, you can start proving it.
In How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (2004), 15.
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In fact, no opinion should be with fervour. No one holds with fervour that seven times eight is fifty-six, because it can be shown to be the case. Fervour is only necessary in commending an opinion which is doubtful or demonstrably false.
In Institut et Musée Voltaire, Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century (1994), 314. Also quoted in Max Perutz, Is Science Necessary? (1991), 196.
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In logic, A asserts and B denies. Assertions being proverbially untrue, the presumption would be in favor of B’s innocence were it not that denials are notoriously false.
The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary (2000), 5.
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In the field of thinking, the whole history of science from geocentrism to the Copernican revolution, from the false absolutes of Aristotle’s physics to the relativity of Galileo’s principle of inertia and to Einstein’s theory of relativity, shows that it has taken centuries to liberate us from the systematic errors, from the illusions caused by the immediate point of view as opposed to “decentered” systematic thinking.
As quoted in D. E. Berlyne, Structure and Direction in Thinking (1965), 232.
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In the history of science and throughout the whole course of its progress we see certain epochs following one another more or less rapidly. Some important view is expressed, it may be original or only revived; sooner or later it receives recognition; fellow-Workers spring up; the outcome of it finds its way into the schools; it is taught and handed down; and we observe, unhappily, that it does not in the least matter whether the view be true or false. In either case its course is the same; in either case it comes in the end to he a mere phrase, a lifeless word stamped on the memory.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 184.
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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.
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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Innovations, free thinking is blowing like a storm; those that stand in front of it, ignorant scholars like you, false scientists, perverse conservatives, obstinate goats, resisting mules are being crushed under the weight of these innovations. You are nothing but ants standing in front of the giants; nothing but chicks trying to challenge roaring volcanoes!
From the play Galileo Galilei (2001) .
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It is a myth that the success of science in our time is mainly due to the huge amounts of money that have been spent on big machines. What really makes science grow is new ideas, including false ideas.
As quoted by Adam Gopnik, writing about his meeting with Popper at home, in 'The Porcupine: A Pilgrimage to Popper' in The New Yorker (1 Apr 2002).
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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 always better to have no ideas than false ones; to believe nothing than to believe what is wrong.
In Letter (19 Jul 1788) to James Madison. Collected in Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Memoirs, Correspondence, and Private Papers of Thomas Jefferson (1829), Vol. 2, 223.
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It is more important that a proposition be interesting than it be true. … But of course a true proposition is more apt to be interesting than a false one.
In Adventures of Ideas (1933, 1967), 244.
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It is not surprising, in view of the polydynamic constitution of the genuinely mathematical mind, that many of the major heros of the science, men like Desargues and Pascal, Descartes and Leibnitz, Newton, Gauss and Bolzano, Helmholtz and Clifford, Riemann and Salmon and Plücker and Poincaré, have attained to high distinction in other fields not only of science but of philosophy and letters too. And when we reflect that the very greatest mathematical achievements have been due, not alone to the peering, microscopic, histologic vision of men like Weierstrass, illuminating the hidden recesses, the minute and intimate structure of logical reality, but to the larger vision also of men like Klein who survey the kingdoms of geometry and analysis for the endless variety of things that flourish there, as the eye of Darwin ranged over the flora and fauna of the world, or as a commercial monarch contemplates its industry, or as a statesman beholds an empire; when we reflect not only that the Calculus of Probability is a creation of mathematics but that the master mathematician is constantly required to exercise judgment—judgment, that is, in matters not admitting of certainty—balancing probabilities not yet reduced nor even reducible perhaps to calculation; when we reflect that he is called upon to exercise a function analogous to that of the comparative anatomist like Cuvier, comparing theories and doctrines of every degree of similarity and dissimilarity of structure; when, finally, we reflect that he seldom deals with a single idea at a tune, but is for the most part engaged in wielding organized hosts of them, as a general wields at once the division of an army or as a great civil administrator directs from his central office diverse and scattered but related groups of interests and operations; then, I say, the current opinion that devotion to mathematics unfits the devotee for practical affairs should be known for false on a priori grounds. And one should be thus prepared to find that as a fact Gaspard Monge, creator of descriptive geometry, author of the classic Applications de l’analyse à la géométrie; Lazare Carnot, author of the celebrated works, Géométrie de position, and Réflections sur la Métaphysique du Calcul infinitesimal; Fourier, immortal creator of the Théorie analytique de la chaleur; Arago, rightful inheritor of Monge’s chair of geometry; Poncelet, creator of pure projective geometry; one should not be surprised, I say, to find that these and other mathematicians in a land sagacious enough to invoke their aid, rendered, alike in peace and in war, eminent public service.
