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Who said: “Nature does nothing in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.”
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Library Quotes (37 quotes)

Isaac Asimov quote: When I read about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut
Background: Trinity College Library, Dublin by Irish Welcome Tours CC BY 2.0 (source)

Der bis zur Vorrede, die ihn abweist, gelangte Leser hat das Buch für baares Geld gekauft und frägt, was ihn schadlos hält? – Meine letzte Zuflucht ist jetzt, ihn zu erinnern, daß er ein Buch, auch ohne es gerade zu lesen, doch auf mancherlei Art zu benutzen weiß. Es kann, so gut wie viele andere, eine Lücke seiner Bibliothek ausfüllen, wo es sich, sauber gebunden, gewiß gut ausnehmen wird. Oder auch er kann es seiner gelehrten Freundin auf die Toilette, oder den Theetisch legen. Oder endlich er kann ja, was gewiß das Beste von Allem ist und ich besonders rathe, es recensiren.
The reader who has got as far as the preface and is put off by that, has paid money for the book, and wants to know how he is to be compensated. My last refuge now is to remind him that he knows of various ways of using a book without precisely reading it. It can, like many another, fill a gap in his library, where, neatly bound, it is sure to look well. Or he can lay it on the dressing-table or tea-table of his learned lady friend. Or finally he can review it; this is assuredly the best course of all, and the one I specially advise.
In Preface, written at Dresden in August 1818, first German edition, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, 4 Bücher nebst einem Anhange der die Kritik der Kentischen Philosophie (1819), xv-xvi. As translated by E.F.J. Payne in The World as Will and Representation (1958, 1969), Vol. 1, xvii. In the preface, Schopenhauer is joking that some readers of his book may find his work does not interest them.
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A library … is a great catalyser, accelerating the nutrition and rate of progress in a profession.
Address for the Dedication of the New Building of the Boston Medical Library (12 Jan 1901). Printed as 'Books and Men', The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal (17 Jan 1901), 144, No. 3, 60.
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As an undergraduate who believed himself destined to be a mathematician I happened upon “Man and Superman” and as I read it at a library table I felt like Saul of Tarsus when the light broke. “If literature,” I said to myself, “can be like this then literature is the stuff for me.” And to this day I never see a differential equation written out without breathing a prayer of thanks.
In 'An Open Letter to George Bernard Shaw', Saturday Review (21 Jul 1956), 39, 12. ollected in If You Don't Mind My Saying So: Essays on Man and Nature (1964), 391.
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At the age of three I began to look around my grandfather’s library. My first knowledge of astronomy came from reading and looking at pictures at that time. By the time I was six I remember him buying books for me. … I think I was eight, he bought me a three-inch telescope on a brass mounting. … So, as far back as I can remember, I had an early interest in science in general, astronomy in particular.
Oral History Transcript of interview with Dr. Jesse Greenstein by Paul Wright (31 Jul 1974), on website of American Institute of Physics.
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Books and libraries and the will to use them are among the most important tools our nation has to diffuse knowledge and to develop our powers of creative wisdom.
Statement on the Occasion of National Library Week (16 Apr 1961). In Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961 (1962), 125.
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Borel makes the amusing supposition of a million monkeys allowed to play upon the keys of a million typewriters. What is the chance that this wanton activity should reproduce exactly all of the volumes which are contained in the library of the British Museum? It certainly is not a large chance, but it may be roughly calculated, and proves in fact to be considerably larger than the chance that a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen will separate into the two pure constituents. After we have learned to estimate such minute chances, and after we have overcome our fear of numbers which are very much larger or very much smaller than those ordinarily employed, we might proceed to calculate the chance of still more extraordinary occurrences, and even have the boldness to regard the living cell as a result of random arrangement and rearrangement of its atoms. However, we cannot but feel that this would be carrying extrapolation too far. This feeling is due not merely to a recognition of the enormous complexity of living tissue but to the conviction that the whole trend of life, the whole process of building up more and more diverse and complex structures, which we call evolution, is the very opposite of that which we might expect from the laws of chance.
The Anatomy of Science (1926), 158-9.
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Each time one of the medicine men dies, it's as if a library has burned down.
