Misattributed Quotes (19 quotes)
Misattributed to Johann Reiss. Probably by Peter Reiss.
Die Chemie ist der unreinliche Teil der Physik.
Chemistry is the dirty part of physics.
Webmaster believes this quote should be attributed to Peter Reiss, having found the following example cited for Peter Reiss. Original German as quoted by Paul Krische, Wie Studiert man Chemie? (1904), 67, who also stated that Peter Reiss was a friend of Friedrich Wöhler (both chemists). English version as given in Chemisch Weekblad (1925), 22, 363. In various recent books, the quote is cited as by physicist Johann Philipp Reis. This confusion appears, for example in Ralph Oesper, The Human Side of Scientists (1975), 116.
A mathematician is a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that doesn’t exist. [Misattributed to Charles Darwin.]
Traced by quoteinvestigator.com to Tomlinson Fort, 'Mathematics and the Sciences', The American Mathematical Monthly (Nov 1940), 47, No. 9, 606. The article writer skeptically noted that: “I have heard it said that Charles Darwin gave the following. (He probably never did.)” Quote Investigator cites a number of wide variations of the metaphor, from various authors and sources, going back to at least 1846.
A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children. [Misattributed?]
Probably not an authentic quote by Audubon. For example, attributed without citation, in Guy Dauncey and Patrick Mazza, Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change (2001), 211. Compare with how Wendell Berry quotes the idea in 1971, “I am speaking of the life of a man who knows the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.” (See elsewhere on this site). So far, Webmaster has found no instance of the quote contemporary with Audubon. If you know a primary print source exists, please contact webmaster.
All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. [Caution: expressed in this wording, it is likely misattributed.]
Schopenhauer did write a different reflection with this theme, much less tersely, on how the acceptance of truth has “only one short victory celebration is granted between the two long periods where it is despised as paradox and condemned as trivial.” See the Introduction to The World as Will and Representation
(1819), xvi. The “three stages” quote is included here so it may be found with this caution: it is questionable that Schopenhauer expressed this idea with this wording. Although widely repeated, Webmaster has not yet found any citation to a primary source for these words. (Schopenhauer was German, so any quote in English represents a translation.) According to Ralph Keys, diligent search by scholars has found no written source in German, either. The sentiment has been variously restated and attributed to other authors. A somewhat better-documented version of the “three stages of truth” is attributed to Louis Agassiz
, though still with only second-person references. See Ralph Keyes, The Quote Verifier
In science the important thing is to modify and change one's ideas as science advances.
[Misattributed? See instead Claude Bernard]
Webmaster believes this is a quote by Claude Bernard
, for whom examples date back to at least 1935, whereas Webmaster has found attribution to Spencer only as early as 1997. If you know the primary source from either Spencer or Bernard, please contact Webmaster.
[Misattributed] A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot.
See the original quoted on the page for Alexander Pope, beginning “A little learning …”.
[Misquotation? Probably not by Einstein.] We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.
Webmaster doubts that this is a true Albert Einstein quote, having been unable to find it in any major collection of quotations (although it is seen widely quoted) and has been unable to find any source or citation elsewhere. The quote seems of the notable kind that, were it valid, it would have surely have been included in a major collection of Einstein quotes. Nor has it been found attributed to someone else. So, since it is impossible to prove a negative, Webmaster can only caution anyone using this quote that it seems to be an orphan. To provide this warning is the reason it is included here. Neither can it be found attributed to someone else. Otherwise, remember the words of Studs Terkel: “I like quoting Einstein. Know why? Because nobody dares contradict you.” in ‘Voice of America’, The Guardian (1 Mar 2002). If you have knowledge of a primary source, please contact the Webmaster.
~~[Misattributed - NOT by Jefferson]~~ I am a great believer in Luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have.
This wording of the quote was written down by Coleman Cox in Listen to This
(1922), VII. The quote is often seen, despite having no known source, attributed to Thomas Jefferson. Historians of Jefferson have stated that neither these words nor variants exist in his written works. Included here to provide it together the notice of misattribution. Also see the Coleman Cox Quotes
page on this website.
~~[Misattributed ?]~~ Mathematical discoveries, like springtime violets in the woods, have their season which no human can hasten or retard.