In Lectures on Science, Philosophy and Art (1908), 32-33.
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It is therefore easy to see why the churches have always fought science and persecuted its devotees. On the other hand, I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research. Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue. What a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand, were it but a feeble reflection of the mind revealed in this world, Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labor in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics! Those whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men who, surrounded by a skeptical world, have shown the way to kindred spirits scattered wide through the world and through the centuries. Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of countless failures. It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man such strength. A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people.
…...
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It is utterly false and cruelly arbitrary to put all the play and learning into childhood, all the work into middle age, and all the regrets into old age.
Quoted, without citation, as a column filler, in New York State Department of Mental Hygiene, Mental Hygiene News (1949), Volumes 20-26, 20. Webmaster has so far been unable to find a primary source, so please contact if you know the primary source.
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It would be our worst enemy who would wish us to live only on the glories of the past and die off from the face of the earth in sheer passivity. By continuous achievement alone we can justify our great ancestry. We do not honour our ancestors by the false claim that they are omniscient and had nothing more to learn.
From 'Sir J.C. Bose’s Address', Benares Hindu University 1905-1935 (1936), 423. Collected in J. Lourdusamy, Science and National Consciousness in Bengal: 1870-1930 (2004), 106.
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It [analysis] lacks at this point such plan and unity that it is really amazing that it can be studied by so many people. The worst is that it has not at all been treated with rigor. There are only a few propositions in higher analysis that have been demonstrated with complete rigor. Everywhere one finds the unfortunate manner of reasoning from the particular to the general, and it is very unusual that with such a method one finds, in spite of everything, only a few of what many be called paradoxes. It is really very interesting to seek the reason.
In my opinion that arises from the fact that the functions with which analysis has until now been occupied can, for the most part, be expressed by means of powers. As soon as others appear, something that, it is true, does not often happen, this no longer works and from false conclusions there flow a mass of incorrect propositions.
From a letter to his professor Hansteen in Christiania, Oslo in Correspondence (1902), 23 . In Umberto Bottazzini and Warren Van Egmond, The Higher Calculus (1986), 87-88.
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Mathematics has the completely false reputation of yielding infallible conclusions. Its infallibility is nothing but identity. Two times two is not four, but it is just two times two, and that is what we call four for short. But four is nothing new at all. And thus it goes on and on in its conclusions, except that in the higher formulas the identity fades out of sight.
As quoted in Richard von Mises, 'Mathematical Postulates and Human Understanding', collected in J.R. Newman (ed.) The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 3, 1754.
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My story [Lord of the Rings] is not an allegory of Atomic power, but of Power (exerted for Domination). Nuclear physics can be used for that purpose. But they need not be. They need not be used at all. If there is any contemporary reference in my story at all it is to what seems to me the most widespread assumption of our time: that if a thing can be done, it must be done. This seems to me wholly false.
From Letter draft to Joanna de Bortadano (Apr 1956). In Humphrey Carpenter (ed.) assisted by Christopher Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (1995, 2014), 246, Letter No. 186.
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Nothing is less applicable to life than mathematical reasoning. A proposition in mathematics is decidedly false or true. Everywhere else the true is mingled with the false.
Quoted, without citation, in David Eugene Smith, The Teaching of Elementary Mathematics (1904), 170.
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Of the many forms of false culture, a premature converse with abstractions is perhaps the most likely to prove fatal to the growth of a masculine vigour of intellect.
In A Treatise on Differential Equations (1859), Preface, vi.
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Our reasonings are grounded upon two great principles, that of contradiction, in virtue of which we judge false that which involves a contradiction, and true that which is opposed or contradictory to the false.
The Monadology and Other Philosophical Writings (1714), trans. Robert Latta (1898) 235.
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Physical science is like simple addition: it is either infallible or it is false.
In All Things Considered (1908), 187.
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Professors have a tendency to think that independent, creative thinking cannot be done by non-science students, and that only advanced science majors have learned enough of the material to think critically about it. I believe this attitude is false. … [Ask] students to use their native intelligence to actually confront subtle scientific issues.