{Referring to potential knowledge from indiginous peoples of the medicinal value of tropical plants, speaking as director of the plant program of the World Wildlife Fund and having spent many months living with the Tirio tribe on the Suriname-Brazil border.]
Quoted in Jamie Murphy and Andrea Dorfman, 'The Quiet Apocalypse,' Time (13 Oct 1986).
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For books [Charles Darwin] had no respect, but merely considered them as tools to be worked with. ... he would cut a heavy book in half, to make it more convenient to hold. He used to boast that he had made Lyell publish the second edition of one of his books in two volumes, instead of in one, by telling him how ho had been obliged to cut it in half. ... his library was not ornamental, but was striking from being so evidently a working collection of books.
In Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of his Published Letters (1908), 96.
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I am a little tired of the word 'service' in connection with libraries, for such should be the obligation of all who live.
Quoted in 'Obituaries: Archibald Malloch, M.D., 1887-1953', Bulletin of the Medical Library Association (Jan 1954), 42(1), 153.
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I grew up in Brooklyn, New York … a city neighborhood that included houses, lampposts, walls, and bushes. But with an early bedtime in the winter, I could look out my window and see the stars, and the stars were not like anything else in my neighborhood. [At age 5] I didn’t know what they were.
[At age 9] my mother … said to me, “You have a library card now, and you know how to read. Take the streetcar to the library and get a book on stars.” … I stepped up to the big librarian and asked for a book on stars. … I sat down and found out the answer, which was something really stunning.
I found out that the stars are glowing balls of gas. I also found out that the Sun is a star but really close and that the stars are all suns except really far away I didn’t know any physics or mathematics at that time, but I could imagine how far you’d have to move the Sun away from us till it was only as bright as a star. It was in that library, reading that book, that the scale of the universe opened up to me. There was something beautiful about it.
At that young age, I already knew that I’d be very happy if I could devote my life to finding out more about the stars and the planets that go around them. And it’s been my great good fortune to do just that.
Quoted in interview with Jack Rightmyer, in 'Stars in His Eyes', Highlights For Children (1 Jan 1997). Ages as given in Tom Head (ed.), Conversations with Carl Sagan (2006), x.
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Imagine the people who believe such things and who are not ashamed to ignore, totally, all the patient findings of thinking minds through all the centuries since the Bible was written. And it is these ignorant people, the most uneducated, the most unimaginative, the most unthinking among us, who would make themselves the guides and leaders of us all; who would force their feeble and childish beliefs on us; who would invade our schools and libraries and homes. I personally resent it bitterly.
In The Roving Mind (1983), 26.
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In a library we are surrounded by many hundreds of dear friends, but they are imprisoned by an enchanter in these paper and leathern boxes; and though they know us, and have been waiting two, ten, or twenty centuries for us,—some of them,—and are eager to give us a sign and unbosom themselves, it is the law of their limbo that they must not speak until spoken to; and as the enchanter has dressed them, like battalions of infantry, in coat and jacket of one cut, by the thousand and ten thousand, your chance of hitting on the right one is to be computed by the arithmetical rule of Permutation and Combination,—not a choice out of three caskets, but out of half a million caskets, all alike.
In essay 'Books', collected in Society and Solitude (1870, 1871), 171
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In a University we are especially bound to recognise not only the unity of science itself, but the communion of the workers in science. We are too apt to suppose that we are congregated here merely to be within reach of certain appliances of study, such as museums and laboratories, libraries and lecturers, so that each of us may study what he prefers. I suppose that when the bees crowd round the flowers it is for the sake of the honey that they do so, never thinking that it is the dust which they are carrying from flower to flower which is to render possible a more splendid array of flowers, and a busier crowd of bees, in the years to come. We cannot, therefore, do better than improve the shining hour in helping forward the cross-fertilization of the sciences.
'The Telephone', Nature, 15, 1878. In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 743-4.
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It seems reasonable to envision, for a time 10 or 15 years hence, a “thinking center” that will incorporate the functions of present-day libraries together with anticipated advances in information storage and retrieval and ... a network of such centers, connected to one another by wide-band communication lines and to individual users by leased-wire services.