Webmaster believes this quote is likely a misattributed paraphrase. The subject quote is as given in Israel Kleiner, 'Thinking the Unthinkable: The Story of Complex Numbers (with a Moral)', Mathematics Teacher
(Oct 1988), 81
, No. 7, 590. In Kleiner’s paper, alongside the quote is a citation, thus: “(Kline 1972)?” Notice the appended question mark. The reference at the end of the paper gives: Morris Kline, Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times
(1972), but without page number. Webmaster checked a later edition, Vol. 3 (1990), 861, in which Kline has an epigraph, with different wording about violets, attributed - not to János - but to his father, “Wolfgang Bolyai” (who is also known as Farkas Bolyai). Translator Abe Shenitzer wrote an ambiguous passage in Herbert Meschkowski, NonEuclidean Geometry
(1964), 33. In a discussion posted in the NCTM online Math Forum in 1998, Shenitzer clarified that the proper reading is that the “violet talk” is a simile used in advice given by the father to his son. Note that in the passage, János (Johann/John) reports about that advice in narrative form. Thus, one should also note that even in the original language, perhaps the father’s words are not verbatim. See Farkas Bolyai Quotes
on another page of this website.
~~[Misattributed; NOT by Collins]~~ Hypochondriacs squander large sums of time in search of nostrums by which they vainly hope they may get more time to squander.
This appears in Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon: Or Many Things in Few Words, Addressed to Those who Think
(1823), Vol. 1, 99. Since Mortimer Collins was born in 1827, four years after
the Colton publication, Collins cannot be the author. Nevertheless, it is widely seen misattributed to Collins, for example in Peter McDonald (ed.), Oxford Dictionary of Medical Quotations
(2004), 27. Even seen attributed to Peter Ouspensky (born 1878), in Encarta Book of Quotations
(2000). See the Charles Caleb Colton Quotes
page on this website. The quote appears on this page to include it with this caution of misattribution.
~~[Misattributed?]~~ Just remember—when you think all is lost, the future remains.
This probably is NOT an authentic Robert H. Goddard quote, but most likely an anonymous aphorism, which was merely repeated by a different “Bob Goddard.” As given in Reader’s Digest (1975), 106, 23, it is cited as “Quoted by Bob Goddard in St. Louis Globe Democrat.” Later publications and web pages sometimes ascribe the quote to “Bob Goddard” or more vaguely just “Goddard”. In other examples it has morphed, presumably incorrectly, into a quote attributed to “Robert Goddard” or even “Robert H. Goddard” the rocket engineer. And then, as misquotations are wont to do, the likely misattribution has spread virally. Webmaster, as yet, has found no earlier example in print. Since Robert H. Goddard died in 1945, and having found no reliable source earlier than the Reader’s Digest of 1975, Webmaster has confidence, but not certainty, that this “Bob Goddard” is not THE “Robert H. Goddard.” [Webmaster’s note revised 27 Aug 2018.]
~~[Misattributed?]~~ Prediction is difficult, especially the future.
Seen variously attributed, including to Yogi Berra or Mark Twain. The association with Bohr is unverified, and is, for example, given as a quote without citation, in Alan G. Mencher, 'On the Social Deployment of Science', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (1971), 27, No. 10, 37. Bohr may perhaps have uttered these words, but probably did not originate them. Bohr was Danish, and the quote is known as a Danish saying. It appears in Danish as “Det er vanskeligt at spaa, især naar det gælder Fremtiden,” in Karl Kristian Steincke, 'Og saa til Slut et Par parlamentariske Sprogblomster' (Parliamentary Howlers), Farvel Og Tak (1948), Vol. 4, 227. Background in depth is on the quoteinvestigator.com website.
~~[Misattributed]~~ A proof tells us where to concentrate our doubts.