In Understanding the Universe: An Inquiry Approach to Astronomy and the Nature of Scientific Research (2013), ix.
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Scarcely any attempt is entirely a failure; scarcely any theory, the result of steady thought, is altogether false; no tempting form of Error is without some latent charm derived from Truth.
In 'Lecture 7', Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy in England (1852), 101.
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Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.
In Letter (1 Jun 1988) to Father George V. Coyne, Director of the Vatican Observatory. On vatican.va website.
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Science falsely so called.
Bible, 1 Timothy 6:20. In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 382.
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Science is often regarded as the most objective and truth-directed of human enterprises, and since direct observation is supposed to be the favored route to factuality, many people equate respectable science with visual scrutiny–just the facts ma’am, and palpably before my eyes. But science is a battery of observational and inferential methods, all directed to the testing of propositions that can, in principle, be definitely proven false ... At all scales, from smallest to largest, quickest to slowest, many well-documented conclusions of science lie beyond the strictly limited domain of direct observation. No one has ever seen an electron or a black hole, the events of a picosecond or a geological eon.
…...
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Science was false by being unpoetical. It assumed to explain a reptile or a mollusk, and isolated it—which is hunting for life in graveyards. Reptile or mollusk or man or angel only exists in system, in relation.
In 'Letters and Social Aims: Poetry and Imagination', Prose works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1880), Vol. 3, 199.
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Science’s defenders have identified five hallmark moves of pseudoscientists. They argue that the scientific consensus emerges from a conspiracy to suppress dissenting views. They produce fake experts, who have views contrary to established knowledge but do not actually have a credible scientific track record. They cherry-pick the data and papers that challenge the dominant view as a means of discrediting an entire field. They deploy false analogies and other logical fallacies. And they set impossible expectations of research: when scientists produce one level of certainty, the pseudoscientists insist they achieve another.
In Commencement Address at the California Institute of Technology (10 Jun 2016). Published on the website of The New Yorker (10 Jun 2016).
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Suppose then I want to give myself a little training in the art of reasoning; suppose I want to get out of the region of conjecture and probability, free myself from the difficult task of weighing evidence, and putting instances together to arrive at general propositions, and simply desire to know how to deal with my general propositions when I get them, and how to deduce right inferences from them; it is clear that I shall obtain this sort of discipline best in those departments of thought in which the first principles are unquestionably true. For in all our thinking, if we come to erroneous conclusions, we come to them either by accepting false premises to start with—in which case our reasoning, however good, will not save us from error; or by reasoning badly, in which case the data we start from may be perfectly sound, and yet our conclusions may be false. But in the mathematical or pure sciences,—geometry, arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, the calculus of variations or of curves,— we know at least that there is not, and cannot be, error in our first principles, and we may therefore fasten our whole attention upon the processes. As mere exercises in logic, therefore, these sciences, based as they all are on primary truths relating to space and number, have always been supposed to furnish the most exact discipline. When Plato wrote over the portal of his school. “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here,” he did not mean that questions relating to lines and surfaces would be discussed by his disciples. On the contrary, the topics to which he directed their attention were some of the deepest problems,— social, political, moral,—on which the mind could exercise itself. Plato and his followers tried to think out together conclusions respecting the being, the duty, and the destiny of man, and the relation in which he stood to the gods and to the unseen world. What had geometry to do with these things? Simply this: That a man whose mind has not undergone a rigorous training in systematic thinking, and in the art of drawing legitimate inferences from premises, was unfitted to enter on the discussion of these high topics; and that the sort of logical discipline which he needed was most likely to be obtained from geometry—the only mathematical science which in Plato’s time had been formulated and reduced to a system. And we in this country [England] have long acted on the same principle. Our future lawyers, clergy, and statesmen are expected at the University to learn a good deal about curves, and angles, and numbers and proportions; not because these subjects have the smallest relation to the needs of their lives, but because in the very act of learning them they are likely to acquire that habit of steadfast and accurate thinking, which is indispensable to success in all the pursuits of life.
In Lectures on Teaching (1906), 891-92.