From article 'Man-Computer Symbiosis', in IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics (Mar 1960), Vol. HFE-1, 4-11.
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I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It doe s not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.
…...
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Libraries will in the end become cities, said Leibniz.
Aphorism 29 in Notebook C (1772-1773), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 37.
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Live in the serene peace of laboratories and libraries.
Advice to young scientists at celebration for Pasteur's 70th birthday, Sorbonne (27 Dec 1892). Nature (1893), 47, 205. Also quoted in Émile Duclaux, translated by Erwin F. Smith and Florence Hedges, Pasteur: The History of a Mind (1920), xxii.
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Mathematicians do not write for the circulating library.
From 'The Principles of Success in Literature', The Fortnightly (1865), 1, 90.
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Medicine for the soul.
[Inscription over the door of the Library at Thebes.]
(I. 49. 3) In Kate Louise Roberts, Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations (1922), 78.
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Newton’s laws of motion made it possible to state on one page facts about nature which would otherwise require whole libraries. Maxwell’s laws of electricity and magnetism also had an abbreviating effect.
In 'Man’s Place in the Physical Universe', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Sep 1965), 21, No. 7, 16.
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No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human hopes than a publick library; for who can see the wall crouded on every side by mighty volumes, the works of laborious meditation, and accurate inquiry, now scarcely known but by the catalogue, and preserved only to encrease the pomp of learning, without considering how many hours have been wasted in vain endeavours, how often imagination has anticipated the praises of futurity, how many statues have risen to the eye of vanity, how many ideal converts have elevated zeal, how often wit has exulted in the eternal infamy of his antagonists, and dogmatism has delighted in the gradual advances of his authority, the immutability of his decrees, and the perpetuity of his power.
Non unquam dedit
Documenta fors majora, quam fragili loco
Starent superbi.

Seneca, Troades, II, 4-6
Insulting chance ne'er call'd with louder voice,
On swelling mortals to be proud no more.
Of the innumerable authors whose performances are thus treasured up in magnificent obscurity, most are forgotten, because they never deserved to be remembered, and owed the honours which they have once obtained, not to judgment or to genius, to labour or to art, but to the prejudice of faction, the stratagem of intrigue, or the servility of adulation.
Nothing is more common than to find men whose works are now totally neglected, mentioned with praises by their contemporaries, as the oracles of their age, and the legislators of science. Curiosity is naturally excited, their volumes after long enquiry are found, but seldom reward the labour of the search. Every period of time has produced these bubbles of artificial fame, which are kept up a while by the breath of fashion and then break at once and are annihilated. The learned often bewail the loss of ancient writers whose characters have survived their works; but perhaps if we could now retrieve them we should find them only the Granvilles, Montagus, Stepneys, and Sheffields of their time, and wonder by what infatuation or caprice they could be raised to notice.
It cannot, however, be denied, that many have sunk into oblivion, whom it were unjust to number with this despicable class. Various kinds of literary fame seem destined to various measures of duration. Some spread into exuberance with a very speedy growth, but soon wither and decay; some rise more slowly, but last long. Parnassus has its flowers of transient fragrance as well as its oaks of towering height, and its laurels of eternal verdure.
The Rambler, Number 106, 23 Mar 1751. In W. J. Bate and Albrecht B. Strauss (eds.), The Rambler (1969), Vol. 2, 200-1.
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Once early in the morning, at two or three in the morning, when the master was asleep, the books in the library began to quarrel with each other as to which was the king of the library. The dictionary contended quite angrily that he was the master of the library because without words there would be no communication at all. The book of science argued stridently that he was the master of the library for without science there would have been no printing press or any of the other wonders of the world. The book of poetry claimed that he was the king, the master of the library, because he gave surcease and calm to his master when he was troubled. The books of philosophy, the economic books, all put in their claims, and the clamor was great and the noise at its height when a small low voice was heard from an old brown book lying in the center of the table and the voice said, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” And all of the noise and the clamor in the library ceased, and there was a hush in the library, for all of the books knew who the real master of the library was.