Misattributed to Morris Kline. He did not originate this aphorism. He only quoted it as an example of sarcastic remarks by anonymous skeptical mathematicians. In Lecture (11 Apr 1958) to the 36th Annual Meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Cleveland, Ohio. Published in Morris Kline, 'The Ancients Versus the Moderns, a New Battle of the Books', The Mathematics Teacher
(Oct 1958), 51
, No. 6, 423. Webmaster strongly believes this quote was not originated by Morris Kline, who only popularized it when it was printed in his later books. He merely quoted it as an aphorism already in circulation. In this work, it is one of a sentence listing three aphorisms, each separated with its own quotation marks, divided by semicolons. One of these Kline himself in fact attributes to “Anonymous” in a later work. Another error seen is the concatenation of two of these quotes. Thus “The virtue of a logical proof is not that it compels belief but that it suggests doubts. The proof tells us where to concentrate our doubts,” should be written as two separate aphorisms, as they were by Kline in the work cited here. The third aphorism, “Logic is the art of going wrong with confidence,” traces back to at least the 1920s. See quote beginning “Metaphysics may be…” on the Joseph Wood Krutch Quotes
page of this website.
~~[Misattributed]~~ It was Galileo who said, “Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so.”
No, Galileo did not “say” or write these words, from transcript of a radio talk 'Mathematics and the Laws of Nature', collected in Warren Weaver (ed.), The Scientists Speak (1947). Reprinted in Isabel S. Gordon and Sophie Sorkin (eds.), The Armchair Science Reader (1959), 301. Weyl is perhaps the source of the quotation marks that have resulted in the quote being attributed to Galileo. It is, in fact, a translation of the original French, “Galilée … déclare que dans tous ces phénomènes il faut mesurer tout ce qui est mesurable, et tâcher de rendre mesurable tout ce qui ne l’est pas directement,” in Thomas-Henri Martin, Galilée: Les Droits de la Science et la Méthode des Sciences Physiques (1868), 289. In English: Galileo … asserts that in all these phenomena we must measure all that is measurable, and try to make measurable all that is not directly measurable. Notice the origin statement is not enclosed in quotation marks; they are the biographer’s own words, not Galileo’s. These words do not come verbatim from any known work by Galileo, and should only be used without quotation marks as Martin’s description of Galileo’s method. Nevertheless, quotation marks have been - erroneously - added in many books, and some of those reference Weyl.
~~[Misattributed]~~ Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so.
Almost certainly, Galileo did NOT write this quote. No primary source to Galileo seems to be known. However, it IS found in a French author’s own words, as a description of Galileo's experimental outlook (i.e. WITHOUT quotation marks) in Thomas-Henri Martin, Galilée: les droits de la science et la méthode des sciences physiques (1868), 289. The countless repetitions since then never have a citation. Also variants are seen, for example, “Count what is countable, measure what is measurable, and what is not measurable, make measurable,” without citation, in Institute of Public Administration, Administration (1967), 15 175. The quote is included here to note its status.
~~[Misattributed]~~ Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible.
No known primary source exists for this quote in Escher’s works. It is likely misattributed from a quote by Miguel de Unamuno translated as, “Only one who attempts the absurd is capable of achieving the impossible.” See the Miguel de Unamuno Quotes
page on this site.
~~[Misattributed]~~ The greatest enemy of progress is the illusion of knowledge.
This quote is a variant of one often used by author Daniel Boorstin. Seen misattributed to John Young, for example, in article 'International Space Hall of Fame: John W. Young', New Mexico Museum of Space History, nmspacemuseum.org website. See the Daniel Boorstin Quotes
page on this website.
~~[Misattributed]~~ The shortest path between two truths in the real domain passes through the complex domain.
In fact, this quote is a paraphras from Paul Painlevé.
Widely seen incorrectly attributed to Hadamard, and without primary source citation. However, Hadamard did not originate the quote, as shown by his own introductory phrase of, “It has been written that the shortest and best way between two truths of the real domain often passes through the imaginary one,” in An Essay on the Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field
(1945), 123. The quote in fact originates from Paul Painlevé, Notice sur les travaux scientifiques
(1900), 2. See the Paul Painlevé Quotes
page on this website.
~~[Misattributed]~~ … the task is … not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees.
This quote has been widely (apparently) incorrectly attributed to Erwin Schrödinger, for example, in Alan L. Mackay (ed.), A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations
(1991), 219. For an earlier authentic statement of this quote, see the Arthur Schopenhauer Quotes
page on this website. Also see Albert Szent-Gyorgyi.
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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