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The Big Idea that had been developed in the seventeenth century ... is now known as the scientific method. It says that the way to proceed when investigating how the world works is to first carry out experiments and/or make observations of the natural world. Then, develop hypotheses to explain these observations, and (crucially) use the hypothesis to make predictions about the future outcome of future experiments and/or observations. After comparing the results of those new observations with the predictions of the hypotheses, discard those hypotheses which make false predictions, and retain (at least, for the time being) any hypothesis that makes accurate predictions, elevating it to the status of a theory. Note that a theory can never be proved right. The best that can be said is that it has passed all the tests applied so far.
In The Fellowship: the Story of a Revolution (2005), 275.
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The familiar idea of a god who is omniscient: someone who knows everything … does not immediately ring alarm bells in our brains; it is plausible that such a being could exist. Yet, when it is probed more closely one can show that omniscience of this sort creates a logical paradox and must, by the standards of human reason, therefore be judged impossible or be qualified in some way. To see this consider this test statement:
This statement is not known to be true by anyone.
Now consider the plight of our hypothetical Omniscient Being (“Big O”). Suppose first that this statement is true and Big O does not know it. Then Big O would not be omniscient. So, instead, suppose our statement is false. This means that someone must know the statement to be true; hence it must be true. So regardless of whether we assume at the outset that this statement is true or false, we are forced to conclude that it must be true! And therefore, since the statement is true, nobody (including Big O) can know that it is true. This shows that there must always be true statements that no being can know to be true. Hence there cannot be an Omniscient Being who knows all truths. Nor, by the same argument, could we or our future successors, ever attain such a state of omniscience. All that can be known is all that can be known, not all that is true.
In Impossibility: The Limits of Science and the Science of Limits (1999), 11.
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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.
In 'Notes of a Fringe-Watcher: The Tragedies of False Memories', Skeptical Inquirer (Fall 1994), 18, 464.
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The Mathematics, I say, which effectually exercises, not vainly deludes or vexatiously torments studious Minds with obscure Subtilties, perplexed Difficulties, or contentious Disquisitions; which overcomes without Opposition, triumphs without Pomp, compels without Force, and rules absolutely without Loss of Liberty; which does not privately over-reach a weak Faith, but openly assaults an armed Reason, obtains a total Victory, and puts on inevitable Chains; whose Words are so many Oracles, and Works as many Miracles; which blabs out nothing rashly, nor designs anything from the Purpose, but plainly demonstrates and readily performs all Things within its Verge; which obtrudes no false Shadow of Science, but the very Science itself, the Mind firmly adhering to it, as soon as possessed of it, and can never after desert it of its own Accord, or be deprived of it by any Force of others: Lastly the Mathematics, which depends upon Principles clear to the Mind, and agreeable to Experience; which draws certain Conclusions, instructs by profitable Rules, unfolds pleasant Questions; and produces wonderful Effects; which is the fruitful Parent of, I had almost said all, Arts, the unshaken Foundation of Sciences, and the plentiful Fountain of Advantage to human Affairs.
Address to the University of Cambridge upon being elected Lucasian Professor of Mathematics (14 Mar 1664). In Mathematical Lectures (1734), xxviii.
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The Moon by us to you her greeting sends,
But bids us say that she’s an ill-used moon,
And takes it much amiss that you should still
Shuffle her days, and turn them topsy-turvy;
And that the gods (who know their feast-days well),
By your false count are sent home supperless,
And scold and storm at her for your neglect.
From poem, 'The Clouds', quoted in William Whewell, History of the Inductive Sciences (1837), 126. Concerning the imperfect calendar used in ancient Greece in which multiples of the lunar cycles did not exactly correspond to the solar year.
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The only ethical principle which has made science possible is that the truth shall be told all the time. If we do not penalize false statements made in error, we open up the way for false statements by intention. And a false statement of fact, made deliberately, is the most serious crime a scientist can commit.
In The Search (1934, rev. ed. 1959). Also seen attributed to Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night (1935). Webmaster has not yet solved the mystery of which author wrote it first. If you have access to both books, and can identify the first to publish, please contact Webmaster.
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The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.
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The origin of all science is the desire to know causes, and the origin of all false science and imposture is the desire to accept false causes rather than none; or, which is the same thing, in the unwillingness to acknowledge our own ignorance.
From 'Burke and the Edinburgh Phrenologists', The Atlas (15 Feb 1829). Collected in William Hazlitt and Percival Presland Howe (ed.), New Writings by William Hazlitt (2nd Ed., 1925), 117.