'Ministers of Justice', address delivered to the Eighty-Second Annual Convention of the Tennessee Bar Association at Gatlinburg (5 Jun 1963). In Tennessee Law Review (Fall 1963), 31, No. 1, 19.
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Speaking of libraries: A big open-stack academic or public library is no small pleasure to work in. You’re, say, trying to do a piece on something in Nevada, and you go down to C Floor, deep in the earth, and out to what a miner would call a remote working face. You find 10995.497S just where the card catalog and the online computer thought it would be, but that is only the initial nick. The book you knew about has led you to others you did not know about. To the ceiling the shelves are loaded with books about Nevada. You pull them down, one at a time, and sit on the floor and look them over until you are sitting on a pile five feet high, at which point you are late home for dinner and you get up and walk away. It’s an incomparable boon to research, all that; but it is also a reason why there are almost no large open-stack libraries left in the world.
…...
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The books of the great scientists are gathering dust on the shelves of learned libraries. ... While the artist's communication is linked forever with its original form, that of the scientist is modified, amplified, fused with the ideas and results of others and melts into the stream of knowledge and ideas which forms our culture. The scientist has in common with the artist only this: that he can find no better retreat from the world than his work and also no stronger link with the world than his work.
From Nobel Lecture (10 Dec 1969), 'A Physicist's Renewed Look at Biology – Twenty Years Later.' in Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1963-1970 (1972), 409.
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The history of chemistry is properly divided into the mythologic, the obscure, and the certain. The first period exhibits it from its infancy, deformed by fictions, until the destruction of the library of Alexandria by the Arabs. —The second, though freed in some measure from these absurdities, yet is still clothed in numberless enigmas and allegorical expressions.— The third period commences at the middle of the seventeenth century, with the first establishment of societies and academies of science; of which the wise associates, in many places uniting their efforts, determined to pursue the study of Natural Philosophy by observation and experiments, and candidly to publish their attempts in a general account of their transactions.
In Essays, Physical and Chemical (1791), 4, translated from the original Latin.
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The instinct for collecting, which began as in other animals as an adaptive property, could always in man spread beyond reason; it could become a hoarding mania. But in its normal form it provides a means of livelihood at the hunting and collecting stage of human evolution. It is then attached to a variety of rational aptitudes, above all in observing, classifying, and naming plants, animals and minerals, skills diversely displayed by primitive peoples. These skills with an instinctive beginning were the foundation of most of the civilised arts and sciences. Attached to other skills in advanced societies they promote the formation of museums and libraries; detached, they lead to acquisition and classification by eccentric individuals, often without any purpose or value at all.
As quoted in Richard Fifield, 'Cytologist Supreme', New Scientist (16 Apr 1981), 90, No. 1249, 179; citing C.D. Darlington, The Little Universe of Man (1978).
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The lives of scientists, considered as Lives, almost always make dull reading. For one thing, the careers of the famous and the merely ordinary fall into much the same pattern, give or take an honorary degree or two, or (in European countries) an honorific order. It could be hardly otherwise. Academics can only seldom lead lives that are spacious or exciting in a worldly sense. They need laboratories or libraries and the company of other academics. Their work is in no way made deeper or more cogent by privation, distress or worldly buffetings. Their private lives may be unhappy, strangely mixed up or comic, but not in ways that tell us anything special about the nature or direction of their work. Academics lie outside the devastation area of the literary convention according to which the lives of artists and men of letters are intrinsically interesting, a source of cultural insight in themselves. If a scientist were to cut his ear off, no one would take it as evidence of a heightened sensibility; if a historian were to fail (as Ruskin did) to consummate his marriage, we should not suppose that our understanding of historical scholarship had somehow been enriched.
'J.B.S: A Johnsonian Scientist', New York Review of Books (10 Oct 1968), reprinted in Pluto's Republic (1982), and inThe Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and Other Classic Essays on Science (1996), 86.
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The words are strung together, with their own special grammar—the laws of quantum theory—to form sentences, which are molecules. Soon we have books, entire libraries, made out of molecular “sentences.” The universe is like a library in which the words are atoms. Just look at what has been written with these hundred words! Our own bodies are books in that library, specified by the organization of molecules—but the universe and literature are organizations of identical, interchangeable objects; they are information systems.