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The self-fulfilling prophecy is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behavior which makes the originally false conception come true. The specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning. … Such are the perversities of social logic.
In article, 'The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy', The Antioch Review (Summer 1948), 8, No. 2, 195-196. Included as Chap. 7 of Social Theory and Social Structure (1949), 181-195. Note: Merton coined the expression “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
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The solution, as all thoughtful people recognize, must lie in properly melding the themes of inborn predisposition and shaping through life’s experiences. This fruitful joining cannot take the false form of percentages adding to 100–as in ‘intelligence is 80 percent nature and 20 percent nurture,’ or ‘homosexuality is 50 percent inborn and 50 percent learned,’ and a hundred other harmful statements in this foolish format. When two ends of such a spectrum are commingled, the result is not a separable amalgam (like shuffling two decks of cards with different backs), but an entirely new and higher entity that cannot be decomposed (just as adults cannot be separated into maternal and paternal contributions to their totality).
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There is no great harm in the theorist who makes up a new theory to fit a new event. But the theorist who starts with a false theory and then sees everything as making it come true is the most dangerous enemy of human reason.
In The Flying Inn (1914), 103.
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There is no more convincing proof of the truth of a comprehensive theory than its power of absorbing and finding a place for new facts, and its capability of interpreting phenomena which had been previously looked upon as unaccountable anomalies. It is thus that the law of universal gravitation and the undulatory theory of light have become established and universally accepted by men of science. Fact after fact has been brought forward as being apparently inconsistent with them, and one alter another these very facts have been shown to be the consequences of the laws they were at first supposed to disprove. A false theory will never stand this test. Advancing knowledge brings to light whole groups of facts which it cannot deal with, and its advocates steadily decrease in numbers, notwithstanding the ability and scientific skill with which it may have been supported.
From a review of four books on the subject 'Mimicry, and Other Protective Resemblances Among Animals', in The Westminster Review (Jul 1867), 88, 1. Wallace is identified as the author in the article as reprinted in William Beebe, The Book of Naturalists: An Anthology of the Best Natural History (1988), 108.
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There is no vice that doth so cover a man with shame as to be found false and perfidious.
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There is nothing distinctively scientific about the hypothetico-deductive process. It is not even distinctively intellectual. It is merely a scientific context for a much more general stratagem that underlies almost all regulative processes or processes of continuous control, namely feedback, the control of performance by the consequences of the act performed. In the hypothetico-deductive scheme the inferences we draw from a hypothesis are, in a sense, its logical output. If they are true, the hypothesis need not be altered, but correction is obligatory if they are false. The continuous feedback from inference to hypothesis is implicit in Whewell’s account of scientific method; he would not have dissented from the view that scientific behaviour can be classified as appropriately under cybernetics as under logic.
Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (1969), 54-5.
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This theme of mutually invisible life at widely differing scales bears an important implication for the ‘culture wars’ that supposedly now envelop our universities and our intellectual discourse in general ... One side of this false dichotomy features the postmodern relativists who argue that all culturally bound modes of perception must be equally valid, and that no factual truth therefore exists. The other side includes the benighted, old-fashioned realists who insist that flies truly have two wings, and that Shakespeare really did mean what he thought he was saying. The principle of scaling provides a resolution for the false parts of this silly dichotomy. Facts are facts and cannot be denied by any rational being. (Often, facts are also not at all easy to determine or specify–but this question raises different issues for another time.) Facts, however, may also be highly scale dependent–and the perceptions of one world may have no validity or expression in the domain of another. The one-page map of Maine cannot recognize the separate boulders of Acadia, but both provide equally valid representations of a factual coastline.
The World as I See It (1999)
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Those who assert that the mathematical sciences make no affirmation about what is fair or good make a false assertion; for they do speak of these and frame demonstrations of them in the most eminent sense of the word. For if they do not actually employ these names, they do not exhibit even the results and the reasons of these, and therefore can be hardly said to make any assertion about them. Of what is fair, however, the most important species are order and symmetry, and that which is definite, which the mathematical sciences make manifest in a most eminent degree. And since, at least, these appear to be the causes of many things—now, I mean, for example, order, and that which is a definite thing, it is evident that they would assert, also, the existence of a cause of this description, and its subsistence after the same manner as that which is fair subsists in.
Aristotle
In Metaphysics [MacMahon] Bk. 12, chap. 3.
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To behold is not necessarily to observe, and the power of comparing and combining is only to be obtained by education. It is much to be regretted that habits of exact observation are not cultivated in our schools; to this deficiency may be traced much of the fallacious reasoning, the false philosophy which prevails.
As quoted in Inaugural Address, Edward C.C. Stanford, 'Glasgow Philosophical Meeting' (8 Dec 1873), The Chemical News and Journal of Physical Science (2 Jan 1874), 7.
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We live in a world where unfortunately the distinction between true and false appears to become increasingly blurred by manipulation of facts, by exploitation of uncritical minds, and by the pollution of the language.
As attributed in prepared statement by David I. Haberman to Tiselius (1970 Nobel Prize Ceremony) in United States Congress, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on Multinational Corporations, Multinational Corporations and United States Foreign Policy (1974), 41.
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We may have three principal objects in the study of truth: one to discover it when it is sought; another to demonstrate it when it is possessed; and a third, to discriminate it from the false when it is examined.
As translated in Blaise Pascal and G.W. Wight (trans.), Of the Geometrical Spirit, collected in Charles William Eliot, The Harvard Classics (1910), Vol. 48, 427. From the original French, “On peut avoir trois principaux objets dans l’etude de la vérité: l’un, de la découvrir quand on la cherche; l’autre, de la démontrer quand on la possède; le dernier, de la discerner d'avec le faux quand on l’examine,” in 'De l'Ésprit Géométrique', Pascal: Opuscules Philosophiques (1887), 82. For an alternative translation, see the quote beginning, “There are three leading objects…” on the Blaise Pascal Quotes page of this website.
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We must reject the false choice between combating climate change and fostering strong economic growth. If any country can prove that, it’s the United States.
In Hillary Clinton, 'Hillary Clinton: America Must Lead at Paris Climate Talks', Time (29 Nov 2015).
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We praise the eighteenth century for concerning itself chiefly with analysis. The task remaining to the nineteenth is to discover the false syntheses which prevail, and to analyse their contents anew.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 198.
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What intellectual phenomenon can be older, or more oft repeated, than the story of a large research program that impaled itself upon a false central assumption accepted by all practitioners? Do we regard all people who worked within such traditions as dishonorable fools? What of the scientists who assumed that the continents were stable, that the hereditary material was protein, or that all other galaxies lay within the Milky Way? These false and abandoned efforts were pursued with passion by brilliant and honorable scientists. How many current efforts, now commanding millions of research dollars and the full attention of many of our best scientists, will later be exposed as full failures based on false premises?
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What is possible can never be demonstrated to be false; and 'tis possible the course of nature may change, since we can conceive such a change. Nay, I will go farther, and assert, that he could not so much as prove by any probable arguments, that the future must be conformable to the past. All probable arguments are built on the supposition, that there is this conformity betwixt the future and the past, and therefore can never prove it. This conformity is a matter of fact, and if it must be proved, will admit of no proof but from experience. But our experience in the past can be a proof of nothing for the future, but upon a supposition, that there is a resemblance betwixt them. This therefore is a point, which can admit of no proof at all, and which we take for granted without any proof.
An Abstract of A Treatise on Human Nature (1740), ed. John Maynard Keynes and Piero Sraffa (1938), 15.
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When entering on new ground we must not be afraid to express even risky ideas so as to stimulate research in all directions. As Priestley put it, we must not remain inactive through false modesty based on fear of being mistaken.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 164-165.
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When men are engaged in war and conquest, the tools of science become as dangerous as a razor in the hands of a child of three. We must not condemn man because his inventiveness and patient conquest of the forces of nature are being exploited for false and destructive purposes. Rather, we should remember that the fate of mankind hinges entirely upon man’s moral development.
In 'I Am an American' (22 Jun 1940), Einstein Archives 29-092. Excerpted in David E. Rowe and Robert J. Schulmann, Einstein on Politics: His Private Thoughts and Public Stands on Nationalism, Zionism, War, Peace, and the Bomb (2007), 470. The British Library Sound Archive holds a recording of this statement by Einstein. It was during a radio broadcast for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, interviewed by a State Department Official. Einstein spoke following an examination on his application for American citizenship in Trenton, New Jersey. The attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s declaration of war on Japan was still over a year in the future.
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Whether true or false, others must judge; for the firmest conviction of the truth of a doctrine by its author, seems, alas, not to be the slightest guarantee of truth.