In The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature (1983), 255.
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Those who have occasion to enter into the depths of what is oddly, if generously, called the literature of a scientific subject, alone know the difficulty of emerging with an unsoured disposition. The multitudinous facts presented by each corner of Nature form in large part the scientific man's burden to-day, and restrict him more and more, willy-nilly, to a narrower and narrower specialism. But that is not the whole of his burden. Much that he is forced to read consists of records of defective experiments, confused statement of results, wearisome description of detail, and unnecessarily protracted discussion of unnecessary hypotheses. The publication of such matter is a serious injury to the man of science; it absorbs the scanty funds of his libraries, and steals away his poor hours of leisure.
'Physiology, including Experimental Pathology and Experimental Physiology', Reports of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1899, 891-2.
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To be creative, scientists need libraries and laboratories and the company of other scientists; certainly a quiet and untroubled life is a help. A scientist's work is in no way deepened or made more cogent by privation, anxiety, distress, or emotional harassment. To be sure, the private lives of scientists may be strangely and even comically mixed up, but not in ways that have any special bearing on the nature and quality of their work. If a scientist were to cut off an ear, no one would interpret such an action as evidence of an unhappy torment of creativity; nor will a scientist be excused any bizarrerie, however extravagant, on the grounds that he is a scientist, however brilliant.
In Advice to a Young Scientist (1979), 40.
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Truly I say to you, a single number has more genuine and permanent value than an expensive library full of hypotheses.
Letter to Griesinger (20 Jul 1844). In Jacob J. Weyrauch (ed.), Kleinere Schriften und Briefe von Robert Milyer, nebst Mittheilungen aus seinem Leben (1893), 226. Trans. Kenneth L. Caneva, Robert Mayer and the Conservation of Energy (1993), 37.
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What are the libraries of science but files of newspapers?
Excursions, 203. Excerpt in H.G.O. Blake (ed.), Thoreau's Thoughts: Selections From the Writings of Henry David Thoreau (1890,2005), 91.
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When I read about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that the door is closing and that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.
In I. Asimov: a Memoir (1994), 28.
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Whoever looks at the insect world, at flies, aphides, gnats and innumerable parasites, and even at the infant mammals, must have remarked the extreme content they take in suction, which constitutes the main business of their life. If we go into a library or newsroom, we see the same function on a higher plane, performed with like ardor, with equal impatience of interruption, indicating the sweetness of the act. In the highest civilization the book is still the highest delight.
In Lecture, second in a series given at Freeman Place Chapel, Boston (Mar 1859), 'Quotation and Originality', in Letters and Social Aims (1875, 1917), 177.
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Young men, … Live in the serene peace of laboratories and libraries. Say to yourselves first: “What have I done for my instruction?” and, as you gradually advance, “What have I done for my country?”
Acceptance speech (27 Dec 1892) when awarded a 70th birthday commemorative medal by the Academy of Sciences in the great theatre of the Sorbonne, as translated in René Vallery-Radot and Mrs R.L. Devonshire (trans.), The Life of Pasteur (1902), Vol. 2, 297-298. Pasteur addressed an audience that included “deep masses of students” and “boys from the lycées.”
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[The Library of Congress] is a multimedia encyclopedia. These are the tentacles of a nation.
[Referring to the diverse holdings of the library, including motion pictures, photographs, recordings, posters and other historic objects which collectively far outnumber the books]
Quoted by Barbara Gamarekian in 'Working Profile: Daniel J. Boorstin. Helping the Library of Congress Fulfill Its Mission', New York Times (8 Jul 1983), B6.
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[When I was a child] I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and I was a street kid. … [T]here was one aspect of that environment that, for some reason, struck me as different, and that was the stars. … I could tell they were lights in the sky, but that wasn’t an explanation. I mean, what were they? Little electric bulbs on long black wires, so you couldn’t see what they were held up by? What were they? … My mother said to me, "Look, we’ve just got you a library card … get out a book and find the answer.” … It was in there. It was stunning. The answer was that the Sun was a star, except very far away. … The dazzling idea of a universe vast beyond imagining swept over me. … I sensed awe.
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
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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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