Letter (1 May 1857) to Alfred Russel Wallace. In Sir Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887), 454.
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While seeing any number of black crows does not prove all the crows are black, seeing one white crow disproves it. Thus science proceeds not by proving models correct but by discarding false ones or improving incomplete ones.
In 'On the Nature of Science', Physics in Canada (Jan/Feb 2007), 63, No. 1, 7.
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Why, it is asked, since the scientist, by means of classification and experiment, can predict the “action of the physical world, shall not the historian do as much for the moral world”! The analogy is false at many points; but the confusion arises chiefly from the assumption that the scientist can predict the action of the physical world. Certain conditions precisely given, the scientist can predict the result; he cannot say when or where in the future those conditions will obtain.
In 'A New Philosophy of History', The Dial (2 Sep 1915), 148. This is Becker’s review of a book by L. Cecil Jane, The Interpretation of History. Becker refutes Jane’s idea that the value of history lies in whether it consists in furnishing “some clue as to what the future will bring.”
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You have heard of the new chemical nomenclature endeavored to be introduced by Lavoisier, Fourcroy, &c. Other chemists of this country, of equal note, reject it, and prove in my opinion that it is premature, insufficient and false. These latter are joined by the British chemists; and upon the whole, I think the new nomenclature will be rejected, after doing more harm than good. There are some good publications in it, which must be translated into the ordinary chemical language before they will be useful.
Letter to Dr. Currie (Paris, 1788). In Thomas Jefferson and John P. Foley (ed.), The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia (1900), 135. From H.A. Washington, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1853-54). Vol 2, 544.
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[J.J.] Sylvester’s methods! He had none. “Three lectures will be delivered on a New Universal Algebra,” he would say; then, “The course must be extended to twelve.” It did last all the rest of that year. The following year the course was to be Substitutions-Théorie, by Netto. We all got the text. He lectured about three times, following the text closely and stopping sharp at the end of the hour. Then he began to think about matrices again. “I must give one lecture a week on those,” he said. He could not confine himself to the hour, nor to the one lecture a week. Two weeks were passed, and Netto was forgotten entirely and never mentioned again. Statements like the following were not unfrequent in his lectures: “I haven’t proved this, but I am as sure as I can be of anything that it must be so. From this it will follow, etc.” At the next lecture it turned out that what he was so sure of was false. Never mind, he kept on forever guessing and trying, and presently a wonderful discovery followed, then another and another. Afterward he would go back and work it all over again, and surprise us with all sorts of side lights. He then made another leap in the dark, more treasures were discovered, and so on forever.
As quoted by Florian Cajori, in Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 265-266.
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[Science] is not perfect. It can be misused. It is only a tool. But it is by far the best tool we have, self-correcting, ongoing, applicable to everything. It has two rules. First: there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined; arguments from authority are worthless. Second: whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised. ... The obvious is sometimes false; the unexpected is sometimes true.
Cosmos (1985), 277.
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[There] are cases where there is no dishonesty involved but where people are tricked into false results by a lack of understanding about what human beings can do to themselves in the way of being led astray by subjective effects, wishful thinking or threshold interactions. These are examples of pathological science. These are things that attracted a great deal of attention. Usually hundreds of papers have been published upon them. Sometimes they have lasted for fifteen or twenty years and then they gradually die away.
[Coining the term “pathological science” for the self-deceiving application of science to a phenomenon that doesn't exist.]
From a Colloquium at The Knolls Research Laboratory (18 Dec 1953). Transcribed and edited by R. N. Hall. In General Electric Laboratories, Report No. 68-C-035 (April 1968).
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~~[need primary source]~~ One of the most frightening things in the Western world and in this country in particular is the number of people who believe in things that are scientifically false. If someone tells me that the earth is less than 10000 years old in my opinion he should see a psychiatrist.
As quoted, without citation, in Joan Konner, The Atheist’s Bible: An Illustrious Collection of Irreverent Thought (2007), 46. Webmaster is dubious about authenticity, and as yet, has been unable to find a reliable primary source - can you help?
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…tis a dangerous thing to ingage the authority of Scripture in disputes about the Natural World, in opposition to Reason; lest Time, which brings all things to light, should discover that to be evidently false which we had made Scripture to assert.
The Sacred Theory of the Earth (1681)
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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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